This week’s opening functioned like an adrenaline shot to my weary heart. At the sight of all those undead relatives in the barn, I, too, briefly, came to life. Of course, the reason I was dead in the first place was because of the initial scene where Carl says, “Everything’s food for something else” and Lori looks way too aghast at the loss of her little boy’s innocence considering they are on a farm and have been eating chickens themselves and little kids who grow up in farm during non-zombie-soaked times learn this lesson and turn out just fine. And I certainly wasn’t pleased at the way Carl’s statement was then very literally demonstrated in the next scene when Otis’s widow breaks the legs of a couple of chickens, priming them to be food for “something else.” (Also, why did she have to break their legs at all? Non-crippled chickens are too crafty for a pack of zombies?) But still, look, zombies! Right at the top of the hour, too, not shambling out 36 minutes in like they’d overslept and were late for work.
Oh, the hopes I had for that barn zombie plot. Not because of anything the show has actually done, but more the just the very idea of them. For me, the most emotionally grounded moment of the entire series has always been the sight of Morgan staring down the barrel of his gun at his beloved wife now turned zombie, trying to will himself to pull the trigger. I loved how real that conflict felt and how genuinely sad I felt. Back then, the show still knew how to linger on a moment and you were able to get a nice good look at her, long enough to get a glimpse of the woman she must have been before she was bit.
Zombies have an illustrious history as metaphors for “something else,” and when I first saw Morgan’s wife, I thought the metaphor for this show was going to be a degenerative disease like Alzheimer’s. Losing your loved one or your own mind to a zombie bite felt akin to this terrifying real world ailment, which impressed me because I’d never seen zombies done quite that way before. But then in a twist that I definitely did not see coming, the show suffered its own bout of dementia, forgetting the Morgan plotline entirely as well as most of its other ones before finally settling into the quiet family drama that it now most definitely is. You can’t have zombie metaphors without zombies, even Grimes could tell you that. Of course, he’d tell it to you in the most tortured way possible, pausing so often to look pained and clench that lower part of his jaw that finally you’d just be like, “Enough! I don’t even want to know anymore.”
So when I saw that widow woman (let’s call her Carol 2.0) feeding those barn zombies their breakfast, it did feel like a return to form. I did a ceremonious readjustment of my couch cushions during the opening credits in order to properly settle in for what was surely going to be a zombie-heavy episode. I felt a mixture of relief that the episode might actually be a good one so I could write something positive about it for once.
But wait, what’s this? Why is that newest pissed off female character stomping angrily over to Glenn, her face contorted with unearned self-righteous anger? And why is Glenn promising her he’s not going to tell anyone about the zombies in the barn. If he doesn’t tell anyone, then no one will know and that means no zombies and that’s just not possible. You can’t start an episode with a barn full of zombies and then not make that episode about those zombies. And why is Glenn now talking to Lori about her pregnancy? Obviously that’s less important than the zombies, right? Obviously that’s going to be the only scene where the pregnancy is mentioned right? Because surely the writers realize that there is only one more episode before the show breaks for the winter and there is still so much ground to cover, so many questions to answer, like: What exactly is the zombie virus? Is the whole world infected? Is the president a zombie? Are those old people still alive? And the No. 1 question of all: Why does this show hate zombies?
It goes without saying, but none of those questions get answered this episode. Instead Shane and Grimes give the gang … plus that new kid … shooting lessons. It has been pointed out before that people in zombie movies and shows always seem to exist in a world where there have never been any zombie movies and shows. But the Walking Dead writers seem to have also never seen a movie montage before, because if they had they surely would have learned how to speed up their training session. The fact that they have devoted several episodes to this is unacceptable, and if there were an address that I could send an angry letter to about it, I would. When Shane said, “I’d say she got the hang out it,” and Grimes answered, with a laugh, “I’d say she’s ready for the advance class,” I thought it was just a standard Walking Dead attempt at trying to convince us that Grimes and Shane are friends by way of showing us their casual, good-old-boy-tinged banter but no, Grimes was serious. There actually is an advanced class. But then, why the laugh? Does Grimes find it as hilarious as I do that we really are going to spend half of this episode watching Andrea come into her own as the gunslinger that she has always wanted to be ever since her sister turned into a zombie, like, two weeks ago?
