Last night’s episode of The Walking Dead was the first entirely Frank Darabont–free episode. (If you’re wondering about the new showrunner, Glen Mazzara, his flashback backstory can be read here.) The way I see it, his biggest challenge will be making us root for the living characters on the show instead of the undead ones. It’s not going to be easy.
We begin where we left off, staring down the barrel of Grime’s gun seconds after he put down Sophia (by the way, I was asked recently why I call him Grimes. It never even occurred to me not to. Doesn’t everything about him make you want to call him by his last name instead of his first? In my head, it’s always being sort of barked between clenched teeth). I don’t know how it works when one showrunner passes the torch to another, but it makes me happy to imagine Darabont calling "Cut!" and then the entire cast freezing in place while Mazzara puts down his coffee, walks over, takes the clapboard out of Darabont's hands, and yells "Action!" to get everyone moving again.
It does not make me happy to see that farm again. I had hoped that the show would pick up a little further down the line … at the very least the next day… with the crew huffily making their way down the road, trash-talking Hershel.
Instead, cue to a sobbing Carol, waving Daryl away and then running off, her retreating cries overlapping with those of the Daughter Hershel. And then real quick, "Cut!" again, because I just have to point out how staggeringly undeveloped this girl’s character is. She puts Sophia to shame. If I were given an application to fill out on her behalf on which I was required to check a box next to this girl’s approximate age range … you know, 10–18, 19–34, 35–50 … I would have to pull the fire alarm or something. Similarly, in answer to the following question that I am now posing to myself, “Do two different actresses play the Daughter Hershel and the Widow Otis?” my response is no, the same actress plays both, employing what I assume to be the same technology as the kind used in the Parent Trap or Sister, Sister.
This twin creature staggers over to one of the female zombie bodies (she is saying “Mom. Mom.” but I refuse to formally acknowledge this relationship, in the same way that I don’t refer to two postcards hanging on my fridge as cousins) and flips it onto its back. The zombie isn’t totally dead, though … or rather, it’s so dead that it’s undead … and it rears up and goes for the Daughter Hershel’s throat. It’s a good little jump-out-of-your-seat moment, the kind where you know what’s going to happen but that’s what makes it so nerve-wracking. The zombie lady seems curiously strong, holding on tight even as four strong men drag the Daughter Hershel away. T-Dog of course starts violently kicking the zombie’s head in, even though almost every single person, definitely including Carl, is armed, but I am willing to overlook this considering how fast everything happens. I feel much less generous when it comes to the pickax that Andrea then uses to slice through the zombie’s skull, while her face makes THAT FACE, that confusing one where she appears to be smiling even when sad, horrible events are happening.
Moving along … even though I know that is insulting to the spirit of this show … next we are on Hershel’s porch. I guess everyone is feeling like shooting those barn zombies earned them a reward, because they are getting to do their very favorite thing: argue! Shane is yelling at Hershel about whether or not he knew Sophia was in the barn; Grimes is yelling at Shane for yelling at Hershel; then Shane decides to yell at Grimes for forcing them to look for Sophia for so long (which makes me think that Grimes is the Darabont character in this scenario and Shane is the Mazzara). It’s bad enough that everyone is back to their old ways so quickly, but the fact that the words Sophia and search are even being said together out loud make me wish time travel were real just so I could go back and un-invent language.
Next there is some business involving a funeral. Glenn says the line, “But this was Sophia,” and we, the audience, pretend not to hear it. They decide to “bury the ones we love and burn the rest.” I was under the impression that, like, half the people in the barn were related to the Hershels in some way, but I guess not. Even so, doesn’t it seem pretty harsh considering how touchy-feely the Hershels were about these zombies when they were still moving? And also, what else do these people have to do all day except dig graves?
Oh wait, I forgot. They have some stomping to do. So much stomping in this episode! Especially by Lori. She stomps around the open graves that everyone else is digging. She stomps from room to room. She stomps across what I think is the same field where she took her pregnancy test. Meanwhile, Shane is all door slammy today, especially in the scene with Dale where he actually gets into his truck just to slam the door and then gets out again. I wonder if these guys realize that there is an Off Broadway play called STOMP that they’d be perfect for, that is very zombielike in the sense that it doesn’t die and is probably still up and running even in their world.
I know I’m supposed to be talking about plot-advancing moments, but really there were very few until the end. Dale has very specifically figured out how Shane killed Otis. Maghie told Glenn she loved him, off-camera. Daryl is feeling fed up. Carl is resting. Carol gets in a fight with a metaphorical flower. T-Dog’s character is fading from existence the way the Marty McFly’s siblings fade from that photograph. Hershel had his first drink in 25 years (even though I went and rewatched the scene from the last episode where he is having a cozy dinner for two with his Bible and he is definitely drinking an amber liquid out of what looks like a beer glass), and now he’s on a bender in town. Grimes and Glenn decide to team up and go on a rescue mission, just like old times. This causes both Maghie and Lori to go into a stomping frenzy, so pissed that the boys want to help the man who owns the nice house they are standing in, who also happens to be Maghie’s father. The only way Grimes can calm Lori down is by saying a sentence that nearly caused me to go into a catatonic state (I’m here every night, ladies and gentlemen). That sentence was this: “We need Hershel for the baby.”
You see why that’s so upsetting, right? I don’t even need to point out that babies take nine months before they are born, right?
I guess since seeing as how it looks like we’re going to be on this farm for a while now, maybe we could take this opportunity to find out more about some of our vaguer characters. Maybe we could even, oh, I don’t know, just talk to each other for a bit?
Either that or one of them could fall into a catatonic state, which is what proceeds to happen to the Daughter Hershel. Because there wasn’t enough artificial drama on this show as it is. We definitely needed the gang to freak out over the well-being of another blank girl. And then we needed to spend five minutes watching Lori try to convince Daryl to go searching for the guys who just went off searching for the doc. It’s just one huge whirlpool of pointless drama, pulling everything in its path under with it, culminating in Lori flipping her car over as America gasps and wishes and feels bad for hoping that she didn’t survive.
Which brings us to the final act of the show, in the town saloon. It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the light of this new world. It’s like when you’re playing a video game and you’ve spent forever on the same, impossible level and then you finally beat the bad guy and get to advance to the next scene. There’s Hershel at the bar, calmly sipping his whiskey. He tells Grimes that when Carl survived he thought it was was the miracle he’d been waiting for. It made him able to keep hoping that the zombies in the barn could be cured. But now he realizes that it was a bait and switch, and that Grimes’s crew are like a plague who take no responsibility for their actions. Oh man, did I love hearing that. Preach it, Hersh.
And then no sooner are the words out of his mouth that I experience my own form of a miracle. Sparkling new characters in the form of a fun-loving guy and his overweight sidekick. They take a seat, have some drinks, unravel a bit of information about what’s happening in the world. I imagine a whole new show from here on out, sort of like Cheers only with more zombies and less sexual tension. We might never have to go back to that farm again.
Pretty soon, though, things turn dark. These new faces turn out to be guest stars instead of featured players — the old bait and switch. Mazzara wants to infuse some horror movie suspense back into the show and his intentions are evident in this scene. Even though I personally didn’t find it that tense, I appreciated the effort. It means that the show is trying to expand and become about something bigger. Also, it’s a no-turning-back moment for Grimes, which hopefully means he’ll be less of a handwringer from here on out. No matter what happens, though, I’m skeptical that it will be monumental enough to justify killing off the first people I haven’t wanted to kill on this show in a very long time.