The Walking Dead recap: Zombies attack humans, humans attack humans
I never like bringing up Lost when I’m talking about The Walking Dead. For one thing, it’s too easy to unfairly compare every new genre series to the show that redefined genre television. Saying that a new sci-fi/fantasy series is not as good as Lost is roughly comparable to screeching “Simpsons did it!” or arguing that the history of English literature is a bleak history of mediocrities struggling in the shadow of William Shakespeare — an argument that forms the basis of Harold Bloom’s whole career. But for another thing, Lost means different things to different people. For some, it’s an example of a serialized narrative done right, with themes and plotlines and recurring motifs that echoed throughout six reasons. For others, it’s an example of how serialized TV shows inevitably swallow their own tail, losing track of the original magic while getting bogged down in fan-service arcana. I know some people who think Lost peaked with the first season. I know some people who could’ve used more Dharma. I know some people who think Jack was the show’s worst character, and I know some people who think the relentlessly annoying exposition-bot known as Daniel Faraday was the show’s best character.
But watching last night’s Walking Dead vividly reminded me of the most intriguing aspect of Lost‘s narrative structure. When we talk about Lost, we tend to remember the defining turning points: When characters died, or when the flashbacks shifted to flashforwards, or when long-simmering secrets were finally revealed. In truth, the vast majority of Lost‘s episodes — especially in the first two seasons and the final season — were about characters trapped in stasis. A major “event” episode would inevitably be followed by a series of slow-building episodes, with various subplots being assembled on the Island chessboard.
So far, this second season of Walking Dead has followed a similar pattern. In the first seven episodes, there four major “events,” in : The loss of Sophia, the shooting of Carl, Shane’s sacrifice of Otis, and the barnyard massacre. Each of these events was followed, in turn, by a lengthy period of stasis, with the characters all suffering various levels of Post-Event Stress Syndrome, talking at length about what the event meant for them and for their perspective on the world. After Carl was shot, Rick and Lori debated the meaning of living in a world of zombies. Shane’s decision to shoot Otis sent him on a slow-burn descent into militarism. The loss of Sophia instigated an entire half-season of searching for Sophia; her death in the last episode led all the characters to debate the meaning of her death, with Glenn explaining to Maggie, “This is different.”
Interestingly, last night’s episode of Walking Dead almost perfectly split those two narrative tones — the event happening, and the post-event roundtable decompression. We started right where last week’s midseason premiere left off. Lori was in her overturned car, unconscious and useless. Rick, Glenn, and Hershel were cleaning up after their barroom showdown, grabbing guns and ammo off the dead men. Lori was suddenly attacked by a walker. The walker could smell her; it slowly bashed a hole in the window, and as it pressed its face through the hole, the thing’s undead skin slowly peeled backwards from its teeth. (Here we must offer our weekly shout-out to Greg Nicotero and his team of ghoul-producers, surely the hardest-working makeup team on television except for [fill-in your least favorite over-botoxed reality show here.])
Lori fiddled around in her overturned car. She grabbed hold of…something. The screener I was watching was a little dark, so I couldn’t quite make out what precisely she stabbed the zombie in the eye with. (A pen?) Whatever it was, it was good enough to qualify for the Zombie Kill of the Week. But Lori Grimes wasn’t done with her undead massacre. Another walker surprised her. She hit it in the head with a wheel rim. I was hoping that more walkers would attack, so she could hit them all with various car utilities: Burn one with the cigarette lighter, hit another with the spare tire, maybe even drown one with loose change.
NEXT: Showdown at the OK (but not great) Corral
Meanwhile, at the local watering hole, Rick and his pals ran afoul of some still-breathing assailants — a gang which, lacking any other nomenclature, I will henceforth refer to as the Raymond-James Gang. At first, the men were just shadows outside of the window — an eerie camera effect that recalled the ghostlike searchers in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Because we couldn’t initially see their faces, I let myself believe that every member of the Raymond-James Gang would turn out to be a beloved character actor from a beloved failed TV series. Perhaps James Badge Dale from Rubicon, Holt McCallany from Lights Out, and Christopher Egan from Kings.
Rick tried to explain to them that they meant no harm. “Your friends drew on us! They gave us no choice!” In response to this thoughtful argument, the Raymond-James Gang started shooting up the bar. Rick sent Glenn out the back, hoping to grab the car and get out without any bloodshed. Glenn was almost shot by an attacker, but Hershel took the guy down. But Glenn was left cowering behind a dumpster. A good thing, too: One of the Raymond-James Gang was up on a rooftop firing down. The scene was set for a tense standoff. And that’s when the zombies showed up.
The man Hershel shot was the first to die. The walkers made him the subject of feeding frenzy. We saw, in graphic detail, as they slowly bit off the skin of his face. (To treat this horrifying scene with the gravity it deserves, I’m awarding those nameless walkers our first-ever Human Kill of the Week. Congratulations, lamebrains!) The man on the rooftop tried to jump down onto his friend’s truck…and instead landed on a nearby fence, with the pointy top sticking right through his lower leg. Rick, being noble, wanted to save the kid. Hershel decided that the only way to save the kid was to take his leg off. (No offense to Hershel’s medical skills, but I wonder if his being veterinarian leads him to prescribe “amputation” a little bit too often. “I have a cold.” “Well, we better amputate your nose.”)
