Well, we finally got an answer to the "Where the fuck is Sophia in the land of zombies?"
And it was a doozy.
I've obviously criticized this show a bunch, so I don't want to go much further in praising the conclusion of this plot. The final scenes of this episode did a lot, both viscerally and symbolically.
But let's hold off on that for a bit...
We know (or I've stated at least) how inconsistent season 1 is. After the great premiere, it dipped into boring character development and cliches before ramping up a bit with the CDC. The ending immediately gave us fear and hope, and gave season 2 at least a destination (Fort Benning).
Unfortunately, season 2 followed the same trend. Good premiere (though I had problems with it, the payoff with Sophia was at least unexpected so I'll give back some points I took away) followed by a slow down as new characters were introduced and then had to be developed. Aside from a couple of truly harrowing moments (everything at the school, and...well, maybe you can insert your own harrowing moment in here), we have been on the same trail as season 1, right down to the barn zombies being the CDC (in thematic devices, not actual locations and conflicts).
Yet while the CDC set the survivors off on a specific mission, the resolution of the barn zombies simply created a completely new set of rules for the world they now live in, making for a much more interesting journey (hopefully).
So I'm very happy to say that I am excited for the season to pick back up in February. I absolutely assume we will still get the same problematic approach we've seen in the first two seasons, but this episode felt like a game changer. It looks like the survivors have turned the corner on "hope," and might have to simply look for "survival." Sides have been picked, and you could argue that morality is the underdog.
But let's take a closer look...
Glen tells the survivors about the barn zombies (quick aside - doesn't "barn zombies" sound so much better than "walkers in the barn?") with predictable results. the survivors, who have been out in the real world and know the dangers this implies, rightfully get a little agitated with their hosts. And yet Rick wants to be a little more diplomatic, since you know, he's going to be a dad again. And that makes sense. The farm hasn't been attacked since they've been there, and it seems it could be defended fairly well (I guess - I mean it has a fence and everything), so while I don't think he's in love with the idea of the barn zombies, he has other stuff to think about. Being a leader is tough, I tell you!
So yeah, obviously Rick has to have a talking to with Herschel. And that goes as you might expect. Herschel, bible in hand, is casting Rick and co. out and sticking to his guns, even after the pregnancy card has been played. Herschel wants his barn zombies and refuses to budge. Even after his daughter (granddaughter?) even calls him out on it, he doesn't seem to want to budge - though he does appear to have some doubt. That will come about later though.
Meanwhile, Dale notices Andrea has changed and is so totally into hunky Shane. So, while we're not sure if Dale thinks of Andrea as a daughter or a lover (seriously, the writers are doing us no favors by playing this so ambiguous), he still reaches out one more time to Andrea and tells her he has misgivings about Shane. Andrea, not wanting to hear it, tries to let Dale gently (either as a dad or boyfriend) but she still comes off as dickish. And thankfully (hopefully!) Dale kind of washes his hands of her, but not before realizing just how much power his RV wields as the holder of guns. So yeah, he totally takes them.
Darryl is around and back on his feet and wanting to go after Sophia...and I guess Carol is crushing on him a little because of his devotion to the search for her daughter, but yeah...that whole part isn't believable to me at all. It looks like they are setting Darryl up to have to make a choice down the road. One that will involve heading off with his brother or staying with the survivors, so I'll let this go right now, but I hope they handle it deftly and not how they're handling it now.
Shane, still angry that they're still looking for lost cause Sophia, and now also angry that they're not carving up the barn zombies Caligula style goes off on Rick. But Rick's got the Draw 4 card here; and he drops it on Shane. You can see Shane doing some quick calculating as Rick walks away. I actually thought this scene was pretty nifty; a lot was conveyed without words.
Shane of course goes and finds Lori, who immediately tries to cut him off at the path. But Shane, now a possible daddy, ain't hearing it. And this conversation, more than any of his other actions, is pretty much why he has become the villain of the show - because he attacks Rick...and attacks him in a conversation with his wife. Regardless of how you think of Rick as a leader, and whether Shane's decision making might be better, this conversation shows he has gone past the point of no return. Talking to Rick's wife and telling her her husband is not going to survive in this world is a hail mary for her affection. And methinks it will have larger ramifications down the road. Lori poo poos him though and tells him the baby is Rick's regardless of whose it is biologically. That sends Shane into a bit of a tizzy.
A tizzy that takes him down to the zombie barn (well, first a tizzy that takes him over to Carl, but I'm kinda sick of this kid who has matured about 15 years in the span of 3 days. SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE COMICS SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON'T WANT TO POTENTIALLY RUIN THE SHOW:
I understand Carl can possibly play a big role in the show based on what he did in the comic, and therefore it needs to be set up, but it seems like it's getting set up awfully quick. Sometimes this show moves at a glacial pace, other times it breezes through character's motives so quickly it's easy to miss (see Dale's turn on Shane). I assume they are setting up Shane to die and Carl to be a part of it, so they have to make him break the bond he and Shane have developed. But they don't have to do it in the span of half an episode. Also, I'm not really into kids acting like adults, so I'm a little bored by it all.)
BACK TO UNSPOILED GOODNESS...
Now a potential dad, Shane sees the zombie barn as more of a threat, so he's off to TCB with all the guns, except where are the guns? Not in the RV! Quickly assuming Dale stashed them somewhere (seriously, sometimes these characters make ridiculously farfetched yet accurate assumptions whenever the plot needs them to) he goes off to search for them. And either he's an absolute beast in the tracking department, or Dale is just really bad hiding things, because Shane finds him in about 6 seconds. Obviously there's a confrontation, because Dale, the wise old sage of the group has Shane pegged.
Now, I like Dale. I think he's a great character, and as I've said before, I believe he acts as the Greek chorus of the show. His observations are sharp and he is the most like the every person. So this sudden change, with him confronting Shane, seems silly. And his astute observation about what happened back at the high school with Otis didn't help the scene either. It felt necessary to move this conflict along, which suggests poor writing. I realize it has to come out, but wish we were given more clues of Dale's distrust throughout the series, and not these last two episodes. Anyway, plenty of threats are thrown between the two, but no one gets shot.
While that happened, Herschel drafted Rick into what may have been the craziest act of the show so far...zombie wrangling. Look, I'm sure on paper, the whole "wrestle zombies out of the swamp to hold in the barn" looked like a good idea, but it just didn't work for me. The comedy of seeing them so up close to the zombies, slipping about in the swamp mud hijacked the tension the scene was supposed to portray. You may feel different, but it didn't work for me. Of course, I realize something of that magnitude (showing Rick will do anything to keep the people under his charge safe, including something that he's opposed to (more political analogies) had to happen to reach the climax of this episode, so I'll go with it.
Shane wanders back and sees Andrea lounging about with the other people on the porch of the house. Which surprises him, since she was supposed to head out with Rick to look for Sophia. So now, everyone is wondering where Rick is, which makes his appearance leading two zombies with Herschel and the other guy really poor timing.
The group runs down to the barn, led by time bomb Shane. After some screaming, Shane pumps one of the zombies full of bullets to show Herschel the futility of keeping these zombies around. He then goes over to the barn, and breaks the lock, unleashing the barn zombies out to walk into a killing field. It's a dramatic scene, watching the group pick up guns and take out what of course used to be Herschel's family and neighbors. Rick can only watch, as he won't let go of the zombie he has, and his look the entire time says, "this isn't going the way I planned." Hannibal he is not.
Herschel slumps down, watching the carnage. The camera pans across everyone, effectively showing the different reactions and emotions the survivors have as they create the zombie carnage. A nice touch was Glen, gun in hand, and ready to shoot up some corpses, looks to Maggie for guidance. She, obviously in a twisted state of emotion, tearfully nods her acquiescence, obviously tortured by what she wants, and what needs to be done.
I'd be remiss if I didn't point out one shot I loved, and that was the overhead shot, above everyone, immediately following the slaughter. You could see Dale walking over to the scene, and I thought that would have been an awesome way to end the show, but I of course was wrong, because there was still one whopper to reveal...
One lone zombie remained in the barn, and now it peaked out the door, smelling the blood of living creatures. Stumbling out, she mindlessly faced the murder squad.
I know I griped a lot about how long it was taking to resolve the outcome of Sophia, and it felt like the pacing was a little off in the past 3-4 episodes. But this reveal completely surprised me, and made up for a lot of that. It's a shame when writers are put in a corner based on the schedule of a television show, but I think that's what happened here. This mini-season needed a shock at the end, and this one was a doozy.
Sophia's appearance gave everyone the grim perspective they needed. Herschel needed to realize the people he loved were completely gone; the survivors needed to realize it's not easy to give it up so easily when faced with someone they love.
Rick calmly walked up to Zombie Sophia, and punctuated that point by shooting her, and changed the game. That Rick did it showed the difference between him and Shane. His kill was one of mercy; not just for Sophia, but for everyone there. Shane's act of killing was mindless. For me, it was a great way to end this mini-season, and I'm excited to see where the show goes from here. Sophia's death felt like the end of part one, where the heroes and villains were fleshed out; book 2 will see the real conflict of the story. (By the way, that is not a comic spoiler in any way, just how I perceived the scene.)
Diving a little deeper, the scene is going to go a long way into what happens in the next set of episodes. Not only is there a big question about how/when/ Sophia got into the barn, but also if Herschel knew about her there, and if he did, how much did he keep from the survivors, knowing they were looking for a little girl. Methinks he is going to have a mutiny on his hands, and mutinies rarely play out well for the captains.
But more than that, it also pushes the rift between Rick and Shane further apart, albeit subtly. I'm not sure if we're supposed to take away the idea that Shane didn't shoot her because he couldn't (and if we were, that doesn't feel exactly right; they've been positioning him as being able to do anything), but having Rick step up and kill her shows that he is willing to do the things necessary to survive. Whether this is change in his character time will tell, but it countered nicely with Shane's earlier speech about how Rick won't survive in this new world.
Had Shane been the one to kill Sophia, it would have been the clear "turning to the dark side" moment for him, which I don't think we needed, and not what these writers like to do. Everything we've seen so far with these characters has been painted using shades of grey. Shane's actions make us hate him, but one can also argue that they were necessary. Lori's struggle with the decision of whether to allow her child and fetus to die were hard to hear, but also "realistic" given the circumstances a zombie apocalypse would create.
Only Rick has been kept pure, with his "no one gets left behind" approach. And yet now, with his shooting of Sophia, even that might have changed. This is a zombie landscape, and all bets are off. Yes, he wants to keep his humanity, and will struggle to do the right thing, but the realization of the world he's living in I think, has finally dawned on him.