Nov 302011

The Walking Dead-Pretty Much Dead Already-barn shootout
Or as my mom and I came up with, Conversations with Dead People. (Alternate joke: The episode title is a reference to its pacing.)

This, my friends, was the episode of conversations. And conversations. And conversations. And… Look, when you’re doing a show like this, people are going to want zombie action. That’s understandable. It’s also understandable that it can’t be a non-stop action fest, that the action has to take a backseat to the storytelling and the characters.

But my God. It would be easier to name the scenes in this episode that weren’t people having conversations than it would be to name the scenes that were. Let’s try that, shall we?

I got… The ending scene. And, uh. That’s it. That’s all there was in this entire episode. Five minutes at the end spent on a shoot-em-up that makes you feel bad for the walkers, ending with us finding Sophia. Finally! We finally found Sophia! As an audience member, I for one am glad that we can finally move on in this story. Hershel kicks them off the farm since to him, they just killed his wife, and with Sophia dead now they don’t have to keep searching. Finally movement! Fort Benning or bust!

WHAT? You mean the previews show that come February, they’ll STILL be on the farm not moving? Jesus Christ. Wasted a perfectly good opportunity. But then again, this is the writing team that decided the way to close after several extremely slow-moving episodes was to spend an hour going even slower, practically not moving at all, before finally having a couple minutes of intense action and then finishing off. I am going to do you all a favor and stop that description before it turns into even more of a metaphor for really bad sex.

Look, I haven’t minded too much the slow pacing of the past few episodes. From Cherokee Rose through Secrets a lot of reviewers have complained about the zombie-like crawl the pacing has turned into. But you know what? Until this week, I didn’t really mind. There were interesting individual plots. I’m loving the stuff between Glenn and Maggie, and I thought their big conversation was the best of the episode, one of only a couple times I didn’t feel “Oh jeez, not another conversation” (the other was Dale vs. Shane in the woods). Their whole arc has been interesting to me, although I have quibbles with the ways the scenes in the pharmacy were filmed, visually. The Daryl & Merle stuff in Chupacabra was cool to watch. I’ve had problems with the writing, but when I’m letting myself just watch it the show’s been compelling.

Not this episode. This episode I was too distracted by how every scene was a conversation. No sex, no violence, just a few minutes at the end that has its issues as well.

You know those old Bugs Bunny cartoons like Racketeer Rabbit where the gangster is hiding in a box and Bugs says to the policeman, “If my pal Rocky were in here, would I do THIS?” Shane’s temper tantrum upon seeing the corralled walkers reminded me of that. “If this walker were alive, could I do THIS?” BAM BAM BAM! Or THIS? BAM BAM BAM! How about this? BAM! Shane, let’s face it, has gotten kind of cartoonish. He’s been falling apart at the seams ever since he killed Otis to save his own skin. He’s been yelling more, had poorer impulse control, used the kind of intimidation tactics a person should usually try to avoid doing if they don’t want it to come out, and having short-sighted temper tantrums. SHANE ANGRY! SHANE SMASH! SHANE WANT SHOOT GUN! SHANE WIMP OUT WHEN IT TIME TO BE ACTUALLY HEROIC!

For all Shane’s bravado about how he’s making the tough decisions here, there was only one person who had what it took to put Sophia down. And that’s because Rick, unlike Shane, actually does make the tough decisions. Like leading a zombie on a stick because it might help him make a home for his pregnant wife. As opposed to doing the exact thing most likely to get you kicked out of paradise because you’re scared and violence comes naturally to you, like Shane did. And he’d probably call that making a tough decision, too. Funny thing, you know. That barn really would have held indefinitely if Shane hadn’t taken a pickaxe to it. Shit was pretty damn secure. Dale is right about Shane. In a world full of monsters, it’s the people who are already monstrous that thrive. People like Shane and Merle. Those are the people who will do well if the world ends. But the people like Rick, who can bring a group together, make the real hard decisions, and provide hope, those are the ones who will restart the world.

I feel like I’ve said all this before.

Daryl is in an interesting place. His only option for most of his life was to be like his big brother. Suddenly he has options. He doesn’t have to be that kind of person. He says something very meaningful and revealing this episode: “Truth is, what else I got to do?” He can either be the person who’s looking for Sophia, or he can be mini-Merle. The same monster vs. humanity dichotomy that I just mentioned.

