TV Talk: THE WALKING DEAD 2.5 “Chupacabra”

Wait, two watchable episodes of THE WALKING DEAD in a row? It's a pre-Christmas miracle!

I guess I'm on Team Hershel now. After all, he's the only guy having the proper reaction to the central group of survivors on The Walking Dead: he's consistently irritated with them.

Our heroes have been nothing but an enormous pain in the ass since the moment they showed up on Hershel's farm, and the old feller is finally getting sick of it. And as if they haven't been annoying enough, Rick's group really upped the ante this week, stealing a horse, shooting guns on the property and fucking Hershel's daughter.

Most of Chupacabra was dedicated to Daryl, who went on the endless hunt for stupid Sophie (will this storyline ever come to a conclusion?) and ended up severely wounded and on his own. Oh, and tripping on mushrooms. As a result Daryl hallucinated Merle, who yelled at him for being Rick's bitch and letting the group treat him as their pet redneck.

That was a much-needed character beat; the Daryl of season two feels very removed from the Daryl of season one, and while I like the character a whole lot I wanted to see this change explored a bit more. Going with the group is essentially a radical renunciation of his own past, and there has to be some baggage that comes with it.

What's more, the hallucination may have set the stage for a new player in the show's continuing power struggle. Rick is the weak leader while Shane is the tough guy who maybe takes it too far. But Daryl is right in the middle, and as Crying Mom said to him at the end of the episode, he's as good a man as Rick or Shane.

Fuck it, he's a better man. He's a capable man, for one - neither of the show's competing daddies can say the same. Daryl gets things done; while Rick and Shane bicker about finding Stupid Sophie, Daryl is out there collecting clues. He's able to help Andrea find a measure of peace. He's funny. And he has a great stash of drugs. My only concern is that the show is setting Daryl up to go for leadership not because he should be leader (and because it's an interesting character arc to make him go from loner to leader) but because he's essentially mad at Rick.

The show feels like it's truly dropped the ball on  the Sophie thing; not only should this story have been shorter, but it should have been exploited more organically. Shane and Rick bicker about finding the girl, but this should be the number one debate that causes turmoil with the group. But since the show has decided to tell the missing girl story while the group is in a safe haven, most debate has been defanged. Why not look for her, since they're just hanging out at the farm anyway? Instead of being a rift-creating problem, the Sophie story has led to boring bickering and wheel spinning.

These complaints aside, Chupacabra, hot on the heels of Cherokee Rose, gives me hope that this show, post-Darabont, might really improve. These were both watchable episodes, if not particularly great ones. Still, watchability has not always been a claim The Walking Dead can make, and I'm happy to see it moving into that direction. And the Hershel's farm story is about to reach its climax with Glenn discovering the supply of zombies in the barn, so there should be some big action coming up.

Here's what I hope: that the show remembers its basic premise and begins knocking off the many, many extraneous characters it has going (this week some young guy offered to help look for Stupid Sophie; he's part of Hershel's group, but I have no clue who he is). The show needs to pare down the cast and figure out how to focus on interesting survival situations - both physical survival and moral survival. Spoilers, I guess, but Shane died very early in the comic, and I think the decision to keep him around is a great one because he presents such a contrast to weak Rick. But I want to see that contrast played up more - we're well into season two and I think it's time that the survivors started picking sides.