Nikki: I can’t help it. I have to begin with the end of this episode. How can I begin to describe my reaction? After listening to Shane’s big speech about no longer seeing these zombies as people, but things – dangerous things that can kill you – he throws open the doors to the barn and begins shooting at them as they wander out into the daylight. Hershel looks on, horrified, but in most shows there would be a specifically big moment where his wife wandered out, he’d yell, “NOOO!” and Shane would turn, have a moment of looking him in the eye, and then turn back to finish the job. But that didn’t happen. Each walker was like the last, and each “kill” was as painful as the one before it. So for me, I kept thinking how awful it must be for Hershel to watch this, because he knew these people (he knew the ones down by the river, and no doubt knew many of the others in the barn, too). But I couldn’t imagine how he must have felt, because to me, they were just things, too. Just like they were to Shane.
And then… there was one more. I said to my husband, “It must be Hershel’s wife. This is where he’s going to fight Shane.” “No, it’s a little girl, I think,” said my husband. “Ah, it must be the stepson, remember he mentioned the stepson?” And then the camera panned out.
I literally dropped my pen into my lap and slapped my hand over my mouth and whisper-screamed, “Oh my god it’s Sophia!” and without any warning, I began crying. It was such an instant and unexpected reaction to this scene, but with everything Shane had just said about these walkers being things and not people, coupled with Carol’s scream (which echoed mine), and Sophia walking out slowly, quietly, yet with purpose, I couldn’t help it. The little girl was dead. I had flashes in my head of what she must have gone through, how she would have been alone in the woods, scared for her life as the walkers descended on her and mangled her little body. How she’s been trapped in that barn for days, with people continuing to risk their lives for her.
But mostly, I screamed because I still had hope. Unlike Carol, unlike Shane, I was like Carl and Daryl – I had hope. I really wanted her to be alive. SO much. And you know how the other walkers have those blank, evil, nasty stares? Her eyes looked beautiful. They weren’t just white and milky, but ethereal and shining. She was still a lovely little girl, even as a walker. Was I just seeing her the way Carol was?
And of course it was Rick who would pull that trigger. After all his talk and bluster, after getting everyone else on board, Shane just stood there, numb and in shock. Rick was the one who had to shake himself out of his stupor, walk down that path, grab the gun and kill the creature that was once Sophia. He still feels responsible for having left her by that tree, and he feels like he has to be the one to end things for her. Just as Andrea killed the walker that used to be her sister, Rick takes out Sophia. And with that bullet, so much hope died.
It was extraordinary storytelling, putting us in Hershel’s shoes, then in Shane’s, where no matter what side you were on before, you were probably in agreement with him when you saw those things walk out of the barn… and then putting you right back in the shoes of the person who still sees them as people. Devastating, heartbreaking, and extraordinary television.
Josh: Well, because I missed watching live last night, I finished the episode mere moments before sitting down to type these words, and I'm typing clumsily because my hands are still shaking. The entire final act, from the moment Shane first strode up to the farmhouse porch, was spectacularly intense and a perfect example of why my wife won't watch this show with me. And also why, despite its faults, I so enjoy it.
When I wrote that something big was needed to wrap up the story of the search for Sophia, this was not at all what I had in mind. Fortunately, it's much better than anything I had in mind. And when I say 'better,' of course, what I mean is better for the show. For our cast of survivors? Worse. Much, much worse. I'm with you, Nikki, in that I did not see that coming at all. ['THE WALKING DEAD' COMIC SPOILER ALERT] And perhaps I should have done so, but this is another of those cases when my having read the source material serves to heighten my experience rather than hinder it, since the comics are at ninety issues and counting now, and Sophia is alive and well. Bless their hearts for confounding my expectations, too, because it gutted me when she shuffled out of that barn.[END SPOILER]
Now that Sophia's story has ended, my mind reels with possibilities for what happens next. The issue of whether or not the group stays at Hershel's farm would hold a lot more significance for me if I thought they were half as sheltered as they all seem to believe. And after firing roughly two hundred rounds in the barnyard (what happened to quiet weapons? ammo conservation?), every walker in a fifty mile radius is bound to be headed their way. Is this the end of their safe haven? What do you think, Nikki?
