The opening of last night’s episode of “The Walking Dead” fed us a familiar trope. Travis Bickle. Britney Spears, pre-umbrella-incident. Shane dragging an electric razor over his cranium while steam wafts around his muscular nakedness. Someone shaving his head with that kind of frightening intensity is not someone we want to befriend – or in whose hands we want to put our lives. By the end of the episode, we know this for certain.
With Sophia still missing , poor Carl still on the edge of death with a gunshot wound, our band of survivors split in two, and Rick weakened by giving up his own lifeblood to save his son, our protagonists are unraveling at the seams. At the end of the last episode, Shane and Otis were trapped inside a high school with hordes of the dead pounding at the gates. As the two of them struggle to get out with the respirator that could well save Carl’s life, Shane makes a decision that seems to put him over an invisible edge…and rightly so. To say the least, Otis (Pruitt Taylor Vince, who’s one of my favorite character actors) was not supposed to meet that kind of end. AMC is still deviating from the books here, and something tells me they’re doing it to ensure they have a good reason to off the one who’s really going nuts. Greg Nicotero and the effects crew did a bang-up job with the gore, though; we aren’t getting so much zombie nastiness this season, but this scene is one that’ll live on in your dreams (and your belly) for awhile.
Glenn and T-Dog find their way to Hershel’s farm just in time to sew up T-Dog’s ragged, poisoned gash, and for Glenn to meet and bond with Maggie (Lauren Cohan). Andrea and Daryl can’t take Carol’s forlorn weeping any longer, so they retreat to the woods to continue the search for Sophia. Here they find a grotesque message: a walker hanging from a tree, the bottoms of his legs eaten away, still moaning and reaching for them. “The world’s gone to shit,” says his hastily written limerick. Well, that‘s true. The question is, is that a good enough reason to end it all?
The main theme of the episode seems to be the choices we make – and how they affect everyone around us. This strung-up walker is perhaps the first this season that makes both the protagonists and we as viewers contemplate our own choices. Andrea is still suffering intense resentment toward Dale for refusing to allow her to kill herself. Daryl asks her if she still wants to die, forcing her to see the walker, who was at one time just like her, as a former human. Dale struggles to calm her fury by giving her a gun and a sincere apology…but he knows perfectly well he’s giving a suicidal person a means to an end. Meanwhile, Lori struggles with another horrid decision: is this world meant for children? Should Carl be saved, only to spend the rest of his short life crazy and terrified all the time? These are the kinds of questions the director wants us to contemplate: would you take the easy way out? Would you let your child die? If this was the reality of your life, what would you do? Despite ravenous readings of the Zombie Survival Guide, most of us can’t tell you one way or another until it happens. (And I happen to be of the opinion that this probably is how the world will end, thanks.)
In the midst of his contemplation, Dale (whom we’ve never seen smoke before) pulls out a ragged pack of Morley cigarettes. Savvy viewers probably remember another TV character puffing on Morleys: The X-Files’ Cigarette Smoking Man. Well done, AMC. After Daryl pulled out a bag of Heisenberg meth (oh yes, I think Walter White would survive the zombie apocalypse with no problem whatsoever), this is another nod to great TV.
I wouldn’t recommend watching the middle of the episode while gorging on candy this evening (leave some for the trick or treaters!), but it’s certainly packed full of important turns of events. Carl seems to be slipping out of danger; the raggedy pack of survivors have found a decent place to stay in Hershel’s farm; Shane seems to finally be walking off the deep end. If the remainder of the season keeps up at this pace, we’re looking at another winner for AMC.