The mid-season resumption of The Walking Dead’s second season began on Sunday night, and while it still featured  a bit of the lazy plotting of that has marred much of Dead’s sophomore season, there were also a handful of brutal, terrifying moments that offered glimpses into Season Two’s dark potential.

Check out our review below…

The Players:

  • Director:  Clark Johnson
  • Writers:  Evan Reilly
  • Cast:  Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, and Laurie Holden

Episode Title: “Nebraska”

[Spoilers ahead!]

After Herschel’s secret was revealed (he was keeping numerous walkers captive—including the missing child Sophia, as well as his family—in his barn in the hopes of a cure), the despondent doc demands that Rick and company vacate his farm, and then he promptly disappears.  Dale assumes that Shane left Otis to die, and warns Andrea not to form a relationship with him.  Rick and Glenn find Hershel getting drunk in town, where they meet two odd men who want to take refuge on Hershel’s farm.  In an increasingly tense volley of words, violence erupts, with Rick shooting and killing the two men.  Back on the farm, Hershel’s daughter becomes ill, forcing Lori to go find him.  On the way, she strikes a walker with her car, flipping the vehicle.

The Good:

  • Rick:  After a half-season in which Rick was forced into a dour Hamlet role of glowering indecision, he has finally come alive as the dark hero that his group (and this show) so desperately needed.  After the last episode, in which he was the only one with strength to put down Sophia, Rick is finally dropping the hand-wringing and constant bickering, and embracing the role of protagonist on The Walking Dead.
  • The Confrontation:  The confrontation between the two odd men in the bar was as tense and increasingly terrifying as anything this season has had to offer—and since we’re discussing a show in which rotting corpses eat people, that’s really saying something.  A haunting riff on the old “in a zombie apocalypse, the real monsters are us” theme, the scene featured no clear-cut good guys or bad guys, simply two groups of people desperate to survive and unsure of who to trust or where to turn.  And when the talking devolved into violence, it was as sad as it was shocking, as the larger implications as to what society has lost, and these people have been forced to become, were all the more glaring.

The Bad:

  • Convenient plotting:  If The Walking Dead has a central flaw, it’s in the lazy and convenient plotting (remember the first half of the season, in which in every episode one or two characters would announce they were “going to search for Sophia,” which essentially became code for “I’m going to walk alone into the woods that are full of zombies because the show has featured 22 minutes of dialogue so far and we need an action/horror scene”?).  Sunday’s example of such plotting was in Hershel’s sudden disappearance from the farm, forcing Rick and Glenn into their eventual confrontation with the strangers; also, since Herschel’s daughter takes ill just as he leaves, Lori is forced to go find Hersch and, of course, something bad happens.  While this isn’t the worst example of such plotting the show has had—and, frankly, I’d give the show a pass on this were it not for its checkered history of always falling back on these kind of narrative conveniences—it was a reminder that The Walking Dead still has some kinks to be hammered out.  That said, the payoffs—Rick’s shooting and Lori’s accident, were well done.
  • Dale:  Isn’t Dale’s assumption about Shane’s murderous actions—though correct—kind of a massive Sherlock Holmes-esque leap of logic?  Without a shred of proof beyond a tense conversation, it seems that Dale has been able to piece together exactly what happened between Shane and Otis.  A minor quibble, but it seems like Dale’s simply been watching the same TV show we have, rather than doing any real detective work.

Overall:

While some residual plot contrivances kept “Nebraska” from being quite as excellent as the last episode, “Pretty Much Dead Already,” it was still better than most of the rest of Season Two, thanks mostly to the central character finally becoming, well, a real character, and not simply a weathervane for various philosophical debates or plotting.  Further, even when the show did cut a corner or two, it was never as bad as the “hey, wanna walk into this meatgrinder of a forest in the hopes of finding a six year old that we all know couldn’t survive in the woods, let alone woods full of cannibalistic dead people?” trope that bogged down so much of the season’s first half.  Translation?  The Walking Dead still has miles to go, but it looks like it might just be getting its second wind.

Rating:  7/10

The Walking Dead airs Sundays on AMC.