I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that the seventh episode of the second season of “The Walking Dead,” “Pretty Much Dead Already,” was the best episode since the premiere. Of course, that’s faint and somewhat damning praise of the season as a whole, considering how unfulfilling and uninspired the past few episodes have been. This episode was a success because, finally, something actually happened.
Yes, much of it was telegraphed and yes, the final surprise of Sophia (who has arguably been a blandly unexciting Maguffin for much of the season) coming out of the barn as a zombie was somewhat predictable. Yet it was handled with a sense of emotional depth that has been largely absent of late. The buildup to those final chaotic moments was a mixed bag, filled with a combination of effectively taut scenes, but also typically overwrought, overwritten ones.
It was an episode that showcased the best and worst of both the characters and the writers. Some of them escaped for the better — Glenn once again was a success, and his developing relationship with Maggie is going to a good place. His admission that he began to forget just how deadly the world had become was an interesting, microcosmic example of life on the farm as a whole, and is also oddly reflective of the flaws of the show’s insistence on maintaining that setting. The farm presented a sense of safety and sanctuary, and it was also an opportunity for the writers to try to flesh out the characters, while also introducing a few new ones. The twofold problem with that, as we’ve discussed before, was that it took entirely too long to complete those developmental arcs, and that by doing so, it eliminated the sense of dread and danger entirely, which was what had made the first season so engaging. This is further compounded by the clumsy, derivative nature of those character evolutions, to the point where out of a dozen or so cast members, only three or four were actually worth watching, and the rest were either annoying or simply felt like filler.
“Pretty Much Dead Already” had some successes beyond Glenn — Norman Reedus continues to rule the pack as Daryl, demonstrating a complicated set of emotions as he tries to figure out what sort of man he is and wants to be. His reluctance to accept Carol’s dependence — if not outright hero worship — was a particularly impressive scene, but there’s still the underlying sense of menace and danger bristling within him. Interestingly, I think that the effectiveness of his character is due more to Reedus’ acting than it is to the writing — his dialogue isn’t particularly impressive, but his delivery is what wins you over. Keeping with the subject, this was one of the rare episodes where I didn’t want to shake Carol.
As for Shane, while his final meltdown was excessive and totally illogical (seriously, releasing the zombies to prove a point seems completely contrary to his survivalist instincts), it at least served the purpose of forcing the rest of the characters into action, something that has been sorely lacking. Shane’s evolution — or devolution if you prefer — may not always make sense, but I’ve reached the point where anytime a character does something, I consider it a win. Which is more of a condemnation of the show than anything else, when you think about it. The worst development was easily Dale, who been slowly, steadily transitioning from quirky yet wise elder to doddering fool. Having him hide the guns? Easily the dumbest idea the show has had on a long list of dumb ideas. It hurts the show and it hurts the characters, and given how ineffective his confrontation with Shane was, it served no practical purpose.
As for Rick and Lori? I’ve simply conceded that their characters will always be exactly the same, never changing, never evolving. For better or worse.
Of course, the finale was really the best part, even though there was never really a sense that they were ever in real jeopardy. It was a slaughter, a massacre, and it was executed (pardon the pun) spectacularly. It served to return us to the world of “The Walking Dead” that we’d initially become so enamored of — a harsh, violent world where your feelings towards the walkers were a mixture of pity and revulsion, where humans are both saints and sinners and everything in between. That final five minutes was everything I want “The Walking Dead” to be, and it’s what keeps me coming back, even though I’m growing more and more disaffected.
This was a mid-season finale, and it’s the rare occasion where I’m glad that the show is taking a hiatus. I need a break from “The Walking Dead.” I need to let put it down for a while. I’m tired of my moaning and groaning, getting frustrated by the annoyance I feel deep down inside. I suspect many of you are feeling the same way. My hope is that they’ll come back in February, reinvigorated, ready to move on, and reminded of why I started on this journey with them in the first place.