Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Walking Dead: Nebraska

Hello everyone, and welcome back to the weekly Walking Dead recap that I’ll be doing alongside my co-host, Josh Winstead.

This week’s Walking Dead returned with a bang, continuing season 2’s storyline seconds after the mid-season ended, with a record-breaking 8.1 million people watching (despite the Grammy Awards offering lackluster competition).

In the opening moments of the episode we pick up right after the shocking mid-season ender, where a zombified Sophia had lumbered out of the barn and devastated us all, and as the rest of the survivors looked on in horror, grief, and shock, only Rick had the nerve to step up and put a bullet between her eyes. This week we are reunited with the survivors as they continue to reel from the shock of the revelation that one of their own was turned into a walker, while Carol quietly grieves the girl she lost a long time ago, not the thing that had emerged hissing from the barn. Daryl is angry that he’d wasted so much time in the woods looking for her (at least, that’s what he said, but it’s clear he’s sad that the girl he’d placed so many of his hopes in is now gone), Lori is shocked by Carl’s admission that he would have shot her if he’d seen her like that, and Shane continues to see Dale as his annoying, Tilley-hat-wearin’ conscience.

Meanwhile, Shane attacks Hershel and his family on their front porch, asking them how they could have kept this from them, and Herschel insists that he didn’t know Sophia was in there, that Otis had been the one rounding them up and putting them in there. It begs the question: if Maggie was going in there with the slop bucket and dumping the stuff, didn’t she notice a little girl in there? Is it possible that steeped in their own grief over losing their mother to this “disease,” they simply never put two and two together to realize that the little girl in the barn may have been the same one those other people in the RV were looking for?

It’s a tough scene, watching Hershel and his girls stand there full of their own shock and sadness, being attacked by others who are equally mourning having lost one of their own. We now know the reason that Hershel always has that pall of sadness about him, but in this episode the actor takes that look even deeper. We see a man who is utterly bereft, with no hope and no more belief in miracles.

What did you think of the Walking Dead return, Josh?

Joshua: Hi, Nikki! Boy, were the holidays bo-ring. I don't know what things were like at your house, but we had no running or screaming at all that didn't involve joyful children. And where's the fun in that? It's great to be back where none of the dangers to my sanity require I act with restraint. Or help them in the bathroom.

I thought the midseason premiere started strong, flagged in the middle, and then ended HUGE with a terrific reminder that this show is much less about the flesh-rotten walkers and much more about the soul-rotten ones. But before we jump straight to the last act, I did want to touch on that opening scene that picks up right where we left off in the barnyard. I think it's widely debatable whether or not Hershel and his family knew that the little girl in the barn was the same one for whom Rick and the quarry crew had been searching, but I have a feeling that the writers have no intention of offering a definitive answer. And that's fine by me – anything that adds to the tension is a plus, right? But the most significant thing about the whole sequence, more so than Maggie slapping Shane's raging face or Hershel demanding those pesky kids get off his lawn, was the fact that FINALLY this show has killed someone with a sickle.

Nikki: I’d like to believe that they didn’t know, that they simply were either too stressed or upset or in shock to realize that was Sophia, and perhaps Hershel hadn’t taken a look at all, and had no idea there was a little girl in there. I believe him when he says that. I don’t think he’s lied to them yet, has he? He’s certainly, um, eliminated a few things deliberately from conversation, but when confronted, he comes out with it.

But yes, let’s jump to the end scene because it’s the one I’ve been talking about endlessly with other friends who watch TWD. First, it was driving me absolutely batty that I knew the one actor from something else and I simply couldn’t place him, and then he sat down at one point and slurred something, and as soon as he spoke like that I said to my husband, “Ah! It’s the Cajun guy from True Blood!” Leave it to me to take an eternity to place a person. The non-accent threw me.

