It’s been a long few months since Season Two of “The Walking Dead” went on break, and episode 8, “Nebraska,” picks up right where we left off. In the wake of the — “massacre” isn’t quite right — the slaughter of the zombies in Hershel’s barn — zombies that included the young Sophia as well as Hershel and company’s family and friends, the tension has been heightened palpably. Episode 7 was one that foretold change coming to the quiet farm that had become a refuge for Rick and company, change that was desperately needed as the show had become stuck in a slog of vapid dialogue and dull inaction.
“The Walking Dead” has touted itself as a sort of thinking person’s zombie apocalypse, one that emphasized characters and story over bloody mayhem. That’s well and good, except that the characters were barely developing, and while “Nebraska” wasn’t exactly action-packed, it at least showed some signs of life. Like many of the episodes prior, it had good and bad elements. The bad was that it felt like a 40 minute exercise in self-pity, a drab, whining wallow for most of its characters. Hershel was downright annoying, and his brief return to drinking only exacerbated that. Hershel was a character that I respected at first, but his intractable preachiness wears on a body, and when coupled with his frustrating grief-caused paralysis, it became almost unbearable. Many will say that it was an understandable response given his recent bout of loss, and yet it would have been far more refreshing — more human — to see him lash out, instead of drinking himself into a puddle of self-righteous misery.
Daryl, while still seeming a bit petulant, was portrayed a bit more positively. His surly descent into despair over the futility of his valiant search made the character seem a little more human, and it showed a return to his harsher origins. Daryl may well take a step back, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a natural evolution — he sought a sort of salvation in his quest for Sophia, and seeing that salvation die a ragged, messy death from a gunshot understandably makes his pain and his fury all the more tolerable.
As for the rest of them, much hasn’t changed. Shane is still an unconscionable, unpleasant bastard, which at least makes him interesting. Lori continues to be a bit too shrill, but her accident at least creates a new branch of the story. That said, if it results in another multi-episode arc where Rick is anguished over losing a party member and there’s an overlong, frustrating search, I’m going to lose my damn mind. I’m hoping that the showrunners won’t start playing the same tapes over and over again. Glenn, as usual, was one of the bright spots, and his burgeoning relationship with Maggie is proving to be one of the show’s stronger stories. Their scene of awkward intimacy as Glenn prepares to head out with Rick was genuine and heartfelt, and Glenn’s resulting confusion afterwards was a refreshing breath of sweet air. Perhaps the best moment, however, was Rick’s — something that has been much needed. Rick’s moping has worn on even the most resolute of fans, and to see him finally kicked into action, with a ready confidence and a grim determination, made me feel some hope for him.
It was that final scene in the bar, with the two new interlopers, that made the episode worth sitting through. The now-dead newcomers (a shame, because I thoroughly enjoyed their brief appearance) are an ominous sign of what’s to come, and it’s high damn time. It’s well established that in the graphic novels, the greatest threat isn’t always the walkers… sometimes it’s your own kind that tears the world apart. That’s something that’s been oddly missing from the show — everyone they encounter has been, for the most part, surprisingly friendly if not outright welcoming (aside from the doctor who blew up the CDC), and after a while it begins to ring false. There’s simply no way that everyone will be a kindhearted stranger — sometimes the end of the world will bring out the worst in us. This little ruined world has been moving slowly, and the balance between character-driven stories and apocalyptic mayhem has been uneven for quite some time. If the zombies aren’t going to introduce a little more chaos into the world of “The Walking Dead,” then perhaps the story can get moving through more human means.