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The Walking Dead Recap: Action at Last

Well hello there, Walking Dead. Back from the dead, are we? (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

It’s just amazing how much smoother the plot holes go down when something is actually happening on this show. For the first time since last season, I felt engrossed enough to not be consumed with all the small things this show gets wrong. Up until this episode, the majority of this season has consisted exclusively of small things: petty dramas, misdirected stakes, so much stalling. I’m not sure I can go so far as to say that it got everything right with this one, but at least it was entertaining and the nonstop action felt like content instead of just bookends.

The Walking Dead still has a ways to go in terms of figuring out what a satisfying teaser opening is. If someone gave me an address, I’d be happy to send a Six Feet Under boxed set over so they can get the general idea. The zombie herd explanation didn’t really work in that it was both not all that interesting to watch and once again didn’t really show anything we hadn’t already seen. I understand why it was sort of cool to show the seeds of how they form into the herds, but that really doesn’t explain how it is that they all ended up at the same remote farm in the middle of nowhere as our main cast of characters. I mean, I’ve never actually been to Georgia, so perhaps I’m speaking out of turn, but even the sound-staged Gone With the Wind appeared to be made up of more than a couple of buildings in downtown Atlanta, one strip of highway, one old-timey pharmacy, and one field. And if all those zombies were slogging their way through the woods just moments before, how come Shane and the gang didn’t come across them while they were searching for Randall? Or in any of the days and days (and episode hours and hours) previous to this episode, all that time spent on the farm? Then again, it’s often been hard to tell the difference between the main characters and the zombies in terms of brain power, executive decision-making, verbal skills, etc. and so in that sense, I guess it was appropriate for both groups to be given the same thin backstories.

And of course, most people, upon witnessing all those zombies coming at them, would’ve climbed into their RV and fuel-efficient Hyundai and plowed as many zombies down as they could on their way off that farm forever. But if there’s anything we’ve come to understand about our gang it’s that they’ve managed to remain among the last known survivors of a zombie plague based on ... absolutely nothing. They're the Chauncey Gardners of our time. Watching them strategize their way through an apocalypse is like watching Daffy Duck sleepwalk his way through a construction site.

I have to say, even though I found it absurd that they stayed to fight, and at times was convinced I was watching a video game (Portal!) instead of a TV show as each one of our numskull characters managed to achieve a perfect, bull's-eye shot to the head with every discharge of their gun (sometimes while in a moving car), and despite the fact that I laughed my head off (along with all of America, I’m convinced — every single person, even comedic geniuses who don’t laugh at anything ever, even people in catatonic states, even Sarah Palin, just everybody) when Lori finally realized her son was missing, I still was practically drunk with gratitude that not only were they at last getting off that farm but they were doing it in a way that didn’t involve tedious, counterproductive, underwritten arguments. Nonsensical violence is the stuff that horror movies are made of. As has been pointed out by many before me, the genre might as well be subtitled “What are you doing wandering into that dark basement alone without a weapon?” And since this show is at its best when it remembers it’s supposed to veer closer to Night of the Living Dead than Days of Our Lives, I was in principle more or less fine with their over-the-top and really pretty pointless last stand.

Besides, it gave them a chance to kill off some dead, silent, hovering weight. I appreciated the campy gore and guts of last night’s two deaths, although I thought it was a slight cop-out to have it happen to nobodies. It would’ve been ballsier to have a zombie also rip apart a main character mid-episode, without fanfare, and would’ve really gotten across the random, undiscriminating terror of what these people are living through. And even though, as characters, Jimmy and the Widow Otis were the faintest traces of chalk left on the sidewalk after the police outlines have faded from view, I still felt angry on their behalf about the fact that they would’ve had a better chance at surviving if their insufferably entitled houseguests hadn’t crashed into their lives.

I was glad to see the return of Daryl. I know he’s been there in body for the last six episodes, but in spirit he has been gone. Tonight seemed to signal that the writers are once again going to allow him to be the charismatic, effortlessly competent underdog we already loved from the first half of this season before they inexplicably decided to mess with him. Their flip-floppy-ness with his character was very Grimes-dealing-with-Randall-like and I’m a little worried that with Shane gone, they might try to make Daryl the bad guy again, which would be a real mistake. Even though I know it’s crazy for him to drive through a mob of zombies on a motorbike from the fifties while wearing not even short sleeves, but no sleeves, and his attachment to Carol best be some sort of abandoned-by-his-mother issue and not an actual physical attraction or else I’m going to freak out, I’m still signing on for all of it because that’s what classic heroes do. They emerge from the pit of snakes unscathed but with a convincing amount of dirt of their faces. They possess an understated swagger in the face of danger. They have parental issues (seriously, writers, I’m warning you about this one, you cannot have those two hook up, there will be riots). I know this show has been trying to convince us for forever that Grimes is the hero of this show, but they’re wrong. We know it, the writers maybe know it, the other characters definitely do.