But the scene is rife with tension from the moment they walk in. Again, my husband actually thought they should have tried to befriend these two, and that Rick simply pushed them too far, too fast, and it was inevitable that things would go south really quickly. REALLY quickly. But why does Rick shoot them? What I love about the scene is that there’s no simple answer, but many possibilities, all of which are probably a little bit correct and help build new layers onto an already complex character:
• He’s snapped. He just shot Sophia in the head and has now emerged as a new, take-no-shit kind of guy who sees a problem and deals with it instantly.
• He’s still Rick, but he’s realized in arguing with Shane that maybe Shane is NOT completely right, and when he heard the guy say that on his way down from Nebraska he had to do a lot of things that were necessary, he saw these two as Shane times ten and decided to eliminate them before they became a danger to his family.
• In the aftermath of what happened at the barn, and the tension that’s been building with Lori and Shane and Hershel and Glenn and realizing that by leaving the farmhouse they could be walking away from their last chance at normalcy and domesticity, seeing Tony pissing in the corner just sent him over the edge and reminded him of everything he’s about to lose, and what the world has become.
• All of the above.

I loved the way it was handled and the questions that will arise from it. What did you think?

Joshua: Well, I recognized Michael Raymond-James right away, not only from his excellent stint as Rene on True Blood (perhaps my favorite character from season 1) but also from the co-lead role in FX's critically acclaimed ratings casualty Terriers (the only season of which may not ever see proper dvd release but is available via iTunes and Amazon and Netflix instant streaming right now; I promise it's one of the best shows you've never seen, right hand skyward, so go check it out for yourself). He's a terrific actor, and like fellow 3-name cannon fodder Pruitt Taylor Vince before him, I hated to see him dispatched so quickly, because he would have been a great addition to the cast. I don't think he had more than ten minutes of total screen time, but there's no denying it was an electrifying ten minutes.

Then again, Dave did not exactly seem like the kind of guy you'd want watching your back. Those ten minutes were also enough to prove to Rick beyond a shadow of a doubt that his family and the rest of the group he has sworn to protect were going to be safer if they didn't have to worry about running into these two guys again. As you mentioned, though, all their creepiness was relatively subjective. Neither of them said or did anything too horrid or damning; even Tony's bad-dog micturation, when taken in the context of a ruined bar in a ruined town on a ruined planet, and occupied only by men, is just uncouth and overly familiar. Worthy of execution? Not even close.

But that's judging the situation using old world rules, and the old rules no longer apply. Given your previous choices for murder justification, I'd go with 'All of the Above,' and then some. It's cumulative, and the longer Rick stared into this guy's eyes and listened to the matter-of-fact account of his survival and its all-too-familiar ambiguities and rationalizations, the more certain he became that the safest choice of action did not allow for the luxury of innocence until proven guilty. Dave said it himself: “Ain't nobody's hands clean in what's left of this world. We're all the same.” Much too close to home for poor besieged Officer Grimes, I think. And with Shane's admonition that “you're just as delusional as that guy” still ringing in his ears, not to mention the unshakable sight of the girl he couldn't keep safe staring back at him from down the barrel of a gun, the choice was almost made for him.

What I find myself anticipating most are the reactions from Glenn and Hershel after the fact. Glenn tends to be a pretty pragmatic guy, so I'm sure he'll take it relatively in stride. As for Hershel, maybe this encounter will serve to shake him of the delusional belief that he doesn't need people around who can pull the trigger like that, looking out for the few loved ones he has left.

Nikki: Well said! And I agree on Rick listening to Dave yammer on while everything that had just happened to him was running through his brain. This is a Brave New Destroyed World he’s in, where Nebraska is a wasteland where you pick up guns, where you can take guns off a dead cop’s body with no repercussions (and have no remorse about doing so), where people just assume they have the right to your house and you don’t have the right to say no. And he thought, this world needs some order in it. And I’m a cop. Under new rules. Bang.

And you’re right about Hershel; I wondered the same thing. If Rick can protect Hershel’s homestead from afar like that, maybe he should keep him around. But I don’t know if Rick wants to stay around.

