Walking Dead “Pretty Much Dead Already”

Walking Dead
’s second season may not always play by the rules, but dammit, it gets results. While this season has had its share of problems (mostly stemming from the characters’ refusal to act anything like actual people), the writing staff nails the story’s meat. This, along with some fantastic directing and a cast that’s willing to humor the writers’ crazed notions of character, makes “Pretty Much Dead Already” a seasonal high point.

The show starts off with all secrets on the table. Rick and co. know about the barn, Lori tells Rick about her affair and pregnancy, and Shane knows that his brain waved bye-bye a little over a year ago. It’s a good set up, because “Pretty Much Dead Already” must tie up loose ends and then fray them for the season’s second half.

Most of the episode is typical Dead. Rick continues to negotiate with Hershel, busting out big guns, like “my wife’s pregnant” to guy who still refers to his daughter’s boyfriend as “that Asian boy.” Needless to say, he’s not very reasonable. Shane takes a more direct approach and begins his coup to take the farm from Hershel–or at least, threaten him into allowing them to stay. Meanwhile, Daryl continues to look for Sophia, the reason were still at this place. People do things, but they seem completely separate from the needs of the group.

After 40 minutes of tense discussion, all points converge at the barn. Shane’s attack is an outburst of violence that Hershel has been absent to–and what he’s been avoiding. Hershel’s realizes his fears, however, when Shane takes out the barn, which houses Hershel’s undead wife and son. His belief that walkers are sick people is shot down before his eyes.

Then little Sophia lurches from the barn, challenging Rick and Shane’s notion of walker sympathy, as well as subverting the plot. Sophia’s undead state isn’t the disappointment it should be. We’ve wasted seven episodes to find her, but all the characters are now on the same level, with all personal philosophies challenged and broken. Shane no longer seems to dismiss his outright prejudice of walkers; Rick picks up the slack and kills without mercy.

This moment offered one of the best scenes of this or any show this fall. It was emotionally tense, dramatically effective, and downright scary. Director Michelle MacLaren milks this one for all its slow motion glory, capturing Shane’s intensity, Hershel’s shame, and Rick’s determination. She plays Sophia’s appearance for sentiment, making her seem more human than monster. MacLaren frames tough question, giving Rick the opportunity to deliver the hard answer.

Rick’s ownership of the final blow clears things up magnificently. He steps forward as the leader, Shane shows that he may still have some humanity, and the rest are left all but entirely broken. Now on the same level, the characters can now rally around this one moment to provide stable characterizations. If the writing staff can relate each of their issues to this singular moment, these characters may gain some consistency and the show can move forward.

Grade: A-

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