“The Walking Dead” is crawling back into my heart. Episode 10, “18 Miles Out,” demonstrated that the writers have grasped the concept of developing their characters while actually having something happen, the piece that was missing from the first half of the season. The episode was also successful because it was one of the tighter, more focused episodes that we’ve seen. It’s the smart tactic — focusing on two storylines and letting the story grow more organically around them, instead of trying to shoehorn a little bit of everything into too little time.
In this case, they addressed the evolving nature of Rick and Shane’s — friendship may no longer be the right word — relationship, I suppose. It was an episode that was surprising, yet also unsurprising given the sense of inevitability that their increasingly treacherous interactions have taken on. Framed around the attempt to release Randall (Michael Zegen) from their captivity while still keeping their group safe from the hostile raiders he was found with, the story really had little to do with him, and was instead about Rick and Shane. It was a curious episode, particularly for those who’ve read the graphic novels and were perhaps expecting a different outcome, yet it was still a satisfactory one. The growing, festering rift between Shane and Rick had to be resolved somehow, and it appeared to be one destined for darkness. Whether or not Shane’s epiphanous moment after their shockingly vicious brawl and the ensuing zombie-ridden chaos will keep him from his collision course with madness remains to be seen, but it was a solid development nonetheless.
Interestingly, it showed that the two men are perhaps closer than we think, and the constant strain of their interpersonal conflicts amidst an undead apocalypse is bringing them closer to a kind of middle ground, with each showing that they’re more like the other than they may like to think. I know that some of you were perhaps disappointed that Rick didn’t abandon Shane in that death trap of a school bus, but in truth, what they did was allow Rick to stay true to the principles of the character. I’m of two minds of it, myself, but I found Rick’s willingness to finally stand his ground to be quite satisfying. Similarly, Jon Bernthal’s Shane remains one of the better characters, so I’m not disappointed to see him remain with the show. Story aside, the fight itself and the way it flowed into the zombie onslaught was one of the more impressive pieces of action directing the show has seen.
Back at the farm (a phrase I’ve grown a little tired of typing), events centered around Beth’s newly discovered suicidal impulses, a theme that has been examined before with Andrea’s close encounter at the CDC in Atlanta. That one was handled clumsily at best, while this time it was a bit more engrossing. As with the Rick/Shane/Randall scenes, this tale wasn’t about Beth, but in truth was about Lori and Andrea. Sadly, the two of them are the strongest female characters on the show, and have been, thus far, handled with a disappointing ineptitude, resorting to shrillness and frustrating stupidity at times. Yet in “18 Miles Out,” the two are finally given some worthy moments, and both handled themselves quite well.
What was most remarkable about it was the insightfulness that Andrea displayed, a depth that’s previously been shrouded in a miserable unpleasantness. Yet her startling clarity of understanding about people’s resentment of Lori, and Lori’s subsequent lack of true recognition of the others’ loss, rang true and honest. She hit the nail on the head, and her quiet fury with Lori revealed something that even I hadn’t realized, something that helped nail down what makes Lori such a frustrating character. Lori hasn’t lost anything nearly on the scale of everyone else, and it’s given her almost a sense of entitlement, a feeling that she’s in greater control. It was one of Laurie Holden’s finer moments on the show, and it finally allowed someone to take on Lori’s assumption that she always knows best, and to do it directly and honestly. It was tinged with a bitterness and anger that still succeeded in feeling genuine and heartfelt. And the more I think about it, the more sense it makes — were I there, I’d hate and resent Lori as well. Not because she can be a bit of a shrew, but because she constantly and selfishly pushes her own agenda, not realizing how self-serving it is.
Was it a perfect episode? No, perhaps not, but perhaps that’s too much to ask of a show this inconsistent. It was, however, one of the better episodes. It slaked the zombie fans’ bloodlust, and the scene 18 miles out with zombies pouring out of the building like an undead swarm was truly harrowing (even if Shane’s cutting his hand as a diversionary tactic seemed a little silly). Particularly gruesome was Rick’s battle while slowly being buried in walkers, and his final through-the-mouth coup de grâce certainly qualifies it for zombie kill of the week. “The Walking Dead” (hopefully) feels like its finding itself, balancing the terror of the dead with the angst and agony of the living.