The Walking Dead is possibly the most frustrating show on television right now. It’s not the worst. Even at its best, Glee is rarely as good as the most mediocre The Walking Dead stories (even if I score the best Glee episodes higher but that has to do with my personal opinion on the method of how you score shows which is more about what the creators were going for rather than some “objective” definition of its quality but that’s a rant for another day). For every truly inspired moment that The Walking Dead offers, for every wonderful episode that has Daryl trekking through the woods and beating zombies to death with rocks, you get, for lack of a better word, shit. I adore this program, but the longer I watch it, the more apparent it becomes to me that The Walking Dead can not live up to its own ambitions as a series. As zombie fiction, it is top notch, but the show aspires to be something more. It wants to be high-brow intellectual TV, and in that regard, it is a failure. Tonight’s episode showed the series at both sides of these equations, delivering some of its most thrilling (and tense) zombie fiction of the series as well as crippling the momentum for the last 1/3 of the episode by dragging out stories that have existed for the whole season. I love this show, but it really needs to fix its pacing problems which are getting out of control.

After Rick put down the thugs in the bar, it was only a matter of time til their friends that we had been told about finally showed up. We’re guessing Rick was wishing it had been a little more time, but Rick’s Raylen Givens (Justified reference) style bad ass display of gunslinging immediately drew the attention of not just the thugs’ friends but also a horde of Walkers. When the friends come looking for Dave and Tony (the thugs), Rick, Glenn, and Hershel get caught up in a good old fashioned gun fight when Rick admits to shooting Dave and Tony because “they drew first” (not that the friends seemed to care). After Hershel shot one of the men (who was eventually devoured graphically by Walkers), the growing Walker horde led to a retreat by the thugs but not without one of them being left behind because he fell of a roof and got his leg skewered by a post on a fence. Despite Hershel and Glen’s pleas to just get out of Dodge and the ever swarming zombie horde, Rick risks his life to protect one of the men who was trying to kill him from a gruesome death of being devoured by Walkers. While all of this was happening, Lori nearly got herself eaten after wrecking her car but survived after killing two Walkers herself and being rescued by Shane (who lied and told her Rick was safe at the farm. also known as the opposite of his first lie to Lori). The camp is quickly being split between those who prefer Shane’s leadership and those who prefer Rick and Andrea has become the first major defection to Team Shane.

The first 2/3 of the episode were pretty phenomenal. Whether it’s Lori’s struggles to get out of the flipped car (and it’s a serious testament to the writing that I even cared at all what happened to Lori since I can hardly stand her character) or the very tense shoot-out at the bar and in the town, the first two acts of the episode were The Walking Dead doing what it does best which is taking characters that I care about (Rick and Glenn anyways) and putting them in scary, slow-burning situations. Eventually, the shoot out at the bar turned into a zombie bloodbath, but it was the slower moments where Glenn was sneaking through a beautifully shot twilit storage room of the bar or our trio hiding in silence praying that the thugs would pass the bar by (even though we knew that wouldn’t happen) that all really sold the episode. The Walking Dead doesn’t do legitimate drama very well, but it has created at least some characters (Andrea, Shane, Rick, Glenn, Daryl) that are three-dimensional enough and entertaining enough that we can emotionally invest ourselves in what is happening to these people. The series is also pretty unmatched (except for the obvious choice of Breaking Bad) in its ability to create absolutely dread-filled and anxiety driven moments to test these characters. However, the episode faltered again when it tried to be more than pulp. It isn’t written well enough to be true drama. So, when the final 20 minutes of the episode were nothing but boring and uneventful conversations (except for Lori’s warnings to Rick about Shane being dangerous which could change the whole dynamic of the series), it really dragged everything down to nearly the boring levels of the first half of the season.

Perhaps it’s a bit of an exaggeration to start comparing this half of the season to the serious problems that the first half faced. I think that I’m just now being forced to face the fact that The Walking Dead was never as good as I imagined it to be (except for the pilot) and I’m just sort of harder on it than I used to be. If The Walking Dead just wanted to be zombie TV, I would probably never stop being astounded by it but it’s not good enough to be what it wants everyone else to see it as (and what far too many of its fans seem to envision it as being), and so I have to hold it to the standards that its creators aspire to reach. I can’t ever imagine myself giving up on the show (like I thought about doing many, many times during Season 4 of True Blood), and this episode was still good. However, it’s a problem that a show is so constantly split between excellence and then either mediocrity or complete shit. Let’s hope that this half of the season errs more on the side of excellence.

Final Score: B+