Carl suffers a nasty wound, and the only way to fix him is 100% medically accurate post-apocalyptic surgery

By Darren Franich
Updated February 27, 2015 at 08:05 PM EST

Last night’s episode began with a flashback. Lori was patiently waiting outside of Carl’s grade school, chatting with another suburban mom about a fight she had with her lawman hubby: Rick was being reasonable, which Lori found infuriating, and the fight escalated. The main problem from Lori’s perspective seemed to be that Rick was being entirely too nice. “Tell me I’m being a bitch, if that’s what I’m being!” she insisted. Soon after she said this, Shane showed up to tell her that Rick was in a gunshot coma; a little while later, the dead started eating flesh. Kind of puts the quotidian problems of the Grimes marriage in perspective. (It’s a little bit like that famous post-9/11 Onion headline, “A Shattered Nation Longs to Care About Stupid Bulls— Again.”)

Cut to the present day, and another member of the Grimes family has a bullet lodged in a very uncomfortable place. We saw Rick running through a field, carrying the unconscious Carl to a nearby farm. Behind him, Shane was screaming bloody murder at Otis, the dude who accidentally shot a bullet through a deer into Carl. “Talk to Hershel,” yelled the out-of-shape Otis, “He’ll help your boy!” In a nice bit of casting synchronicity, Otis was played by Pruitt Taylor Vince, who — as Mose Manuel on Deadwood — had his own gunshot-surgery-with-limited-medical-resources storyline. (God, Deadwood was awesome.)

At the farm, Rick met Hershel Greene, a kindly old fellow whose medical resolve was positively Clooney-esque. He told Rick that Carl would likely need a significant amount of donated blood — thankfully, father and son both have A-positive — and then gave him the bad news: Even though the deer did its best impression of a bulletproof vest, there were currently six bullet fragments inside Carl’s body. And they had to come out soon.

What followed was a horrifically extended bit of adolescent battlefield surgery, with Hershel carefully slicing the poor kid open and painfully pulling out one of the bullet fragments. Walking Dead scorekeepers will note that this is the second time in two episodes that a stomach has been torn open in order to perform gory surgery — last week, Dr. Daryl Dixon performed a Jaws-esque intestinal autopsy. Carl screamed like a dolphin swimming through burning oil, and then passed out. “One down,” said Hershel, “Five to go.”

Rick wanted to leave, wanted to bring Lori back to the farm. (He had noble reasons, but the implication was clear: He couldn’t handle this stress alone.) Shane did what any good friend would do, and threatened to break his legs. Hershel strolled out with more bad news: Carl’s belly was distended, and a fragment had knocked out one of his blood vessels. If Hershel tried to perform the kind of delicate surgery that the wound required, and Carl kept understandably freaking out because his stomach was freaking open, the kid would die.

They needed medical supplies. Fortunately, the local high school had been turned into a FEMA shelter. Unfortunately, the place was overrun by Deadites. Shane volunteered to make a supply run, but he didn’t know exactly what they needed. In a happy coincidence that was honestly a bit ridiculous, Otis piped up that, as a matter of fact, he was a Volunteer EMT!

(Comic Book Aside: I’m have to go back and re-read, but I’m pretty sure that Otis was not a volunteer EMT in the Dead graphic novels. In fact, purely going off first impressions, TV-Otis seems to have very little in common with Comic-Otis. Dead co-creator Robert Kirkman has talked a lot about how he views the comic and TV show as two very different takes on the same subject and cast of characters, which is fine, but it’s a bit disquieting that, so far, all the major changes seem to revolve around making characters “nicer.” End of Comic Book Aside.)

NEXT: Daryl Dixon solves the C-Plot.Meanwhile, elsewhere in the woods, Lori and the rest of the gang were still hiking back towards the freeway. Carol was feeling extremely depressed about her missing daughter, Sophia, and everyone else seemed to be steeling themselves for the moment when Zombie-Sophia would appear from behind a tree, utterly adorable and missing the lower half of her face. Everyone, that is, except for Daryl Dixon, who unloaded some crossbow philosophy on his fellow survivors: “It’s a waste of time, all this hopin’ and prayin’. Cause we’re gonna locate that little girl, and she’s gonna be just fine. Am I the only one Zen around here? Good lord.”

Dale and T-Dog were living through an exciting little one-act play back at the RV. T-Dog tried to pretend that his wound didn’t hurt, but Dale took a closer look, and noticed it was getting infected. They decided to go searching through the traffic jam for some medical supplies. T-Dog happily found a cigarette…then noticed the blood-covered baby-seat. (To me, the scariest thing about the baby-seat was the fact that it was empty. Somewhere on that lonesome highway, is there an undead two-year-old that will never learn how to walk?)