Nikki: The discussion my husband and I had immediately following the episode was, did Hershel and his family KNOW that little girl was Sophia? How many little girls could there have been within those woods? They knew that Daryl and Shane and Andrea were out there day after day risking life and limb for that little girl, and they didn’t think to mention, “Oh, she MIGHT actually be undead.” My husband thinks they knew, and I’m desperately trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. Regardless, there was a clip of the next episode (coming in FEBRUARY… wah) shown during Hell on Wheels that raised that very issue. At this point, the survivors will be lucky if Hershel doesn’t walk into that house, throw his bible in the garbage and turn on all of them with a gun.
My worry is, he’s going to walk in that house and turn a gun on himself.
I’m really hoping that the events of the end of the episode will actually force them off the farm and back into the world, because then the story will pick up again. I was chatting with a work colleague at lunch today about it and he said he’d been ready to give up, and said, “That episode where Daryl was walking through the woods… how long was that script? A page?! ‘Man walks through forest for 20 minutes. Sees spectre of dead brother. Walks back.’” I know a lot of fans were feeling that way, and while this season seemed to be an extended version of My Dinner with Andre and featured more existentialist conversation than zombie-stompin’, I think the end of it was (thankfully) a pay-off. The conversation mostly revolved around the idea of should we stay or should we go? Is Sophia alive or is she dead? You had those who were insisting on staying – Rick, Lori, Carl, Glenn, Carol, Daryl (how have I never noticed their names rhyme before now?) – and those who were insisting on going – namely Shane, with Andrea backing him. T-Dog's been mostly a background character with no dialogue all season; Dale’s always against Shane but it’s not clear he wants to stay on the farm, either.
So after all that talk, it all came down to that moment, and felt worth it. But they really, REALLY need to move on and make things interesting again, or I’m not sure how many people will be sticking around for S3.
Josh: Sadly true. And gee, that's almost all there is to talk about, isn't it? We're concise today, dude! High five!
There were two more quick things I wanted to mention. First, if it turns out Hershel knew that the girl they were searching for was likely the same one he had in the barn, then he's a dead man – Daryl will slit his throat while he sleeps, and that will be that. Second, I really hope they don't kill Shane at the end of this season like I think they will, because this loose cannon stuff is awesome. He's so unhinged at this point that whatever happens moving forward will just feel like marking time until he snaps.
Any final words, Nikki, as we move into the midseason break?
Nikki: Good final thoughts! I kind of agree on Shane… I can’t stand the guy, but he certainly adds a lot of tension in every scene he’s in. Part of me really wants Zombie Otis to come back and feed on him, though. Walker karma.
Speaking of karma, I did have one last thing I wanted to talk about, and it was regarding the use of religion on this show, especially in Hershel and earlier in the season when they were in the church. I was recently having a discussion with a friend of mine. I identify as Christian (I know that makes me a minority in the community of reasonable-thinking people) and this person used to be, but is now a devout atheist. He said he thought the church scene was the most ridiculous thing in the world. “Seriously,” he said, “if people honestly still think there’s a God after the world has turned to shit and their friends and family have become zombies, then they’re more fucked up than they were to begin with.” (Okay, so this person wasn't exactly sympathetic to anyone's faith in the room at the time... hahaha!) He thought it was bad storytelling. I, on the other hand, said I thought they’d handled that scene beautifully (and I think I commented on it at the time): In a time when nothing makes sense, people turn to faith and God often in desperation. They pray because it’s the one thing they know. They believe that if nothing else will get them out of this, maybe God will. I don’t go to church or talk about my beliefs (since most of the people I know are atheists or agnostics anyway) but I know that when something happens to one of my kids, I’m sitting in the emergency room thinking, “Please please please let them be OK…” I’ll pray to just about anything at that point. And so will a lot of other people. But also in that scene you had the atheists who just didn't give the cross a second thought. And you had those like Rick who hadn't really thought about it in a long time, but now began to pray.
As this episode implies, when you have time to stop running from the walkers and think things through, maybe the Bible just isn’t effective anymore. It was written in a time when walkers weren’t in the world, when you weren’t running for your life from demons. New religions will no doubt crop up to take the place of whatever religion doesn’t work anymore. That said, I found it interesting that Hershel was reading Luke 8, and I’m pretty sure I know exactly what section he was reading, Luke 8:26. When you see what it is, you realize the faint hope he was holding onto so desperately, praying to God that maybe this one story just might be true…
26 They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. 27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” 29 For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.
30 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.
32 A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. 33 When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.
38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.