Well I'll be damned. The last thing I expected from tonight's The Walking Dead, Nebraska, was for it to be actually good. But it was. Sure, there were a couple of hiccups in there, but the show built to a finale that was well-written, strongly acted and even completely thematically appropriate.
The episode picks up right where the mid-season finale left off, with the barn full of walkers reduced to a field full of corpses. All of the searching for Sophia (and thus the first seven episodes of the season) had been for naught, as she was a living dead girl in the barn the whole time. That flurry of action had been spurred on by Shane who, while right about the need to clear out the barn, was way too hot-headed in how he approached it.
And now the fallout. I was expecting a whole lot of nothing; the first half of the season indicated that the post-Darabont Walking Dead would be a glacially paced TV show. But once some dicking around in the first few minutes was over, the episode got humming along. What was interesting at first was seeing how the camp was split between Rick and Shane, although just about everybody except Dale agreed that Shane was essentially right. It seems that even the characters are frustrated with the show, and they're sick of Rick's middle of the road dithering - about as much as we at home are.
But that might all be changing. Rick really stepped up tonight, stepped up in a way that I hope bodes well for the series. His badassness was doubly unexpected for me because it comes as the result of yet ANOTHER "I have to go off and be the hero" scene. Lori yells at him for running off yet again - this time to find Herschel, who has gone to town to drown his sorrows - and I was on her side. This shit is getting self-parodying, I thought. Rick never learns anything, and he just ends up getting into bigger, stupider trouble.
Sure, he got into bigger trouble, but it was awesome trouble. As Rick and Herschel have an argument about hope (an argument Rick is significantly losing. Why can't the writers give him even a reasonable line or two?) two strangers wander into the bar. They're from up north, and they've been around the country chasing rumors of safe havens, but every one turns out to be false. But what begins as a friendly moment slowly turns into something tenser and more filled with danger. The two men start asking about our heroes' camp and supplies (hilariously Glenn doesn't realize he shouldn't be giving these guys intel), and when Rick refuses to bring them back to the farm shit gets violent fast.
Getting all the players into that bar required some silly plot movements and exposition, but it was for the best. The scene in the bar ends up being a classic Western moment, complete with a moment when the camera rack focuses on Rick's holstered gun as his fingers twitch. Finally Rick ends up as an archetype I can get behind, a tough but quick-acting cowboy. Until now he's been useless, a guy more willing to make heroic gestures than get anything accomplished. Now he's taking action.
Which could render Shane redundant. Despite the bad writing that plagues The Walking Dead, Shane remains one of the most interesting and nuanced characters on TV, and this episode only furthers that. Shane knows he did the right thing, but he doesn't understand that he might have done it the right way. He's still frustrated with Rick (and rightfully so, to be honest). But he's also tender to Carol when she comes back after grieving in the woods. He's not a complete bad guy, despite some of the heavy-handed moves the show has forced him to make.
Meanwhile Daryl is plenty pissed at just about everybody. The revelation that Sophia was a walker all along has rendered much of his heroic tracking moot, and he almost died for nothing. I'm interested in where this is going to go, as he's not at all wrong.
In fact the show has set up an intriguing status where NOBODY is wrong (except dumb ass Herschel). For the first time since the show started I think it has achieved its goal of presenting us with a scenario where everybody can be argued to have a point. I don't know what the show will do with this delicate balance, especially as it has set up a really silly problem (dumb Lori got herself into a car accident for no particularly good reason, and in a way that sort of stretches the boundaries of believability) that will probably tear the survivors apart more, but as of right now I understand where everybody on this show is coming from.
Also of note: Andrea has gone from being utterly irritating to kind of a badass as well. Carol actually has a super realistic view on her daughter's death. T-Dog remains a character whose existence baffles me. Dale is getting on my nerves because all he does is hang around and complain about Shane.
As I close out, answer me this question: why is it so important to stay at Hershel's farm? I get the basics - power, running water, etc. I'm thinking there must be another homestead in the area with similar amenities, even if it might need some fixing up. And the season thus far has convinced me that whatever small town they're near is fairly walker-free; while there may be some plot-motivated walkers wandering in front of speeding cars every now and again, it isn't like the place is overrun like Atlanta. It seems as if a small, determined and careful force could clean out downtown (for easy access to supplies and spare parts) and then locate and clear out a non-Hershel property.
This feels like an inherent problem with a longform zombie story. And it's even one brought up this episode, where Nebraska is floated as a safer place because of low population density. The rural areas of Georgia seem to be fairly sparsely populated as well, which means there will be a limited number of walkers who will be troubling you. And that's before you even take into account things like walker migration, or the fact that many people may have evacuated before becoming the living dead. So why not just hole up in another farm in the area? In a shortform zombie story - a movie - this isn't a big deal because they tend to take place in a shorter time frame, and usually not long after the zombie outbreak begins. The Walking Dead is now many weeks, if not months, into the outbreak. Zombie numbers have probably stabilized, so the situation in that town is unlikely to get any worse any time soon. It will be simply dumb for Rick to lead his people away from that area, but it will be the death of the show if they stay (and since I know what happens in the comics, I know they don't stay).