I’ll leave the final word to you, but I just wanted to mention two more things:

Dale blaming Shane for Otis’s murder and threatening him when Shane was getting in the truck. Oh wait… no… that only happened in Shane’s head. For what I LOVED about that scene was the fact that Shane did ALL the talking, and other than one brief flinch, Dale neither moved nor uttered a single word. Shane’s guilt is so huge he’s simply imagining every word Dale would say, as if Dale’s an evil Jiminy Cricket conscience. Of course, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you, and sure enough, Dale truly thought every word Shane said, because he repeats it to Lori (though much of his accusation was likely gleaned from what Shane all but admitted to).

And speaking of Lori, I hope the zombies break into the car and eat her. She’s the ONLY CAR ON THE ROAD and she manages to get into an accident. What a dumbass. She honestly drives me batty.

OK, take us home, Josh!

Joshua: Something I neglected to mention about the encounter in the bar, and a factor that I am sure played a part in Rick's decision to shoot first and ask questions never, was Dave's mention of a group with which they were traveling. He didn't go into any sort of detail, but “group” in this environment could mean anything at all. I'm sure the scenarios Rick imagined in his head ran the gamut from a ragtag impromptu militia to a full-scale cannibalistic concentration camp, not unreasonably so. And if Dave and Tony were just scouts, then no doubt we haven't seen the last of whoever they are.

Bits & Bobs:

- The way Sophia's funeral played out was one of the saddest things I've seen on this show so far, from Carol's speech about how “Sophia died a long time ago” to the perfunctory way everyone just walks away from the gravesite without a word being spoken, as depicted by that great overhead shot before the commercial break. Quiet, deliberate awfulness, perfectly portrayed.

- Speaking of Carol, I thought the scene where she stumbles shellshocked out of the woods and Shane cleans her scratched arms was perfectly placed within the episode, as I was getting pretty sick of Shane's fuming and stomping around by then. But he makes his half-confession to her about worrying how everyone else in the group thinks he's coming unglued (possibly because of how often he acts like he's totally coming unglued), and then... nothing. End of scene. Huh? What a missed opportunity to provide more depth for our increasingly one-note deputy.

- And speaking of the funeral, the big 'I Cry B.S.' moment of the episode for me was when we saw the gravedigging crew as they finished their work, and NOBODY WAS WEARING GLOVES. If any one of them wasn't bleeding from the palms at that moment, then they must do a heckuva lot more shoveling than anyone I know. Sure, it's a nitpicky complaint, but really – it's a farm, people. Use your brains for something besides zombie bait.

- Bye, Nice Guy Daryl; we hardly knew ye. Sigh. I know he made that bitter speech to Lori about how he was “done lookin' for people,” but like you mentioned earlier, I'm not so sure the façade has crumbled away, or that it's actually a façade at all, for that matter. And since no one else even knows Lori left, I wonder if Daryl will end up being the one that goes to look for her by default, possibly even saving her life. Rick & Glenn & Hershel could always find her on the way back to the farm, but I love the idea that Rick and his family might be beholden to Daryl like that. (Then again, like you, I also kind of love the idea that Lori doesn't come back at all, so maybe it's best to ignore me.)

- Dale, regarding Shane: “I knew guys like him. And sooner or later, he's gonna kill someone else.” Yeah – probably you, dude. But am I reading too much into it, or does that phrasing seem to imply that Dale has combat experience, likely in Vietnam? And if so, will that end up meaning more than the simple fact that Dale has been somewhat disingenuous about his familiarity with guns?

- Rick: “She's smart enough to know what she feels.” Glenn: “No, no, no.” Hahahahaha!

- One final note about the bar scene... I think Dave's awesome toast needs to be in every TWD commercial for the rest of the season. “To better days and new friends. 'Til we're dead.” (After which, in my viewing notes, I prophetically jotted: “In about 5 minutes.”)

Thanks, Nikki! Have a great week, everyone.


Colleen/redeem147 said...

I kept yelling, "Rick, he's a serial killer!" Guess he heard me.

What that scene said to me was that Rick is still a cop and he has those instincts to go by. He shot the man who was about to shoot him.

The glove thing isn't a nitpick when you might be bleeding and you're dealing with zombie parts. Any of them could have been infected.

yourblindspot said...

