Of all the flyover states The Walking Dead’s writers could have chosen as the title of this season’s second half opener, “Nebraska” is the most penetrating. It’s a gamble – they have to thread a tight needle, continuing character development and picking up the dismal pace that plagued the first half of Dead’s sophomore season, and “Nebraska” doesn’t exactly denote urgency. But the title, and even much of the episode, belies a shift that could satisfy fans and fanatics alike. In an interview with New York, Glen Mazzara, the showrunner who replaced Frank Darabont, promised to pick up the pace, saying his plan “is to accelerate and then figure out more story.”
We can argue how successful “The Walking Dead” has been at the characterization, but that’s been the goal. And there is one way in which structurally the two series feel like they have a lot in common, particularly when we’re discussing the second season of each. When “Lost” got to its second (and third, for that matter) season, it feel into a pattern where all the good stuff tended to happen at either the beginning or the end on both a micro and macro level — where episodes would start with a bang, then wander aimlessly until a great final scene, or where the seasons would have great premieres and finales and drag for a long time in between.
I think one reason people complained so much about how long the search for Sophia went on was because Sophia was so barely defined as a character prior to her disappearance. This was hit home again when Glenn said that this loss was different, because it was Sophia, as though it had so much meaning – since we the audience don’t really care about her as a character. But still, the way this is hitting the characters we do care about is at least resonating.
Watch Walking Dead – Nebraska Online
Walking Dead S02E08: Nebraska
“Nebraska” doesn’t entirely rectify this concern, but it’s a solid hour of television, and a promising indication of where the series is headed. The episode picks up immediately after where “Pretty Much Dead Already” left off, and a big portion of the plot is given over to dealing with the fallout from Shane’s rash decision to let Hershel’s barn zombies out into the open, and the discovery that Sophia was one of those zombies. So there’s the usual recriminations, and Shane getting defensive, and for a large part of the hour, nothing really happens apart from people talking about how lousy everything is. But it works better than similar episodes the show has done in the past, because there’s a stronger sense of action in the ensemble, one that changes them from aimless idiots waiting to get picked off, to really purposeful idiots, working together to take care of what needs to be done. Dale seems a bit less crazy (although apparently he’s psychic now), Lori does something beyond tell everyone else how wrong they are (although she makes some weird choices), and T-Dog has lines. Best of all, Rick acts like a protagonist ought to act. For the first time in ages, he has direction, and he gets shit done. If this was the result, he should’ve been shooting little girls in the face weeks ago.
As the corpse clean-up begins, you see how it’s sullen and tedious. A half hearted attempt at honoring their friends and family is made, but you still get this overwhelming sense that everyone is slowly shutting off. For Carol, Sophia’s mother, It makes sense and is done an a very heavy scene. She has quickly come to grips with the situation, but it’s toll has it’s effect as she (very understandably) breaks down. Even Glen, the boyish and optimistic light of the group seems tired and torn by the turn of events. Of course Rick and Shane, the two characters that battle to hold the alpha male spot on in this group of survivors, are buckling under the pressure. Shane more so as the weight of his own actions seem to be taking their toll. For Rick, it is the same as before, he questions his place as the leader of the group and his ability to do so. To be honest, we’ve seen this happening already. Most of the characters have spent the last few episodes (or in Shane’s case, every episode) slowly descending into chaos. The turning point comes from small town vet and farmer Herschel. He rather ceremoniously announces to us that he is going to start drinking again.
And the shocks just keep coming. Occurring at around the 30-minute mark, Lori’s car crash is a real jaw-dropping moment, coming completely out of nowhere. This show has diverted from the original comic storyline before, so could Rick’s wife (Sarah Wayne Callies) be dead? And what of her unborn child?
This far into this ‘review-cap’ and we haven’t even mentioned Jon Bernthal’s explosive performance as Shane. Following Sophia’s death, the majority of the survivors on the farm are left reeling, shell-shocked, and you’d expect Shane to follow suit.
During his alcoholic breakdown, he admits to Rick that he had been an ass. But he wasn’t being an ass. He was holding out for hope in a world that actively denied it. It wasn’t “medical naivete.” He still saw the humanity in his family, even though his medical mind told him they were rotting meat. And while that is self-defeating, and horribly dangerous, it is so god damn beautiful. There is a rationality to believing in miracles in such a world.
But his hope died along with his family. And, in a moment of clarity, he saw the same death of hope mirrored in Rick’s eyes. In this moment, there is a sense of victory, of Shane’s sociopathic pragmatism over the humanistic optimism of Rick.
The last five minutes of the episode were fortunately very redeeming and I’ll leave it to you to watch it to see why. For now, I’ll get to that support and attack I spoke of earlier. It may be a by-product of having watched a lot of HBO, but I really like it when people just sit down and talk about heavy things in TV shows. As a result, I have taken a lot away from The Walking Dead’s second season so far; more than I would have from a shoot ‘em up zombie-fest. I really do like what the writers have done with the season so far, but it just needs to end. Roughly forty-five minutes of television can cover a lot of ground and the slow nature of the storytelling so far is killing in select scenes and just murdering the others. A lot of this stupidity from the characters is forced onto the screen to create enough drama to carry each episode and I can only imagine that I’d hate most of people a lot less if they weren’t doing what they are.
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