Meanwhile, Carl’s writing is consistently out of character. These writers have no idea how to write a realistic child’s voice. But at least there’s some symbolism in there. When Carl says to Shane, “We will find Sophia,” he’s wearing the Sheriff hat.

You’ll have to excuse me for not having very organized thoughts here. Most episodes, I have something to say because something happened. Nothing really happened this episode. Daryl threw a saddle and called Carol “bitch,” making me really uncomfortable because there’s some real chemistry between them and he was acting like her dead abusive husband. (How much time does she spend keeping her hair that short? Why are these women all still wearing makeup? You’d think Maggie would run out of foundation at some point.) The main zombie action wasn’t even suspenseful. The swamp, which is probably a big part of why the farm is so safe, kept the zombies in place while… Rick and Hershel had a conversation. The zombies at the end were basically walking into a slaughter at the ends of Daryl, T-Dog, Shane, Andrea, and eventually Glenn’s guns. Since they can afford to waste all this ammo because they live in TV Land, the zombies didn’t stand a chance. Shane should really have brought the infinite ammo generator with him when he went to the high school. Maybe then he would have waited to shoot Otis until he was bored one day. And Otis would have been like, “Hey, you lost a little girl? I pulled one out of the swamp. But she’s a zombie. Is this her?” But no, that would have resulted in a fast-moving story. Glenn at least gets a big heroic speech this episode, after being dissed by Shane in exactly the way Maggie was furious about last week. Speaking of Glenn, it’s interesting how his first thought was “Why would you waste an egg like that?” These people have been survival-focused for a long time.

Hershel, on the other hand, is so willfully committed to his ideas that the world is a certain way and he has control over it that he’s willing to send these people back into Hell. We see in this episode that he’s dealt with the zombies close up. He clearly knows what they’re like. If he stopped to think about it, he’d realize they’re living in a world where those things rule and will kill any living humans who cross their path. He knows enough to figure out what the world outside is like if he ever thought about it. And Rick has tried very hard to make him think about it. But Hershel has dug his feet in and committed himself to his point of view with a tenacity that has to require cognitive dissonance to maintain.

Finally, a couple of thoughts on Shane’s confrontation with Lori. “We lost Amy and we lost Jim. We lost…” Shane trails off without mentioning Ed. He almost does, but then realizes that was more of a gain. Shane also acts like a total dick—Wait, hang on, that statement doesn’t actually distinguish anything from his character as a whole. Shane also acts like he’s trying to reclaim Lori as his territory by reminding her that even if Rick’s gonna be the dad, Shane’s still the father, and she can’t get away from that. Shane looks to be planning to leverage this to control her somehow. Dale really should have shot him in the woods.

My prediction: They’re going to be burying their dead sometime soon, now that the dead aren’t walking around the barn.


  12 Responses to “The Walking Dead—Episode 2.07: “Pretty Much Dead Already””

  1. I know it’s been said before, but TWD really does seem to be losing it’s spark. It used to come up with situations not really seen in zombie fiction (ie. the “disguise” in Guts.), but seems to be relying more and more on tried and true zombie tropes. Still entertaining, but not as unique.

  2. Also, the egg thing:

    I actually thought it was a bit nice that they threw in a nod to the scarceness of supplies etc., something this show has been a bit lax at IMHO considering that they’re presenting it as strictly realistic (as much as possible for a show about re-animated corpses.)

  3. Arthur – I don’t necessarily disagree with your observations. However, my reaction to the episode was different than your’s.

    I’m certainly no fawning fanboy like the host of “Talking Dead,” but I found this week’s WD ending one of the most dramatically satisfying (albeit sad) in the my current troika of “never miss” TV shows — Sons of Anarchy and Boardwalk Empire being the other two (Mad Men’s on hiatus 😉 ) — All have ended their latest episodes with the “surprise” shooting of a main character.

    The contrast between Shane and Hershel’s diametrically opposed worldviews came to an admittedly predictable head. Shane forced the choice between his Darwinistic approach versus Hershel’s attempt to maintain some semblance of civilization (or as Kate Hepburn said in The African Queen: “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above”) to finally be made.

    And I have to admit that as much of a shit-heel I find Shane to be, HE was making more sense than Hershel. Rick looked pitiful rounding up that walker (“you gotta lead him”). I credit the writers for that.

    UNTIL, as you point out, Rick demonstrated WHY he is the group’s leader. Shane’s pathetic look upon seeing Sophia compared with Rick’s silent resolve was a bombshell of a moment for me in spite of all the flaws you rightfully point out.

  4. I had the laptop open during the first 30 minutes of this episode and was about to shut it off in frustration (“Jesus, will these people EVER stop talking?!”)–but then I had a vague memory of this being the last episode for awhile. Decided I better stick around.

    The ending was cool–but this show is definitely on double-secret probation with me…

    • It seems that the whole new writing staff doesn’t go into effect until Episode 8. At least, that’s what the Internet tells me. So I have a modicum of hope.

      This season, the show really seemed to be fulfilling last season’s potential, but it bogged down. Mo Ryan was right–they should have made more progress and done more things, showcasing Sophia, before she got lost and they ended up at the farm. That way, we’d have cared about her as a person, not just Random Lost Child.

      Also, Kirkman indicated on Talking Dead that Hershel had no real zombie-wrangling experience–that had been Otis’s job.

  5. #5 Deborah. IMHO, the “little girl lost” episodes weren’t really about Sophia at all (dare I say MacGuffin). Rather, the storyline was intended as a study of the two conflicting paths of humanity left in the post-Zombie world (Shane’s and Hershel’s).

    FWIW, I also think the dilemma of having to kill Sophia was an emotional enough moment in and of itself. There was something viscerally jarring about Rick pointing and firing a gun at a child that didn’t need further embellishment.

    To be sure, there were lots of times during the “search” when I just wanted to get them to get on with it. I may be in the minority on this, but, as I commented above, the payoff was worth it.

  6. Ok, I’ve been thinking about this for awhile and now that I’m not at work, I can write a long enough post to get my thoughts together on this episode.

    The more I think about it, the more I identify with Hershel’s worldview. Crazy and improbable as it may seem holding onto hope that the walkers can either be cured and/or that “normalcy” can be restored by other means is a very important thing in terms of the will to survive post zombie. Without that hope, there’s really nothing to survive for, and thus no point in surviving. In fact, surviving by definition pretty much means there’s at least some kind of chance of eventually reaching some kind of positive outcome. If all the survivors have to hope for is what they’ve got now, until they eventually succumb to some form of grisly death, via the walkers, starvation, sickness or injury or something else, there’s really no point, is there?

    The key thematic point that this whole season has been building toward seems to rest on that hope. Hershel, right or wrong, has a light at the end of his tunnel, the others don’t. Once they realize that (if they ever do)it will have profound implications for their group, and may cause them to see what Hershel was doing in that barn in a whole different light.

    To me at least, this is the underlying subtext of any post-apocalyptic fiction, not can we survive, but rather why should we survive. I’m not sure Rick, Shane or any of the others have truly confronted that crucial question yet, and for all it’s flaws, one thing this episode does do is give things a shove in that direction.

  7. I’m glad now i stopped watching the show four episodes back.

  8. Herschel is a good example of character-as-device. Shane may be the unreasonable extreme of animal nature pragmatism, and Rick the emblem of hope and moral resolve, but Rick isn’t at the extreme end of that. Herschel is there to show us the extreme end of the kind of hope and moral resolve that Rick has, and as a result we see the need for balance. Herschel is just as wrong in his extreme point of view as Shane is in his. So yes, Shane made more sense than Herschel. But Rick continues to make more sense than either of them.

    I agree that the payoff was amazing, but to me it wasn’t worth the several episodes of almost no movement or even worth one episode made up of 55 minutes of boring conversations and commercials ending with five minutes of action and a heart-wrenching moment of poignancy.

  9. Haven’t been commenting because I was in the hospital for a while, but this weekend I was able to watch the last three episodes of Season 2 back-to-back, and they made me angry for the reasons that you, Arthur, and the commenters above discuss. What made me angrier is the knowledge that I’ll totally be tuning in next season. I couldn’t articulate why, and then I read this sentence about the TWD on Cracked, of all places (I know):

    “The Walking Dead is successful because people are tuning in but watching a different, better show in their imaginations, every single week.”

    That describes why I watch exactly: I want the show to be good because I can understand how fantastic it could be, and I want it to get better. This makes all the show’s faults extra-disappointing.

    • “The Walking Dead is successful because people are tuning in but watching a different, better show in their imaginations, every single week.”


      I hope you are feeling much better, Tasha.

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