Thank you, Colleen, for championing my glove quibble. (Also hard to accurately shoot a pistol with a palm full of weeping blisters, I would guess...)

Jessica said...

Yay! And we're back!

In addition to all the reasons you listed as to why Rick would shoot, the biggest reasons for me were Dave reaching for his gun first (Rick is just an excellent Quick-Draw-McGraw) and the implied/body language of the conversation held. At some point didn't the bigger guy even say something about there not being any hot ladies around?

I also think that Hershel is going to take this incident in stride. As someone who only let Rick and the crew on his land because of Carl being shot, I can't imagine he would be any more hospitable to these two jerks.

As someone who's read the comics, I know it is just wishful thinking, but Lori getting eaten by a zombie in the car would be cause me to cheer!
Also, maybe cause I'm not a mom (to human children) yet, but I don't really get how Lori can act so suprised/shocked/upset with Carl stating that he would have shot Sophia too. I mean, really Lori, you're in this world as it is and I'd be proud that my kid wasn't acting like a big baaby and was prepared to take care of himself if need be.

Page48 said...

Dave and Tony were "The Walking Brain-Dead".

As if 300 pound Tony, expressing his lusty intentions towards the farm hotties (every farm has 'em), and pissing on the floor of the bar, was EVER going to score an invite to stay at Hershel's farm or anywhere else.

For his part, Dave at least kept his floor dry and his erotic aspirations to himself, but then he slipped up by coming across as just plain freaking evil. Next thing you know, we would have found out he was a mean drunk.

Officer Swift Justice saw a bad situation developing in a hurry and, remembering the advice of that other legend of law enforcement, Barney Fife, nipped it in the bud.

Forest City Fashionista said...

Am with both of you about Lori--she has become one of the most annoying characters in the show, and I was having a WTF moment during that car crash scene. "Has she not learned to let Rick come home by himself"? "Don't read a map while driving, dumbass", "oh look, a walker on the road, imagine that". Arrrrrghhhh.

Austin Gorton said...

@Nikki: I’d like to believe that they didn’t know, that they simply were either too stressed or upset or in shock to realize that was Sophia

I totally believe that Hershel and co. didn't know Sophia was in the barn, I just think the idea that they didn't is silly, for all the reasons you mentioned.

That said, I appreciate the writers giving us an explanation (Otis corralled the walkers and died before he could tell them about the little girl), no matter how questionable I find that explanation.

That final scene in the bar was simply marvelous, and earned a lot of goodwill squandered by the meandering middle parts (and Lori's epic stupidity). Loved the way subtext remained subtext, and tensions rose subtly and gradually until bam! Rick goes all badass. A master class in suspense film making.

Like killing Zombie Sophia and Shane leading the charge to execute the walkers, it's the kind of thing that is right and wrong at the same time (but because Rick is relatively more developed and seems to question his place in this new lawless society rather than just being batshit insane, his actions seem badass and applause worthy, whereas Shane's actions are creepy and disturbing).

Anonymous said...

I thought it was a good beginning to season 2-1/2. 3 things I took from the eposide:

1) I think fromm his PD experience Rick just knows how to read people ( as experienced most cops do) and knew there was going to be trouble and was ready.

2) I think this will change Herchel's mind about wanting Rick et al to leave. They need a doctor, he needs protection that Rick< shane & Daryl can provide.

3) Yes!!!!! Maybe they aren't going to neuter Daryl like I felt they did to Sawyer on Lost! He's sick of lookin' for people. Love it.

Great recap!

-Tim ALan

Zach Z said...

Way late to the party, but glad you two are back at this. About to sit down and watch the next episode can't wait to find out about any other people Dave and Tony might have been traveling with and what the repercussions are of Rick's actions.

Oh and Terriers was the most phenomenal show that nobody watched...well that and Party Down

yourblindspot said...

@ZachZ: Thanks, man! Me too. We're missing this week in crazy job-related business but will double up next week to make up for it.

I dig your blog, by the way. If you live in the LA area, are into DIY music and aren't familiar with Chad Metheny's stuff as Emperor X, you should definitely check it out. His new one was my favorite record of the year last year. Super cool.