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Review #3291: The Walking Dead 2.8: “Nebraska”

Posted on the 14 February 2012 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Gregg Wright

Despite its success, “The Walking Dead” remains a fairly polarizing show. You don’t have to look for very long online before you encounter a bevy of disgruntled fans of Robert Kirkman’s comic series, annoyed at the pacing and story choices of the TV adaptation. But likewise, it’s also not hard to find legions of fans who have never read the comics, but see “The Walking Dead” as one of the most entertaining dramas on television. In truth, I don’t think that the reactions to the show can be boiled down to fans of the comics hating it and the non-initiates loving it. But it does seem as though the viewers with less preconceptions about the show are more likely to enjoy it, based on the admittedly limited time I spent perusing viewer reactions online.

Review #3291: The Walking Dead 2.8: “Nebraska”

Personally, I find myself somewhere in between these two extremes. Many viewers criticize the show as being boring and slow. I’ve defended the show’s “slow boil” approach. TV is a different format and has different storytelling needs. But there are times when I feel that the critics have a point. I think that the slow build to grander moments can enhance those moments to a certain extent, but this means that the show is pretty low on suspenseful scenes overall. Add to that the fact that the character drama on “The Walking Dead” doesn’t always work as well as it should (“He talked about the deer, Lori!”), and you can begin to understand why so many viewers are having trouble with the show. The first half of season 2 exemplifies these points entirely, with drama that ranged between compelling and cringe-worthy, and then a spectacular finish.

“Nebraska” picks up literally the instant after the mid-season finale. As it turns out, one of the zombies (Hershel’s wife) isn’t quite dead yet, and there’s a brief scuffle before Andrea manages to finish her off. From there on out, the episode works reasonably well as follow-up, but most of the episode is very much a continuation of that slow boil. However, this is a bit of a ruse. The episode held my interest well enough for most of its running time. The character drama remains relatively strong throughout. The emphasis is all on the character interaction, so Lori’s car crash was a bit of a start. I have virtually no investment in that character, so there wasn’t much actual tension to be found in her imperilment. But the best was yet to come.

I didn’t expect such a standout scene to occur. More or less, I expected things to simply quiet down for a while and build toward something big at the end of the season. But thankfully, this wasn’t the case. The confrontation between Rick and the two strangers ought to go down as one of the finer moments of the show as a whole. Much of the dialog in “The Walking Dead” can be blatantly on-the-nose, so it’s surprising whenever a scene with such subtlety appears. It’s scenes like these that make the rest of the show seem a bit duller in comparison. Rick once again proves himself a capable leader by dispatching both men like he’s Clint Eastwood. The Western and the post-apocalyptic genres have always been close to each other, so it makes sense that there would be some crossover on occasion. With the old-fashioned saloon setting, Rick’s southern drawl and skill with a revolver, and the silent, mounting tension punctuated by graphic violence, this scene feels very much like it’s been ripped straight from a gritty Western.

This scene marks a turning point for the show, in that it’s the first real, open bloodshed between Rick’s camp and other human survivors. I don’t really think the situations with Merle and the Vatos gang count, and I don’t count Shane’s murder of Otis either. This, on the other hand, may be a sign of where the show is headed in the near future. It’s a bit of a cool role-reversal, really, in that we now have Rick in the same position that Hershel was in before, with strangers who have been out on the road, going through who knows what kind of hell, now asking to be given hospitality at the farm. It’s getting easier to understand why Hershel was so worried about taking in any strays who showed up on his doorstep. It almost seems counter-intuitive to avoid forming settlements so survivors can pool their resources and work together. And yet somehow, in this case, it makes sense.

I know that the Hershel’s farm storyline was significantly shorter in the comics, but I’m glad to see that it’s been used as the main location for the season so far. I’m especially glad to see that Hershel remains an important character, even into the second half of the season. He’s been hit with a hard dose of reality. But as usual, Rick seems to be the one person who can get through to him. Hershel’s attitude toward Rick has shifted, in large part because of Rick’s ability to rapidly recognize a threat and his impressive show of resolve in dispatching the two men. In a way, Hershel may be more of an ally than ever, which makes for a good change to the status quo as we enter into the second half of the season.

Things are still progressing pretty much as I expected them to on “The Walking Dead”. It has always seemed inevitable to me that the safety of Hershel’s farm would be shattered, driving the survivors onward to some other beacon of hope (which we now know can no longer be Fort Benning). But with the threat of the zombies in the barn removed, it’s not as clear to me how this will happen. The threat posed by fellow survivors is a staple of the zombie apocalypse genre, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that plays into the closing conflict of the season in some shape or form, especially given the chilling way that this episode ended. And there’s still the threat posed by the increasingly unstable Shane, who seems liable to murder Dale at any moment. Hopefully this season can tie everything together and begin to introduce some story elements that might placate the fans of the comics a bit.

Rating: 8/10

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