I should note that this whole scene was tense and visually fantastic, with multiple planes of action all converging at once. There were zombies to the left of them and zombies to the right of them. The whole while, the kid was screaming, and Hershel was muttering helpful medical advice like “We’re gonna have to find some tinder to cauterize the wound so he doesn’t bleed out.” The zombies were coming too quickly though. The other guys wanted to leave the kid to die — or kill him, to save him from suffering. Rick, being Rick, just grabbed his leg and pulled. Now that’s an act break!
NEXT: Carl has a terrible idea for the baby’s name
Meanwhile, Shane had set off on a Lori-finding mission. Shane realized she was gone, because family dinner was unusually joyful and markedly less annoying than usual. He found Lori by her overturned car. She insisted they go find Rick and his posse. Shane lied and said that they’d already returned. When she got back and discovered Shane was lying. So Shane loudly yelled “I gotta make sure the baby’s all right!” Naturally, he said this loud enough so everyone could hear. This being the Bergman Farm, I have no doubt that all the assembled characters then paired off to have a long conversation about what Lori’s baby means for their own continued existence and whether it’s worth bringing a new life into a world of madness. Being Catholic is loads of fun.
As you might have guessed, we were starting into the “Post-Event Stress Syndrome” half of the episode. Carl was a little bit surprised to hear that there was a new baby on the way. Lori awkwardly explained to Dale: “We never had…the talk.” That was funny. It would have been even funnier if Lori had actually tried to explain the birds and the bees to Carl. Instead, Carl said: “If the baby’s a girl, can we name her Sophia?”
I think I speak for all of us when I say:
Shane asked to speak with Lori. She accused him of lying. She practically accused him of killing Otis. Shane said: “What happened with Otis happened because I love you. And I love Carl.” Lori said that Rick knew about them. Shane seemed genuinely hurt — but it was a complex hurt. At first, he seemed almost like a scared child who has been discovered — as if he was finally feeling shame for sleeping with his best friend’s wife. But then he explained further. He knew that Lori had already cast aside their time together. For his perspective, though, “”What we had. It was real. It was you and me and Carl and it was real, and it was right.”
I know some viewers don’t like Shane, and there’s a sense that merely by virtue of being the one character to make any tough decisions, he’s become the de facto local bad guy. But this dialogue — and Jon Bernthal’s wounded performance — shaded in a little bit more of Shane’s mentality. For him, Lori was everything: The reason to live in a miserable world. When he said, “It was the one good thing,” you suddenly realized that he was a man who, somehow, was happy in a joyless world. And then that happiness was taken away from him. Worse, he’s been watching another man live that happiness.
This was a complicated emotional scene, so naturally we immediately cut upstairs, where one of Hershel’s thirty-seven children was still suffering from a TV coma. And outside, Dale was doing his arm-flapping act, explaining to Andrea why Shane was a bad bad man. Thankfully, at this point, Rick and his crew arrived back home. Everyone hugged. Then T-Dog had the Most Important/Only T-Dog Line of the Night: “Who the hell is that?” Rick introduced their new patient/prisoner: “That’s Randall.” (Randall is played by Michael Zegen, who was on several seasons of Rescue Me. So there’s still a chance that the entire Raymond-James Gang will be composed of actors from FX dramas. Clifton Collins Jr.: Call your agent!)
NEXT: Daryl gets a new jacketGlenn told Maggie that he couldn’t be a good runner anymore, because love was turning him into a pansy. Shane and Andrea had a decidedly more interesting conversation. Andrea was trying to convince Shane to maybe consider not scaring people every time he opened his mouth. Shane told Andrea, annoyed, that the rest of the Grimes Gang “just wanted to play house.” They seemed to be plotting some kind of coup.
(Brief tangent: Carol spent the episode telling Daryl Motherf—ing Dixon that he should play house with the rest of the Grimes Gang and not just spend his life hanging dead rabbits and zombie ears around his tent. Daryl Motherf—ing Dixon told her to shove it. But then, by the end of the episode, he had apparently had one of his patented changes of heart. Which is lame. However, that change of heart was accompanied by the arrival of an awesome new jacket. This being fashion week, I’m assuming that that jacket is part of the new Spring line-up from the popular DMFD™ clothing brand, available at all truck stops and dead-end gin joints near you.)
Lori and Rick shared some laughs while they gingerly removed their clothes inside their tent. “We need to talk about Shane,” said Lori. (“Starring Tilda Swinton!” joked Rick.) “He thinks the baby’s his. He’s delusional. And he’s dangerous. And I think he killed Otis.” Rick told her that, if Shane killed Otis, he only did it to protect her. Lori pointed out that Rick had killed a couple of living men to protect his family. Shane would do the same. And as far as he’s concerned, Lori and Carl are his family…and Rick is the lunatic who keeps on putting them in harm’s way.
It was an interesting note to end the episode on. It seems to be setting up a multi-leveled endgame of the final four episodes: Shane vs. Rick, the Grimes Gang vs. the Raymond-James Gang, Everybody vs. the Zombies. Let’s hope the next episode can continue the narrative momentum, and maybe have 100% less whispered conversations in the shadows of the Cut-Rate Bergman Farm.
I’m interested, though, fellow viewers: What do you think about Shane? Do you consider him to be the show’s villain? Do you think he would really kill Rick to get to Lori? Or is he genuinely just trying to defend his fellow living beings as effectively as he can? Doesn’t Shane get extra points just for being interesting? And if you had your way, which other former stars of cancelled FX dramas would fill out the Raymond-James gang? Kelly Carlson? CCH Pounder? Eddie Izzard?
Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich
AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.