While we’re on the subject of Andrea, is she even allowed to be so nostril flaring on this subject considering she shot one of their own people the day before? Did she not learn any humility from that? And what happened to the limited bullets and the zombies being attracted to gunshots? Also, Carl is the new Andrea now, all demanding his gun? It’s bad enough that the show is full of one-dimensional characters, but now they seem to be aping each other, making them more like one-half-dimensional. Otis’s widow is basically Carol. Glenn’s girlfriend is a younger version of Lori. That new Hershel daughter person is the new Sophia, since I couldn't care less if she gets eaten by a zombie or not.
All this nonsense eats up 25 minutes of the episode. Then Glenn and Maggie take a trip into town to pick up Lori’s newest request. They ride horses because it feels more romantic or because Hyundai, or whatever Shane’s “new ride,” wouldn’t pony up a second car. And of course there is not one mention of the possibility of zombies. A zombie attack is so far down on their list of concerns that I’m sure Maggie would have shot you a way out of proportion dirty look if you had even mentioned the possibility to her. Which is especially weird since the whole horse ride all she and Glenn do is talk about zombies. It’s actually a fairly nice moment when he asks her what she calls them instead of walkers and she answers, “Mom … Sean … Mr. and Mrs. Fisher.” Again, I felt that pang for what this show could be (although I’m confused about why we’re supposed to not remember that Maggie bludgeoned that one zombie to death with a baseball bat. If the show wanted to convince us that she’s some naive girl who never killed a zombie, they probably shouldn’t have introduced her to us by having her do just that). And then inside the pharmacy, when the zombie grabs her wrist, that was exactly the kind of B-movie zombie move (in a good way) that this show should be full of. I would’ve loved for it to go on longer, with that zombie just refusing to die. What’s the fun of having the bad guys be the undead if you can kill them so very easily? Same goes for the housing development scene, which mostly just made me furious on Otis’s behalf. Shane and Andrea were surrounded just like Shane and Otis were at the high school and yet this time not only do both people survive but Shane even has time to give Andrea another shooting lesson. Oh, and they don’t find Sophia.
The episode wraps up with a bunch of secrets coming out, sort of, and none of them being the one good zombie secret. (Dale knows, but who cares.) Maggie, Dale, and Glen wage a not so subtle pro-life campaign toward Lori, who swallows a handful of morning-after pills (I know that’s what they are because the box clearly says it) and then runs to her favorite pregnancy-dealing-with spot in the woods to vomit them up. Grimes finds the empty box of pills and because he too can read, and realizes what they are for and he runs and finds Lori. They proceed to clench and stare off and gulp and don’t pull their hair away from their face even though it must be so annoying to always have it down during a zombie apocalypse and basically rehash a conversation they already had three episodes ago and then finally Lori says, “Shane and I ... ” and holy Hershel’s miracles, Grimes responds with what is actually a nicely understated, “I know. Of course I know.” And nearby in his tent, Daryl tries to get into a book called The Case of the Missing Man and he hopes that that missing man is not him because good Lord, we’re going to need him next week.
- One episode to go and T-Dog has barely spoken all season. He’s still wearing that bandage and so there’s a faint chance that the possible zombie blood poisoning story line could still introduced.
- How can Carl be “barely on his feet” and yet still be off shooting guns? And did it strike anyone else as cruel that Daryl has to sleep in a tent while he’s convalescing instead of inside the house in one of the many guest bedrooms? If there were a zombie attack on that Farm … oops, never mind, I forgot that zombies don’t go there. I wonder why Hershel is even bothering to put up that barbed-wire fence. Seems like a waste of resources. He should’ve built it out of bullets. There are plenty of those to go around.