AMC's The Walking Dead. There have been a lot of disappointments this half of the season, but luckily, and well, frankly surprisingly, "Pretty Much Dead Already" pulls out everything it needs to make the show compelling for its extended holiday break. Parts of the episode speak to a sort of utopia, not entirely unlike Plato's Republic, wherein the living, breathing, thinking humans, now the best of their species by proxy, could attempt to at least respectfully store and protect their zombie counterparts, their walkers, their former friends now turned to fools with blood-rage by whatever mystery caused all of this in the first place. But the climax, another twist, but this time a good one, comes in the form of a boiling-over of negative energy, a great outpouring of fear, that means those with the minds to think and choose take out those who have long since lost their true humanity. While it provides a titillating bit of zombie gun-violence, it also feels strangely evil; an act of execution undertaken by those who fear what they still don't really understand.
There are threads that continue, Dale confronts Shane, even needling him about killing Otis. Lori is still pregnant. Rick tries to convince Hershel to let them stay, both to have normal lives, but also to preserve his unborn child's chance at survival. And while Rick and Hershel go off to round up some of the walkers who were trapped in bog mud, Shane falls entirely off his proverbial rocker. And sadly, Carol and Daryl go off to search for Sophia (who has long been a bit of a joke, but whose story takes a tragic and incredibly effective turn here).
But the big storm comes right at the end. Shane, freshly angry at Dale for even considering ditching their weapons to preserve some kind of truce with Hershel and his family, catches a glimpse of Rick and Hershel bringing in two walkers humanely. They intend, of course, to put them in the barn. But Shane can't take that. The world is dangerous. He is out of patience and out of belief. He is all fear. And he charges, shooting one of the walkers and then cracking open the barn. I have to commend the writers and the director for making the final battle, a sort of no-holds-barred gun-violence-orgy, so emotionally effective and poignant. As the walkers leave the barn one-by-one. Shane shoots one. Then Andrea jumps in and shoots. Then Daryl. Then T-Dog, and finally, reluctantly, Glenn. Rick does not shoot. And Hershel falls to his knees, heartbroken that the people he believed he could save were now destroyed. It's only once they've taken down 15 - 20 adult walkers that we get the slow reveal.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS!!!!
Sophia, the long lost somewhat joke of a side-story little girl emerges. She's a walker. She's gone. And she still looks mostly like herself. It's a horribly emotional reveal. And possibly the greatest thing The Walking Dead has done since its premiere. She walks out slowly. Crossing the pile of corpses, heading for the group. And as Carl hides. And no one else can move, everyone so fucking shocked. Rick steps up, set to do the truly noble thing. If the walkers are beyond cure, then he is one who is willing to euthanize. It's almost a perfect mirror of the scene in Season One when he shoots a little girl near the gas station. Or when he shoots the half-a-body-walker from the premiere. He takes no pleasure in it. That's Shane's thing. He kills for the sport, out of fear, to feel alive. Rick, though, shoots Sophia with a careful aim. She falls. The End.
For a show that has been such a mixed bag, "Pretty Much Dead Already" gave us some good pay-offs. Sophia's becoming a zombie felt reasonable, if only because Hershel wanted to save her too and couldn't bear to break what had happened to her. He almost certainly would have when he and Rick brought in the zombies they "caught." But this episode calls into question the nature of humanity more than most of these episodes have. Despite appearing only briefly, and to be shot down, the walkers seem to represent a lesser class, or at least, simply the result of our grasp on order suddenly removed. Are we that far away from them, really? Is Shane? Those are the questions that I hope the series will answer after the hiatus. And I hope to feel like reviewing the show then too. As long as it doesn't drag like it can.
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