I can feel my interest beginning to slip, after what for me was an impressive start to this sophomore season. The story's spent too long at the Hershel farm and far too long looking for young Sophia (Madison Lintz). Things have stagnated rather badly, although this episode ended with a ten-minute sequence that suggests The Walking Dead is about to turn a corner. I suppose it's another sign of why zombie dramas haven't been turned into TV series before now: there isn't much you can do beyond have your survivors choose a destination (last season it was the CDC, this season it's Fort Benning) and have their journey interrupted in various ways. But a zombie movie can achieve its aims over a contained two-hours, whereas a zombie television show has to keep the journey going... and therefore risk boring audiences.
This week, Daryl (Norman Reedus) ventures out alone to find Sophia and fell down a steep hillside, badly injuring himself in the presence of stray walkers. Adding to his woes, a combination of exhaustion and stress brought a vivid hallucination of his missing brother Merle (Michael Rooker) to life—one the show's least appealing characters, but wisely toned down from the redneck racist caricature he was previously. Back on the farm, Glenn (Steven Yeun) is understandably upset that Maggie (Lauren Cohan) doesn't want to continue having no-strings sex with him, and Hershel (Scott Wilson) is getting antsy about the length of time Rick's (Andrew Lincoln) party are hanging around his home—eating his food, using his water, eyeing up his daughter...
There wasn't much else to this episode, really, so it felt unsubstantial and a way to fill time before the second-half of season 2 hopefully begins next week. Lord knows this show needs to find a new direction and purpose quickly, because there's a serious lack of momentum and development creeping into the show again. It doesn't help that so many of the characters just don't seem to change much—with the possibly exception of Shane (Jon Bernthal) and Daryl. But you generally don't feel like every episode really illuminates anyone in a particular way. Maybe the comic-book was similarly hamstrung by having two-dimensional characters, but it wasn't quite so noticeable on the page? I'll leave that for the comic-book readers to argue over.
But as I said, the last ten minute presented a significant uptick in entertainment—with Daryl returning home bloodied and with a limp, causing itchy-fingered Andrea (Laurie Holden) to shoot him on suspicion of being a zombie, and Glenn accidentally stumbling upon Hershel's secret: a locked barn full of zombies. Why is the kindly vet "collecting" walkers without killing them? He must have plans for them, but what? To experiment on for a cure? To try and domesticate into slave labour for his farm?
So yes, this was easily the worst episode of season 2, with only a few bright moments (a pre-apocalypse flashback with military choppers napalming Atlanta, wounded Daryl's hardcore zombie-slaying, the final barn reveal), but I'm hoping the show regains some of its earlier promise. I'd hate for The Walking Dead to slip back into being as protracted and tedious as season 1 was, but it seriously needs to start moving forward with more drive and ambition.
written by David Leslie Johnson / directed by Guy Ferland / 13 November 2011 / AMC