In my review of the last disc of the first season of The Walking Dead, I posited my theory on what the major thematic statement of the show was, which I believed was man’s indomitable will to survive even under the worst and most dreadful situations. Is it really worth living in a world as horrendous as that which Rick Grimes and company must face every day? In the finale, some of the cast decided it wasn’t, but for the most part, the message of the series is that we must continue to fight and survive even when survival is an end to itself. This was, yet again, a central part of Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead, and it became the subject of a pivotal conversation between Rick and Lori. While I enjoyed the parts of the episode that dealt with this philosophical question (and all of Shane’s story but more on that shortly), this was a slightly slower episode that didn’t deliver enough compelling character development to make up for its lack of significant plot development.
Last week ended with Shane and Otis (the man who shot Carl) trapped in the high school as zombies were about to break down the doors keeping them at bay, all in a basic suicide mission to procure medical supplies to try and save Carl. This episode begins with an image of Shane shaving his head with a manic look on his face, and then almost immediately flashes back to a Shane who still had his hair on the run in the high school with Otis after the zombies break back in. After the pair splits up (and Shane twists his ankle) to escape after being cornered in the gymnasium, Shane is once again cornered by zombies outside of the school and is only just saved by Otis who turns out to still be alive. Shane and Otis try to escape the school but are running low on bullets and chased by the horde. Shane has a twisted ankle and Otis is about as big as Vader from the WWF, so the zombies are gaining. In an absolute moral gray area, Shane shoots Otis to save his (and Carl’s life) as Otis’s big, juicy corpse will slow the zombies down long enough for Shane to make his escape with the medical supplies and save Carl’s life. All of which he does. The episode ends with Shane lying about Otis’s death and shaving his head in a symbolic act of penance for his murder of Otis.
As for the rest of the survivors, they spend their time in less active manners and more in existentialist crisis mode. Rick does virtually the exact same things he did last episode which is give blood to Carl (to the point where Rick shouldn’t be conscious anymore) and try to comfort his increasingly panicked wife. Lori and Rick have a conversation about whether it would be better if Carl died so that he wouldn’t have to live in this awful world, with Lori taking the pro-death side and Rick arguing for her to keep fighting for their son. Carl wakes up from his coma just long enough to talk about the deer he saw before he was shot (and Rick robs all of the symbolism out of the moment by directly talking about it) just to fall back into an incredibly painful and heart-wrenching seizure. Because Carl focused on the beauty of life during his brief bit of consciousness, this inspires Lori to keep fighting for her son. Right before Hershel was going to operate on Carl without the necessary tools, Shane showed up to save the day. Andrea and Daryl spend the episode looking for Sophia but don’t find her and mostly discuss Andrea’s suicidal tendencies at the moment. Also, Glenn meets Maggie, Hershel’s daughter, and the two bond over a discussion of whether or not God exists.
I’m a big fan of existentialism. There’s a distinct reason why Vivi from Final Fantasy IX remains one of my favorite video game characters of all time even though I don’t especially care for the game itself or why I loved Dawn in Season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer but thought she was completely pointless from that point forward. When Lori and Rick talk about whether Carl should live, it was one of the most compelling moments of the entire series. I can’t even begin to fathom how horrible it would be to be a parent with a child growing up in this sort of apocalyptic environment. Each parent made valid points and while I’m of the survive at any costs mentality, I can definitely understand why Lori is in so much psychic pain for her son. If he lives, he’ll basically grow up to be Daryl Dixon (but is that really that bad cause Dary is so bad-ass). My only problem with their scenes is the groan-inducing way they drew attention to the obvious symbolism of the deer. Symbolism doesn’t work if the characters then proceed to analyze it. Subtlety really isn’t the show’s strong point though.
I’m going to go ahead and say Jon Bernthal is the best actor in the cast, though Andrew Lincoln gives him some competition every now and then. When Shane got back from the high school without Otis, every painful line on Shane’s face gave away the reality of went down in that school even before it was actually revealed. Here is a man who has had to make so many painful choices to survive (abandon his best friend in a hospital, try to distance himself from Carl now that Rick is back in his life, shoot a man to save his best friend’s son) and Jon Bernthal is just nailing how broken and emotionally scarred Shane has to be at this point. He really looked like what a person would probably look like if they had just killed another man in order to survive when he got back to the farm. It was intense. Also, Norman Reedus just keeps getting cooler and cooler every week as Daryl Dixon. He gets my vote for biggest bad-ass of the series and he keeps getting more depth each week as well.
I’m beginning to tire of the Sophia being lost story-line. There needs to be some resolution one way or another soon or I’m going to give up on that particular aspect of the series. Sophia had virtually no lines prior to this moment in the show so the series isn’t particularly suffering in her absence, and along with T-Dogg, her mother Carol is one of the most useless characters in the series to begin with. I’m glad to see that Glenn is finally having a story for the first time since the beginning of the series now that we’ve introduced his future love interest Maggie (if the comics are followed at all). I just found myself slightly disengaged with the various plot threads of the episode. Andrea’s angst over the loss of her sister has grown stale and her conflict with Dale seems unnatural. Things are going to be getting a little violent on the Greene family farm soon though so that should add plenty of conflict from both the zombies and these two groups of people being forceably intertwined. Also, it should be interesting to see how Shane’s psyche handles murdering Otis over these next couple of weeks.
Final Score: A-