After a long while searching, Dale had found some supplies — batteries, pink water, an excellent new machete — but no drugs. T-Dog was sinking into the throes of Space Madness, uttering paranoid rants at Dale about how the others didn’t like them because Dale was old and T-Dog was black. “Who do you think’s gonna be the first to get lynched?” he asked, perhaps rhetorically. Dale looked extremely worried.

In the forest, a Walker appeared out of nowhere and attacked Andrea, who is really just not having a good week. She was just about to get chomped when Maggie Greene pulled an Arwen and rode her horse out of the forest, knocking down the Walker. She told Lori that Rick sent her, that Carl had been shot, “Come with me if you want to live,” etc. The ladies rode off. The Walker perked up its head, and Daryl muttered, “Shaddup,” and cut it down with his crossbow.

When the gang arrived back at the freeway, Dale told everyone that T-Dog needed some drugs real bad. That led Dr. Dixon, M.D., to grab his brother’s drug stash. “Crystal, Ex…don’t need that. Some kickass painkillers…Oh, here we are, Doxycycline! Merle got the clap on occasion.” Well, that was easy! Thanks, Dr. D! (You just know that, if Daryl had been around when Carl was shot, he would have gotten all six bullet fragments out. Using only his crossbow. Blindfolded.)

NEXT: Is The Walking Dead slow? Is that bad?At the farm, Hershel and Rick shared a long conversation. Hershel explained that the farm had been in his family for 160 years, that the “epidemic” had claimed his wife and his step-son, and that he believed vividly in the idea that there will be a cure for Zombie-ism. Rick disagreed — perhaps understandably, considering that the first zombie Rick ever saw was a strung-out half-person who seemed beyond the reach of medical science. Hershel kept up the wry-country-doctor-with-a-library-card bit, explaining, “Mankind’s been fighting plagues from the start. We get our behinds kicked for awhile. Then we bounce back.”

Now, this was some interesting stuff. I’m certainly not averse to shows that are willing to leisurely take their time letting storylines build. “Slow” is usually considered a negative epithet among TV viewers, but some of the best television shows of the last ten years were “slow,” at least by comparison to your average fast-paced network drama. I’m thinking especially of the carefully-constructed later seasons of The Sopranos, or the tangent-happy Deadwood, or Mad Men, or — most recently — the fourth season of Breaking Bad, which began with a run of quietly atmospheric hours which slowly set up the thermonuclear closing episodes. “Slow” is not, by nature, bad.

But telling a slow-moving storyline puts extra pressure on a TV show. The characters have to be well-defined. The dialogue has to be sharp. Countless little details have to be developed, so that you really feel lost in a show’s ambient universe. After eight episodes, it’s clear that The Walking Dead wants to be a show with a leisurely pace — at it’s best, the show feels less like a horror movie than like a bloody Sam Peckinpah western. And I’d be intrigued to see what the show’s fans thought about this episode, which spent roughly as much time on a conversation between two dudes on a porch as it did on the zombie-infested FEMA shelter.

Lori arrived back at Hershel’s farm, understandably peeved that the one time she let her son go out on a dangerous mission with her husband and her ex-BF, they managed to get her son shot. She wanted to know what Hershel’s medical background was. “I’m a vet,” he explained. “A veteran? A combat medic?” Bzzzzzt, wrong! Hershel’s a veterinarian. Don’t worry, though, the principle’s the same whether you’re operating on a horse or a human boy. Right?

At the local zombie-infested FEMA shelter, Shane and Otis pulled a neat trick on the local Zombie gang, throwing some flares to attract them and then ducking into the shelter. Otis found everything he needed — Endoreticular Incubator, check! — but the Deadite horde was waiting for them outside. “No! No! No! No!” screamed Shane, running away from Zombies wearing FEMA jackets. Otis and Shane locked themselves inside of the entranceway to the school, but the only thing keeping out the Walkers was a very loose screw.

Zombie Kill of the Week: Daryl Dixon’s “Shaddap” crossbow kill, with the assist from Maggie Greene.

Dead viewers, what did you think of this episode? Do you think they’re ever going to find Sophia? Are you excited for more surgical madness next week? Was T-Dog’s paranoia just the blood infection talking, or does it indicate potential drama ahead? And for fans of the comic book, what did you think about our first look at Hershel’s farm?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich