This is the show’s last chance to impress before its mid-season break. Has it succeeded? Kieran Mathers finds out…
Finally. After hours of wandering through the woods, The Walking Dead rediscovers what it’s good at; theatre like intimacy and intensity; emotional engagement; a Mamet-esque development and understanding of male characters. This episode drives the plot forward and gives everyone in the wider ensemble something to actually do. It also features a climactic zombie massacre that would do the source material proud. At long last, it’s television that makes you want to carry on watching.
Shane (Jon Bernthal) continues to evolve into the most interesting character in the show, his commitment to survival underpinning all the worst aspects of his nature. But what’s really interesting is the way the other characters are reacting to him. While Andrea is increasingly drawn to his strength, the ever insightful Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) is forced into a wonderfully tense confrontation in the swamp. His accusation that Shane is the perfect man for this new world has real bite, as does Shane’s retort that, as a man clinging to his principles, Dale is “pretty much dead already”.
(I do take slight issue with the fact that Dale was able to guess the fate of poor Otis. I’m not sure how he did it, other than perhaps watching Shane and making assumptions, but it’s a pretty big leap to take. Especially when the zombies could quite easily have been responsible.)
And that’s the conflict at the heart of this episode; should the group cut its losses and protect itself, or hope that the danger isn’t real and that the missing Sophia can be found?
Rick (Andrew Lincoln) again proves to be Shane’s moral counterpoint but his attempts to reconcile Hershel (Scott Wilson) to the group’s plight seem increasingly naïve and the sight of him herding walkers into the barn is strangely pathetic. For the first time, we’re forced to wonder if Shane could be right about him – if he hadn’t slept through the end of the world, would he have made it?
The same could be said of Hershel who, safe on his farm, has been able to keep the worst excesses of the new world order at bay, or at least locked up in his barn. The look on his face as Shane and the others forcibly demonstrate the error of his ways is a master class in desolation and it’ll be good to see what the writers do with him after this.
Which brings us, at last, to that extremely powerful ending. Not only is it technically impressive in its use of music and camera angles, but the narrative itself is brilliantly bold; a sucker-punch that plays on that sense of loss I mentioned last week and which reinstates the air of peril this season has been lacking. The emotional impact is guaranteed to last throughout the mid-season break.
It’s an excellent return to form for a show that seemed to have lost its way. It’s just a shame it didn’t happen a few episodes ago!