TV review: ‘Walking Dead’ midseason premiere a vast improvement over recent talky excesses

By Sam Flynn

The Speakeasy, Ohio U. via UWIRE

After the ill-advised seven episode arc of losing, searching, searching and more searching for the missing Sophia was resolved, the action picked up in the best/worst possible way for the show and the characters in AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”

When viewers left the zombie apocalypse survivors in November, Shane (Jon Bernthal) staged an insurrection at Hershel’s farm and massacred the walkers in his barn, including his zombified wife and stepson. It was then revealed that missing kid Sophia had been in the barn all along and Rick (Andrew Lincoln) gamely stepped up to end her undead deadness.

The episode picked up right where it left off. Shane, who seems only capable of being angry and head turns, continued complaining about Rick’s leadership and how cool, calm and rationale he is. (Because we all want our leaders to be violent and unpredictable, right? Well, the Tea Party does at least.)

The episode set things off in a good direction for the second half of the season. The first half was heavily criticized for its slow pace and gloomy atmosphere. Nary an episode went by without characters bemoaning their fates yet seemingly too inept to do anything about it (cough, Lori). However, it delivered a fantastic first three episodes culminating with – SPOILER ALERT – Shane killing Otis so he could get the supplies to save Rick’s son, Carl.

However, the next three were bogged down by ruminations on how living in a zombie apocalypse would obviously be 12 kinds of not awesome, with some Shane head turns and Dale eyebrows thrown in. However, the midseason finale finally paid off some of the set-up and ended the ill-fated “search for Sophia” plotline with the effective and aptly named “barn-aggedon.”

These are important points because this episode did a lot in the way of moving the show forward from these issues without disregarding the emotional impact.

Carol, surprisingly, showed a lot of strength dealing with her daughter’s death. The impact was shown on all the characters. And as such, the show quickly introduced what seems to be a driving force for the rest of the season: outside characters becoming bigger threats than the zombies themselves.

Rick and Glenn (Steven Yeun), while following Hershel to a local bar, encounter two new strangers played by Michael Raymond-James and Aaron Munoz. The scene was well-acted and full of appropriate tension for the new dynamic, which will hopefully go on throughout the rest of the season.

The ending montage set to “The Regulator” by Clutch, with Rick standing over the corpses of the strangers after a shootout, was classic “Walking Dead” and a promising new beginning for a show that had seemed to have stumbled in the first half.

On a related note, it’s sad when it’s surprising that female character shows emotional strength on a show. Note to “The Walking Dead” writers: hire a feminist. It’s not good when all your female characters either whine or act irrationally.

Case in point: The writers’ continued attempts to get us, the viewers, to despise Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies). It’s working beautifully. Lori’s actions through this episode: she first complains, for the umpteenth time, how her son is going have some emotional troubles growing up in a zombie apocalypse (duh), then she tries to stop Rick from getting the only trained medical professional of the group on the basis that he was being selfless. After that, she decided that instead of waiting for Rick and Glenn to get Hershel, she would instead get Rick and Glenn who were getting Hershel. She does this by accusing Daryl (Norman Reedus) – the person who fought hallucinations, walkers, bullets and arrows to find Sophia  – of selfishness for not indulging her psychotic whims.

After Daryl turns her down, she takes the only other working vehicle, does not look where she’s going and manages to hit the only zombie for miles. This all pales in comparison to her next action of not braking. She instead keeps the pedal to the metal for the following five seconds post-impact and crashes spectacularly. Sadly, it would be too much to hope that the writers would end viewers’ suffering here and finally kill Lori. How she survived this long is anyone’s guess.

All in all, a hopeful new chapter opened in “The Walking Dead,” with all its faults and qualities on display. But, like a good girlfriend, the faults are both endearing and frustrating and the qualities can’t be found anywhere else.

Speakeasy Rating: B

“The Walking Dead”

Sundays, 9 p.m.

AMC

Best quote of the night: when Rick and Glenn are going into town to fetch Hershel, Glenn continued to be insecure about his relationship with Maggie after she confessed she loved him. Rick, as usual, had to speak reason. “She loves you, and it’s not because you’re one of the last men standing.”

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