I know I’ve compared this show to a certain eighties movies before, but now I have another one for you. Maybe this is going to be my trademark, like the joke at the end of Welcome Back, Kotter — which is not my reference, by the way, and besides that show is from the seventies. My reference is this: Summer School. Yep. I do hope you’ve seen it because it’s not available on Netflix, surely for conspiracy-theory-related reasons. Remember when Chainsaw and Dave, who do everything as one person, even their homework, have to write a paper about a personal hero and they chose makeup artist and creature creator Rick Baker? Remember the part where they’re reading the paper aloud and they’re all “who we admire very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very much?” and then they smile and say, “One hundred words on the nose. You can count it if you want.” Those verys are the bulk of each episode of this getting-away-with-(poorly executed, thinly contrived but nonetheless)-murder show. And that little gasp of life the show manages to wring out of its final moments is the sound made by Rick Baker’s Thriller zombies as they roll over in their graves.
So this episode starts right where we left off. Otis has just shot Carl and Rick is racing to this strange farm with Carl in his arms, hoping for a miracle. He meets Hershel and his giant vague family and tells him that the world has become very dangerous! While Hershel plants magic beans in Carl’s intestines, half the group searches the surrounding area for walkers while the other half throws their bags inside the house and starts boarding up the windows.
Or at least that’s how it should’ve gone down, one million episodes ago. A whole lot of tonight’s episode is devoted to our characters discovering there could be zombies in the world, beginning with Andrea and Shane and Daryl and T-Dog going medieval on a bunch of walkers they find in a field. I think it’s supposed to feel like when the rival gang kills one of your own, thus signaling the end of a tenuous truce, but the thing is … well, why weren’t they doing this every single day? I know there were specific instances when the walkers they encountered in the woods seemed harmless enough, but really if it’s that easy to find dozens of zombies to take your grief out on (and you just know that that field was, like, three yards away from the farm since this group does more unnecessary driving over short distances than the most clichéd citizen of Los Angeles) then really, zombie patrolling should’ve been added to the chore wheel long ago.
As everyone starts moving their stuff inside and trying to figure out, you know, how they’re all going to fit and how the DVR situation is going to work, the show seemed to make a special point of allowing T-Dog to linger long enough to exchange some fake banter with Hershel. While doing so, it’s also established that he will be given neither a bed nor a couch to sleep on and also that he is going to be carrying Princess Lori’s bags inside. Last week on Twitter someone asked Glen Mazarra if T-Dog’s character would have a chance to develop soon and Glen Mazarra answered “Keep watching!” I really hope this scene isn’t what he meant by that. By this point, the casual dismissal of one of two minority characters (I’m including Glenn as the other; Morgan and his son will never be heard from again) on this show is feeling extremely suspect. The only thing saving it from being full on offensive is that the same treatment is being given to Hershel’s entire white family.
Maggie offers to let Glenn share her room but he refuses, pointing to a embroidered wall-hanging that says, “The house that fighting built.” Then he goes to work on the perpetually broken-down RV, while Andrea lords over him. They share a heavily scored moment over Dale. Glenn says he let Dale down, which I didn’t understand at all. When? During the story meeting last week? Or when Glenn was in town artificially freaking out about Maggie telling him that she loved him?
Shane doesn’t move his stuff in because he’s too busy driving his Hyundai over Hershel’s flower bed to some water tower-windmill-cable satellite dish thing (I don’t know what it was, you guys can tell me in the comments if you want, but also you know that no matter what you say, its technical name will still be “fake busted wooden structure,” right?) Lori, pregnant and all, somehow manages to traverse the enormous distance from the house over to him. It’s amazing the (literal) lengths this woman will go to to assure herself she’s worth dying for, including telling one of her dual lovers the baby might be his, which of course then guarantees his demise. I mean when she said that to Shane, I really expected him to answer with, “That’s cool. I’m going be dead before this episode is over so don’t even sweat it.”
Then, off camera, Shane drives somewhere else on the property and is standing there practicing how to change from Good Shane to Evil Shane with the most minimum rubs of the shaved head as possible, when Carl wanders over. One of the aspects from last week’s episode that worked was Carl’s involvement in Dale’s death. This was one of the few story lines I was hoping they were going to drag out a little. It would’ve been nice to see how the guilt played out on Carl’s psyche. But of course the show is dyslexic about these things, rushing what it should slow down, speeding up what it should get over with quickly. Shane’s all, “Carl, what are you doing out here by yourself?” See, what I mean about the dyslexia? Obviously that was the question that should have been asked after Carl went for a solo day trip in the woods last week. [Also, you guys understand that I am not making fun of people who suffer from dyslexia, right? I am definitely making fun of this show, though.]
