The opening scene of the Walking Dead pilot last season was one of the best TV openers in recent memory, on par with the premiere of HBO’s Deadwood way back in 2004, which was arguably the best TV opener of all time. Our first glimpse of the Walking Dead universe was a lonely highway. Sheriff Rick Grimes pulls up in his cruiser and goes looking for fuel. While wandering through a filling station, he spots a little girl carrying a doll, and when she reveals herself to be a zombie, he calmly, perhaps reluctantly, shoots her in the head.
The scene is a storytelling aberration. It takes place nowhere in particular in the overall storyline, sometime after the zombie plague and perhaps before Rick finds his group. It doesn’t matter – the whole point is to set up the basic rules of the world we’re about to enter. Zombies exist; they look like rotting, slobbering versions of people, and they can be killed with a clean shot to the head.
After that opening scene, season one proceeded with breakneck speed as our heroes got themselves in and out of scrapes with hundreds of walkers. While season two has had its moments – the stuff out at the high school was especially heart-pumping – much of this season has seemed purposefully downtempo. For nearly six entire episodes, while the group has scoured central Georgia for lost girl Sophia, they’ve wiled the time away on an idyllic farm.
How much time has gone by, exactly? Carl’s gunshot wound has healed, which normally would take two to three months. But sometimes it appears as if mere days or weeks have passed. It still seems to be summer, what with the incessant crickets chirping and everyone is sweaty the whole time. But while we’re not sure how much time has elapsed, one thing is certain – the pace during the first half of this season has been brutally slow. There was a certain momentum when the group was on the road that’s completely disappeared as they’ve settled in one place. Their journey to Atlanta and to Fort Benning didn’t just take them somewhere; it propelled the series along as well.
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Changes in pace would be fine if the writers had used that time well, which they have not. They’ve tried to develop individual characters, but each subplot meant to add a layer to a character has been quickly resolved. Daryl went through several conversions into caring human being then back into a jerk, then sort of back again. Dale went from wise old statesman to nosy kook and now folds like a cheap suit when Shane demands the guns back.
Which sets up the showdown we knew would eventually come in last night’s episode, the midseason finale until the show picks up again in February. Seeing Sophia stumble out of the barn at the end of the walker massacre answered many questions and opened up a whole can of new ones. We wondered that entire scene which side Rick would choose – Hershel’s supposition that walkers are people who can be cured or Shane’s belief that they have to fight for survival. Even after raising his enormous six shooter to Sophia’s forehead, it looked like he might side with Hershel, but with a squeeze of the trigger, he blew her infected brains all over the dusty field. And thusly does Sophia Watch come to a close.
Zombie Kill Report: Solidly in the double digits as the group lined up like a firing squad to empty the barn of Hershel’s little walker colony. Rick’s execution of Sophia was the perfect nail in the coffin for television’s slowest subplot. (We’re sure there have been slower, by the way, but come on!) The scene allowed the debate about whether the walkers are sick humans or animals to come to a boiling head. Shane repeatedly shooting a walker in the chest to prove his point fanned the flames, but it was Carole’s anguish at seeing zombie Sophia that tells us this debate is far from over.
Midseason character scorecard: The writers tried to give us some substance to chew on for each character, but many are still wholly underdeveloped. While Maggie and Glenn’s fling drove us into important subplots, I’m curious to see where Glenn’s character goes now that he realizes he has value. Daryl is like our resident schizophrenic, hopping back and forth between jerk and kind comforter, sometimes in the same scene (and what’s with his funny walk — we know he’s injured, but the way Norman Reedus is playing him by shuffling around, he appears to be drunk or high.) We’d like to see T-Dog play a more active role in the next half season and perhaps learn a little bit about his past. Now that Carl’s better, it’d be nice to see less of Lori’s wide-eyed frenzied panic/anger.
Big questions before the second half: After having massacred Hershel’s little colony of “sick people,” will the group stay or go — it’d be hard to stay without confrontation. Getting back out on the road would drive the story along a bit. We’ve seen enough of this farm. Now it’s time to explore the rest of the world’s wasteland, for the story’s sake if not the character’s. But perhaps the biggest question: does Rick brief siding with Shane in last night’s episode that mean they’re fine? Hardly, I would venture to guess. The fight over the baby alone is going to be worth watching, zombies or no zombies (please, let there be lots of zombies).