Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Walking Dead staggers back

After a mere two and a half month hiatus, AMC's The Walking Dead returns for the second half of season two with "Nebraska." Hershel (Scott Wilson) is deeply upset by the events of the previous episode, ordering the group off of his farm, then disappearing himself. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Glenn (Steven Yeun) find him in the local bar, drunk, even though he gave up alcohol years ago. But just when they have Hershel ready to return home, two threatening men (Aaron Munoz and Michael Raymond James, Terriers, True Blood) show up and press them for where they are staying. Meanwhile, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) goes after Rick, and crashes her car.

It's amazing how, in a zombie apocalypse, the biggest threat is not the undead, but the living. This isn't surprising, given that fighting off one's own kind is a common element in end-of-the-world drama. But as the first major encounter with such in The Walking Dead, the events of "Nebraska" are sure to be memorable. The two interlopers act friendly enough, but it's immediately apparent to anyone that their intentions are not pure, and that they should not be trusted. Rick cannot let the pair find Hershel's farm, or more bad things will happen.

Hershel's break down really highlights the difference between himself and Rick. It's hard to imagine Rick ever running off like Hershel does, abandoning those he is in charge of. If Lori were to die, it might be a possibility, so perhaps Hershel isn't so different. But that isn't the case at this time. Instead, while Rick doesn't deny that, like Hershel, he knows that there is no hope left, Rick chooses instead to keep up the charade of belief for the others. This is what a leader does.

Rick gets a hero moment in "Nebraska." It quickly becomes a likely scenario that, seeing Rick as the strong leader here, and therefore the biggest obstacle in their way, the strangers could kill the cop and force Hershel and Glenn to take them home. Faced with this, Rick's instincts kick in, and he strikes first, killing both men. Could the situation have ended peacefully? Probably not. One of the men is drawing his weapon when Rick shoots. Rick has less than a second to act, and he comes through it successfully. It really hammers home to viewers that Rick is a natural and capable leader, no matter what Shane (Jon Bernthal) thinks.

How will Hershel react to Rick's actions? Hershel is already upset enough at Rick and his friends for killing the barn Walkers, though even Hershel now admits that they were already dead. But to see Rick take the lives of two living, breathing humans right in front of him is surely a different story. Inebriated and lacking Rick's law enforcement-influenced assessment of the situation, will Hershel protest their deaths? Will he think that Rick acted rashly? If so, The Walking Dead could be setting up more of Hershel asking the group to leave, something that has been done enough at this point.

Poor Lori. She is understandably upset that Rick keeps running off, especially given the fact that she is pregnant. However, she needs to be less selfish, and realize that, as the guy in charge, Rick will have to put his neck on the line many more times in the future. At least Rick knows what he is doing. Unlike, say, Lori, who tries to read a map while driving, hits a Walker, and flips her vehicle. It is unlikely that The Walking Dead will choose to kill its main female star off so soon. But as "Nebraska" comes to an end, no one knows about the accident, or is even looking for her. It's not a good situation to be in.

Might Lori lose the baby from this accident? And would that be such a bad thing? She worries about bringing a child into this dangerous world, and how the events they've seen so far are turning her son, Carl (Chandler Riggs), cold. Because of this, keeping the child is a very tough decision for Lori. Are the fates so cruel as to take the choice out of her hands?

In "Nebraska," Glenn is taken aback when Maggie (Lauren Cohan) says she that loves him. It might seem a little off that he's the hesitant one, given how much more attractive she is than him. But he's not wrong in his feelings, either. Sure, the world is coming to an end, and she could fall in love quickly, in part motivated by the lack of time she perceives that they have left. At the same time, they haven't known each other very long. Glenn is very fond of Maggie, but love is a deep emotion that can take awhile to develop. He is also taken by surprise when she says it, so he can forgiven for needing time to process this development. Hopefully, Maggie will be patient and understanding while waiting for Glenn to be ready to say those three little words back to her. Despite his hesitations, she probably won't have to wait long, as he will soon realize how lucky he is to be with her. And she's lucky to have him, too.

Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) is bound and determined to ruin Shane. He tells Lori flat out that he thinks that Shane killed Otis. Dale isn't wrong, and what Shane did will be hard for others to grasp. After all, murdering an ally isn't something any of them would have done. But Shane wasn't exactly wrong in his actions, either. If Shane hadn't shot Otis, Carl would have died. Shane made a tough choice, but it was one that saved a life, regardless of the coldness it would take Shane to stick to his decision. Also, Otis is the one that shot Carl, albeit accidentally, so Shane might be forgiven for weighing Carl's life over Otis's. It's actually surprising that these events are still relevant so long after they occur.

The question now is, will Dale get off his high horse and admit that Shane may have been right? Or, by hanging on to this thing he thinks that he knows, will he ruin Shane's relationship with the rest of the group? Shane deserves many things, but being kicked out, left on his own, his chances of survival slim, is not one of them. Killing is arguably wrong, no matter how right Shane's reasons are for doing so. But that does not mean that Shane doesn't deserve a second chance, given how much he has done for everyone. He may also deserve thanks for sacrificing his soul, when others could not, as his detachment could save more lives than just Carl's, down the road.

Daryl (Norman Reedus) is a little disappointing in "Nebraska," isolating himself from everyone else. However, he does not do so without justifiable reason. He takes Sophia's death pretty rough, given how much blood, sweat, and possibly tears he puts into trying to find her. Daryl makes it his entire mission, his life's purpose, to find the little girl, only to learn that she is already dead. No wonder he is left despondent and directionless! It's just sad that Daryl pulls away, when this is a time that the group needs to come together. It may not be in his personality to hug it out, but hiding out on the fringes of the property, alone, isn't the answer, either.

Carol (Melissa Suzanne McBride), similarly, pulls away, skipping Sophia's funeral, and wondering into the woods by herself. It's too bad that The Walking Dead doesn't choose to show what Carol is doing out there, but she comes back dirty, so she wasn't just walking. This will probably stay a mystery, not being integral to events moving forward.

What is totally surprising is that Shane is the one that offers Carol comfort when she returns. Washing her hands and talking gently to her, it's an awkward scene, the only such one in "Nebraska." Shane does make the conversation about himself, as he is growing more and more selfish as the others ostracize him for his behavior, which he thinks is in their best interests. But Shane isn't completely gone if he takes the time to help Carol. It's a weird moment, and one that is hard to dissect completely.

Overall, a very strong return for The Walking Dead. Enough action to keep things interesting, characters growing, changing, and dealing with things, and some exciting twists. Great job!

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

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