You told me that there was no cure. That these people were dead, not sick. I chose not believe. But when Shane shot Lou in the chest and she just kept coming, that’s when I knew what an ass I’d been. That Annette had been dead long ago and I had been feeding her rotten corpse. That’s when I knew there was no hope. And when that little girl came out of the barn.. the look on your face? I knew you knew it too. Right? There is no hope and you know it now, like I do, don’t you? There is no hope for any of us.
Welcome back, zombie lovers. The Walking Dead Season 2 came back on Sunday night, in care you missed the 8 million excited posts about it on Facebook. If you need a refresher, this is my review of the previous episode “Pretty Much Dead Already.”
If I can beg your indulgence, allow me to quote my own question at the end of that review, because it becomes immediately relevant in this episode: “How long Rick can hold onto that moral center is going to be the big question of the series.”
The killing of Zophia – a mercy killing, by any measure of it – broke the building tension of the first half of the season, the push and pull between Rick’s desperate optimism and Shane’s numbers game. I said previously that Zophia’s appearance showed how hollow Shane’s bravado really was – as much as he said that zombies were nothing, they were just corpses, you cut your losses and move on, he couldn’t do anything in the face of that little girl he knew, couldn’t lift his gun when her mother was wailing behind him. Rick is the one who pulled the trigger. Not out of malice or anger, but empathy. Put them down, don’t abuse them.
Random observation: How awful would it be to not only see your mother turned into a zombie, but then to be attacked by her reanimated corpse, and then have one of these random people staying on your farm attempt to curb stomp your mother into final death, before someone else puts a scythe through her head? I’m sorry pretty blonde girl whose name I don’t know. I’d go into shock too.
Everything dissolves after this. Shane fluctuates between rage and guilt and a painful need for forgiveness. He talks without anyone prompting him, projecting his anger at himself onto everyone else – at Hershel, who guesses what we suspected, that Otis found Zophia and died before he could tell anyone. At Dale, who says nothing but whose horrified expression doesn’t flinch as Shane tries to justify what he did in slaughtering those zombies in front of their family. At T-Dog, while they burn the corpses, it was OK because they were dead already. And finally, at Carol, as he washes the dirt from her hands and murmurs his confession. He wants, so badly, to be the man he argues will save everyone – no emotions, no guilt, nothing but survival instinct, but he can’t shed his humanity as easily as that. Shane remains one of the most compelling characters on the show, because he just has so much to work with.
Hershel is destroyed by the massacre, as is most of the farm family. Only Maggie had come to terms with what the walkers really were. Hershel gives up some 20-odd years of sobriety and slips off the farm, to get drunk in a saloon that looks like the backdrop of any generic Western film. Rick knows he owes Hershel, even if he wasn’t the one who threw open the barn doors, because Rick feels responsible for everyone. He needs the group to stay on the farm, where they’re relatively safe and fed, and he needs Hershel to be there for Lori’s baby. He just has to pull it all together. So Rick and Glenn head off into town.
Random Observation: I could not stop staring at Glenn’s shotgun leaned towards his head during the ride into town. I half expected Rick to hit a pothole and blow Glenn’s head off. [Me, too! -PoM] I get that it was just a trick of the framing, but it was just so right there. Later, Lori also points a gun at her head while checking to see if it’s loaded, and I just can not believe they are all not dead yet.
In town, Hershel articulates the same despair that Rick and the others fight against, the death of hope. That’s why they spent so much time looking for Sophia. That’s why they refused to leave without finding her. That’s why Rick needs Hershel – because a baby means hope to him, it means that there’s still life left in the world.
And that’s also why it was so sad to watch what happened next: two other survivors, men from Philadelphia, stumble upon the bar. We know we’re not supposed to trust them. I mean, they’re from Philadelphia. We once threw snowballs at Santa. The new men easily find out that Rick’s group is holed up on a farm – thanks, Glenn – and try to find out the location. And suddenly Rick is in Hershel’s shoes, having to tell this other man – this living, breathing, man – that there is no room at the inn. They can’t take in any more survivors. They can’t help them. And one of them, the one who pisses in a bar, says, “You don’t know what it’s like out there,” which is exactly what Rick said to Hershel, and it must just kill Rick, just destroy him to hear those words spit back in his face. We can’t help you. We have no room. And True Blood Rene, who quite intentionally resembles Rick, tries to reason with them, puts down his gun and begs for the rest of his group who are dying at their camp.
In the end, True Blood Rene is more of Shane than a Rick, and reaches for his gun. Rick puts both newcomers down, drops them. Because Shane’s right, in his own way; the world isn’t the way it used to be. This is Rick’s compromise. Here is his move away from his moral certitude.