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Review #3161: The Walking Dead 2.7: “Pretty Much Dead Already”

Posted on the 30 November 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Gregg Wright

With the mid-season finale comes the end of the episodes created under Frank Darabont’s direct supervision. Soon enough, we’ll get to see what effect, if any, his departure will have on the quality of the show. Unfortunately, Darabont’s name on the show wasn’t quite the guarantee of quality that I’d hoped it would be. But the show has definitely had enough high points to make it one of the more worthwhile shows on the television landscape.

Review #3161: The Walking Dead 2.7: “Pretty Much Dead Already”

If I were to compare this first half of season 2 with the whole of season 1, I’d say that the show’s storytelling has improved, to a certain extent, from that of the first season. It’s still something of a mixed bag, but I sensed a clearer focus for this season from the start. “Pretty Much Dead Already” is the culminating moment that everything has been leading up to. The episode has such a feeling of finality to it that it almost feels like a season finale, which seems rather fitting for Darabont’s final episode as showrunner.

My general impression for the episode for most of its running time was that it was one of the better ones of the season. But the final scene at the barn was what made the episode go from “good” to “great”. It’s a masterful, powerful conclusion to the slow-boiling pot of tension that started with the Walker confrontation on the highway and Sophia’s disappearance. A lot of fans might be bothered by how slowly things have progressed during this phase of the show. But that’s has never been my problem with it.

Primarily, I’d felt that sometimes the drama didn’t work quite as well as it was intended to. But I’ve liked the overall direction and pace of the season. Everything has been leading up to this moment at the barn, which is only as impressive as it is because of the generally well-constructed build-up to it. Shane’s unstable psychological state has been one of the more important elements of this build-up. He tries to keep up a front of being the more pragmatic, more capable leader. But he’s really little more than a jealous sadist.

The way the episode switches gears toward the end, rapidly escalating the situation until it has gone completely out of control, feels remarkably organic. I think that all the time spent on establishing Shane’s psychological progression was absolutely essential for making this final scene work. His earlier scene with Dale was one of the more intense that I’ve seen on the show. I half-expected him to outright murder Dale right then and there. I think a lot of the successful tension-building came more from what Shane doesn’t do than what he does. It adds to this sense that he’s just a bomb waiting to go off.

The barn scene is brilliant in how effortlessly it encapsulates the themes of the season and drives home its points, all in a brief minutes or two of drama and violence. Shane has been continually trying to make everyone else believe that he’s better than Rick, both as a leader, a father, and a husband. He wants everyone to believe that Rick is too soft for this world. There’s also the ease with which both the characters and the audience find themselves judging Hershel for protecting his zombified family and friends in the barn.

But then when the undead Sophia lumbers out of the barn, everything becomes horrifyingly clear. It’s easy to shoot a bunch of Walkers you don’t know, but all of Shane’s pathetic posturing amounts to absolutely nothing when the Atlanta survivors are abruptly thrown into Hershel’s position. And then Rick, the one who is supposedly incapable of making the kind of difficult choices that a leader needs to make in this type of world, steps forward and mercifully puts Sophia down himself.

With almost no dialog, this scene vividly shows us why Rick will always be a better man and a better leader than Shane. Rick has spent the whole season, up until now, trying to find the most peaceful, diplomatic solution. Unlike Shane, he actually does want what’s best for everyone. Shane was too caught up in his own issues and desires to see anything clearly. But Rick had no ego to stroke. Rick is the better leader because he can make these tough choices and not lose his humanity in the process.

“The Walking Dead” often struggles to deliver truly high-quality drama, but moments like these are what remind me of why I love serialized television storytelling. Of course, there are many other shows that have done it better (“Babylon 5″ being, perhaps, the greatest example of well-planned, long-term storytelling), but the mid-season finale of this season of “The Walking Dead” deserves to be remembered as one of the finer moments of the medium, even if the build-up to it was often a bit underwhelming in comparison.

Rating: 9/10

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