Criticism of The Walking Dead‘s pacing has certainly been in no short supply since the show’s second season premiered. I’ve even been one of those critics — in my review of last week’s “Secrets,” I pointed out how frustrated I was that The Walking Dead was still using the search for Sophia to motivate plotlines. And, though it was obviously filmed long before the internet cynicism started to buzz, “Pretty Much Dead Already” felt like the perfect answer to that criticism. In fact, the episode (which served as the midseason finale) felt like the perfect episode of The Walking Dead. It was, without a doubt, the best episode since the show started airing back in October 2010.
The reason for that is the perfect blend of character development and zombies. While most of the episode centered upon the characters and their growing tensions, the lurking threat of the zombies in the barn perfectly accented that. When tensions came to a head and Shane asserted himself, he let the zombies loose from the barn, killing them but still ending the fragile peace that Rick had been struggling to create between the Atlanta survivors and Hershel. The fact that Sophia was one of the walkers in the barn was just icing on the cake.
It was a twist so obvious I was ashamed that I hadn’t been able to guess it before they revealed it. But, as it turned out, the trail that Daryl had been so anxious to follow only led back to the barn, where Hershel had placed Carol’s zombified little girl. Seeing Sophia stumble out of that barn, though, was a wonderful moment. Not only because it wrapped up the too-long storyline featuring the hunt for her, but because it gave that search an unhappy ending, which will undoubtedly change the dynamic of the survivors as we know it.
That dynamic change might just leave Shane in charge. “Rick ain’t built for this world,” Shane told Lori early on in the episode, and he certainly seems to have a point. Shane’s alpha-male dominance ultimately seems the most effective strategy in this post-apocalyptic world. And while Dale, in the episode’s most tense (and brilliant) scene, asserted his pride in not letting the world change him, Shane was right: he’s pretty much dead already. With Rick’s adamant search for Sophia given an unhappy ending, Shane’s vehemence that they move on puts him in the right and Rick in the wrong. Things aren’t looking good for Rick’s continued leadership — not without a fight with Shane, at least.
You can expect to see more of my thoughts on this possible coup over the long hiatus before The Walking Dead resumes in February. In the meantime, I’m perfectly content with how great this episode was. After “Pretty Much Dead Already,” The Walking Dead is anything but. A