Carl tells Shane about the zombie in the swamp and how it killed Dale and then he tries to give Daryl’s gun to Shane. Shane tells him to keep it, which is weird not because he’s pushing a gun on a kid, I’m used to that by now, but, like, it’s Daryl’s gun. Shane can’t just give it to Carl. Carl has to be a big mini-sheriff man boy and get his own gun from the gun bag that the show has firmly established exists. If we can’t count on the appearance of that gun bag each episode, all will surely be lost. Carl refuses to take the gun and then says what sounds like, “I’m never going to shoot a gun again,” but you know how little kids talk, so lispy and hard to understand, and so what he actually said was, “I will very soon be shooting a gun in a way that is intended to feel shocking and innocence shattering but won’t feel like that at all.”
Another huge and pressing and important issue that must be dealt with a lot in this episode is who's going to ride in the car with Grimes on the Randall dumping-off mission that isn’t going to happen. Shane’s all “Me! Me! Me!” but Grimes tells him no, his new best friend is Daryl. The show is still trying to pretend like the group doesn’t like Daryl or that he’s considered less civilized instead of just having them acknowledge that he’s the most consistently sensible and kindhearted of them all. He’s also obviously the most charming, but it's no shock that trait is lost on the group. Grimes and Daryl spend about three days packing up and discussing their outing and then just when Grimes is about to leave, Shane comes up and tells him about the talk he had with Carl. Which naturally sends Rick into another one of his decision-making spirals about whether he should cancel the Randall field trip and talk to Carl or go on the trip as planned and have Carl talk to Lori. Because it’s just impossible for him to wrap his mind around having time to do both. Because even though Grimes was, without a shadow of doubt, about to spend hours giving speeches to everyone about why he was doing the right, decisive, leaderlike thing, he simply cannot fathom having time to both talk to Carl and still leave with Randall.
This scene is followed by an NRA commercial between a father and his son, sitting side by side in a barn. The little boy is wearing a big sheriff’s hat. The father says that the little boy’s mom is going to die and then he’s going to die, too, and then he hands the little boy a gun and they watch the sun set.
Okay, so maybe that dad and son were Grimes and Carl and it was just a sloppily written scene instead of a gun ad. There was a terrifying commercial for Mad Men, though. The voice over went, “AMC has something for fans of The Walking Dead” and then the whole commercial tried to explain Mad Men characters — those complicated, rich, multilayered characters — in Walking Dead terms. As in “Meet Roger Sterling. He drinks like Hershel used to!”
Finally we get to Shane in the barn, slapping at his own head, switching from Good Shane to Evil Shane, back to Good Shane, back to Evil. Evil Shane wins and he takes Randall into the woods where Shane tells him that he wants to join his gang, so where is it? And just like that Randall turns completely and unabashedly into a bad guy. He tells Shane exactly where the other bad guys are and then some. Once he gets going, he can’t seem to stop talking about bad guys things, he pulls a Ratso Rizzo and won’t shut up. Shane even delivers a Midnight Cowboyish sort of line (which also will now be the mantra I chant every time I watch this show): “Less talking, more walking.” And then Shane kills Randall which to me felt fair and justified to me now that the kid was undeniably not on their side. But instead of Shane going back and telling everyone this, his plan turns out to be an elaborate scheme to lure his friends into the zombie-choked woods after dark. I almost shut the TV off when I first saw them back in those woods. I didn’t trust them not to stretch the search for Randall out for a season. Luckily, they have master tracker Daryl on their team, who's able to use his extensive hunting background to identify a hand-shaped bloodstain on a tree and a piece of freshly unknotted rope. He can also take one look at a pile of leaves and declare that a tussle happened there.
Shane’s motive for lying to them about Randall is so he can ultimately kill Grimes. Or wave a gun at Grimes long enough for Grimes to then stab him and howl like a werewolf (Rick Baker, again, I’m so sorry) into the night. Oh, and then it turns out Carl saw the whole thing, because he’s been walking around unsupervised again. Carl raises his gun at his dad, Grimes stares back in agony, the lack of tension is very very very very very very very very very very very very very much. Fifty-seven minutes on the nose.
Then, just as we’re about to cut to credits, Shane pops back up. He’s undead even though he died by a human’s hand. Same thing happened with Randall, earlier in the episode. Which I think means that the virus is mutating. Otherwise why wouldn’t those people who were mysteriously dead in their cars have turned into zombies? Did those shoddy CGI zombies at the end mean that the zombies who were only shot but not, say, pick-axed to death could also come back to life, because it doesn’t seem like there would be enough non-zombie killed dead people to account for that giant mob? And what about Dale? Why didn’t he instantly rise up, since the conversation that the star of Frank Darabont’s new TNT show Shane and Grimes had about those two cops not being bit happened before Dale’s death, so the mutation had to have happened before this episode. If that’s the case, why are all the zombies rising up at once?
I don’t have answers to any of these questions but I’m relieved to be feeling genuinely curious about what they might be. Which proves once again that the zombie stuff is not only why we got hooked in the first place, it’s the sole reason we, the viewers, keep popping back up no matter how many times we get stabbed in the back.