Hershel has also emerged as a favorite character for me. Liking him is obviously more controversial than liking Daryl, but I’m into him. I could definitely handle his never bringing up his recently writer’s-workshopped recovering alcoholic backstory again, but that thing he said about when he thought about Jesus resurrecting the dead, he had something different in mind, that was a real, actual line. It may have actually been the first time in this show’s history where a line was said that didn’t just serve to advance a character’s purpose or theme but actually existed to entertain on its own merits. Up until that line, Hershel’s man of God angle has served mainly just to make its viewers wonder if this whole show has an overriding religious agenda behind it. In many ways, the show’s been walking a fine line between disconcerting propaganda and complicated character development, and I was happy to see it cross over to the latter side, at least in this scene. After everyone, except a stranded Andrea, wises up and climbs into the cars with working locks and windows and gas pedals that they should have been inside all along, they drive off, I guess in totally separate ways. It’s weird how the size of Hershel’s farm morphs from scene to scene. Last episode the property was both big enough for Shane to have to drive from one point to another while simultaneously being small enough for him to spend hours (or at least that’s how Grimes made it seem during his marathon speech which I will get to in a moment) luring Grimes away from everyone else, only to wind up in the field next to the barn. It didn’t make any sense to me how the cars managed to lose each other as thoroughly as they did, especially since Lori “One Way Road Map” Grimes wasn’t even driving. I will admit something embarrassing here, though, which you guys can feel free to hold over my head next season when these people resort back to their old ways (which they to do immediately following the scene I am about to describe), but I got a tiny bit choked up by the reunion on the highway. I loved when Grimes high-fived Daryl and I didn’t even flinch (that much) when Grimes kissed Lori. Because you know what is the opposite of fighting? Being happy that you and other human beings have survived a zombie apocalypse.

Not that this happiness lasted for long. It was only a few scenes later that the bickering and going back on already made decisions started up again. One minute they’re risking their lives to return to a potentially zombie-choked highway so that they can all be together, the next they’re whispering that they should split up. Grimes tells everyone that the big secret Jenner told him is that they’re all carrying the virus, although he’s not all that specific about what this means. I would’ve had a lot of questions about this, but our gang instead just jumps on him about why he kept it from them. It is understandably confusing, I agree, but does it really warrant our forgetting about the sentimental moment we all just had back on Sophia Is Dead Highway? Carol is especially worked up and she uses it as an opportunity to complain to Daryl that the group only sees her as the definite burden that she is, making her another female character on this show who tries to turn her, um, male companion against the others.

The worst, though, is the scene between Grimes and Lori. Oh wow, this scene. Setting aside that his confession was the length of a Thorn Birds book on tape read aloud by a child just learning the alphabet, whoever made the decision to shoot that scene with an emphasis on Lori’s reaction is surely feeling a little worried about checking their e-mail today. I’m sorry, Sarah Wayne Callie, you’re probably a nice person, you might even be a great person, the member of your family who never forgets to send a birthday card, even to the minor cousins whom you haven’t seen since you were 3, but you just don’t have the facial-expression range to sustain a camera focused on your face for that amount of time. Perhaps this would’ve been the time when you could’ve finally put that long, never-pulled-up hair to good use and chewed on it or wrapped it around your head or even just stood there, French braiding it. That’s what I would’ve done.

I thought Andrea, however, shone in this episode. The badass she has tried so hard to convince us all she is finally came across. As for her new savior, well, we all know we were into that. “Oh yes, let’s keep her” is I believe the exact phrase we all (again, all of America) said to our television screens. I haven’t read the comics and so I can only guess based on comments and casting announcements as to what we will call her in season three, but even without knowing anything else about her, it sure is nice to make her acquaintance. (If you have read the comics, I think it’d be best to not elaborate on this character in the comments section. Would definitely count as a spoiler and this one seems worth the wait, even though I’m sure there will be plenty of spoilers about her between now and this autumn elsewhere.)

The having to wait part is actually my biggest grievance. We should’ve met this lady by episode four of this season and definitely no later than the start of the second half. Even though indecisiveness is now the key component of Rick’s character and will most likely be his downfall, that could’ve been incorporated throughout while developing the plotline in non-tedious and even exciting directions like this hooded new arrival. With quality shows, it should take the same length of time to describe a entire season that it takes for a single episode to play, and this one could unfortunately be summed up in a few sentences: Gang searches and searches and searches. The farm stays and stays and stays. Everyone fights and fights and fights. Hats are passed and passed and passed. Same decisions are made and unmade and made again. Sex is briefly had and then not had and then, shockingly, still not had. Farm burns and burns and burns. Audience rejoices and a spark of hope is lit anew.

Photo: Gene Page/AMC