Fair warning: This post is going to talk about the AMC show The Walking Dead. If you don’t watch the show or haven’t caught up this Sunday, don’t read this. Also, I’m sure someone out there will hate all of this. I’m sorry.
I watched the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead a little bit over 24 hours after it aired on television. In that time, I saw a few dozen different people talking about the episode through various forms of social media and even a few in person. Amazingly, none of them managed to spoil anything about the episode itself (Good work, guys) but two major themes kept popping up. They are as follows:
Theme One: Dale is annoying. I hate him.
Theme Two: The last five minutes were awesome. Too bad the rest of the season was really slow.
I disagree with both of those themes for a variety of reasons. In fact, I think those two complaints are essential to making the first part of Theme Two possible.
First of all, I think Dale is a great character. The acting behind him is like 80 percent face, which is hilarious but extremely effective. Much like Shane, you can see the wheels turning inside his skull. That’s totally intentional, but in a way it tells you what Dale is all about. (Those of you currently thinking “being annoying,” hush.) He’s a thinker, maybe an over-thinker, but it makes him very different from the rest of the characters.
This week’s episode carried a lot of very remedial themes that are essential to the show itself. Dale in his basic form is the moral compass of the group. The problem is that he’s a moral compass of a bygone era, living in a world where morals don’t exist. That’s not to say that people are immoral but rather the basis for those morals (society) has gone to hell. It simply doesn’t exist anymore.
Honestly, I have no idea why he was trying to bury those guns. Even to me, that seems dumb. However, the Dale vs. Shane encounter was an extremely effective scene that brought so much of the show’s theme to the forefront. To the average viewer it looks like Shane has slowly gone crazy, but it becomes pretty clear that crazy is the new competent in that world. By the end of the episode, crazy feels like he’s ready to rule the roost.
This is where I think reality shows may have screwed with us a bit too much. We see characters that we don’t like and we root for them to get voted off the island. They become expendable and we hope their seafood dishes suck or hope their schemes blow up or they rupture a vocal chord on national television.
On The Walking Dead, however, Dale is a necessary foil. For now anyway. Maybe in the spring he’ll get bit and it’ll be an allegory for love or something.
So let’s talk about that second thing. Season two is “too slow.”
Sure, from a geographic standpoint the first half of season two was slow. They did not travel multiple times to Atlanta or explore a lot of landscape. However, I think a ton of things happened. There was a bunch of sex and a lot of character development and the necessary violence you’d expect from the zombie apocalypse. Three different characters got shot on separate occasions. Some shit went down.
I can understand why the fact that they still haven’t gotten to that freaking Air Force base seems annoying, but I think people are overlooking plenty with that assessment. There has been some real movement with these characters that you don’t see executed this well in most shows. Glenn got some and is much more than just The Guy Who Runs Fast in the group. Angela is morphing into something altogether new and Shane has done a whole lot more than just shave his head in seven episodes.
Shane is a good example of why all that “nothing” was necessary. That pressure that mounted this season was required to make the end of Sunday’s episode powerful. Shane killing a bunch of zombies looked cool, sure, but it was much more than that. He made a significant power play full of anger and righteousness and flawed logic that doesn’t exist if this played out in episode two or three.
For example, the guns he so badly wanted and used to kill the walkers in the barn were retrieved by Rick on what Shane panned as a “suicide mission” that killed Amy and The Dude Who Dug All Those Holes, et all. That’s a fact he conveniently forgets, but as we know he’s going crazy. Or maybe he should be in charge.
Things are moving along, but there’s one more thing.
When Rick makes his plea to Hershel to stay at the farm, the duality of the term ‘Walking Dead’ is made made strikingly clear. Hershel refuses to admit that the Walkers are truly dead and no longer human, but Rick says the world they now live in forces you to be less human. The thesis is clear, and when it comes down to it this show isn’t about gore and violence and saying ‘shit’ on basic cable. It’s about people. People living in a world where humanity is less and less alive every day.
I think that’s why the endgame works, and why all that searching and waiting and talking pays off in the end. This last episode has some real movement to it, but without all that waiting for Sophia to walk out of the barn it’s relatively worthless.
And take note of who took the shot. Smartly, Rick was shown holding a collared walker when Shane and company open fire on the rest of them. There was only one weapon raised in the final scene, though.
I would prefer if episode eight wasn’t months away, but after all that I trust they know how to use that time wisely.