S2E2: AMC’s hit series keeps the drama going this week in an even higher stakes – though we didn’t think they could get higher – episode. After last week’s cliffhanger with Carl laying on the forest floor with a gunshot, we knew we’d be in for quite a ride with Episode 2, but true to Walking Dead form, the zombie show only further unraveled the issues of Sophia’s disappearance and Carl’s potentially fatal injuries and loaded us up with further problems: T Dogg’s life-threatening infected gash and Shane’s hopeless situation at the high school. And while the ever-increasing complications are exhausting, the presentation is pristine – every detail down to the timing of the school bell in the episode’s flashback scene is carefully considered. Sure, we come to The Walking Dead for the brain-crushing zombie kills, but we stay for the quality of story and production value.
“You’re in way over your head.” – Lori
“Ma’am, aren’t we all?” – Hershel First up, the greatest issue at hand (sorry Sophia, your parents are secondary characters so we’ve got to deal with Carl first). After a flashback scene creating a parallel between Carl’s gunshot wound and Rick’s similar injury just before the apocalyptic events from the pilot episode, we find Rick running towards Hershel’s farm with Carl in his arms. Otis, a farm hand, is the accidental gunman and he labors after Shane and Rick towards the farm. Once there, Hershel determines that Carl wasn’t bit and begins trying to clean his wounds. It’s here that Rick’s “do the right thing” wiring gets a little confused. In this case, the right thing for him to do is stay by Carl’s side in case the worst happens – the boy should have his father by his side in this potentially fatal situation. But at the same time, Rick has trouble staying put; he’s used to riding to the rescue and feels he should go find Lori and eventually head off to the nearby high school for medical supplies to save Carl.
The storylines for the other members of the group are a little more splintered and hard to follow, but that’s something to be expected from The Walking Dead because the series gives even secondary players such rich stories. First, the non-Rick portion of the search party starts to worry about the gunshot they heard – Lori knows Rick wouldn’t shoot a gun for a single walker and risk attracting more. They opt to head back to the RV to regroup for the night though Carol can’t conceive that they’ve had an unsuccessful mission, accidentally telling Andrea “I just keep praying [Sophia] doesn’t end up like Amy.” While this was a fleeting moment in the episode, I think it’s an important one; of course it’s what we were all thinking, but at the same there's really no sensitive way to put it.
When Maggie rides through on a horse, saving Andrea from a walker that had her hopelessly cornered, she takes Lori and tells the group to drive their vehicles down the road to Hershel’s. They all head back to meet Dale and T-Dog who are searching unsuccessfully for antibiotics for T-Dog’s deadly infected cut. While the group works its way back, T-Dog descends into discussing his theory that the group left Dale, the elderly guy, and himself, the black guy, as bait for walkers in hopes that they’d distract from the search. This is of course nuts, as Dale points out – Daryl just risked his own life to save T-Dog’s. While T-Dog is clearly wrong, it’s another concept that we’re surprised to hear actually discussed on the show, though it’s not inconceivable that T-Dog in his delirious, terrified state would have that idea.
When everyone’s back together, the group shares the directions back to Hershel’s but Carol doesn’t want to leave in case Sophia wanders back to where the RV was once parked and finds no sign of the group. It’s a valid concern, but unfortunately it means we see the group split again – something that doesn’t sit too well with everyone. They could all stay, but T-Dog needs medical attention so the infection doesn’t kill him. They have no choice – which is another sign his irrational fears are understandable but unwarranted.
So we’re left with our group scattered. Shane and Otis are facing certain death at the high school, Dale’s RV camp stays in place for Sophia, Rick and Lori are weeping restlessly at Carl’s bed side, and the rest of the group is making its way towards the surprisingly hospitable farm folks. The series, from minute one, put us off kilter and it’s barreling forward – even without too many gnarly zombies kills this round – keeping us from getting a foothold for even a second. It’s going to be a harrowing, unsettling season. I doubt we’ll have the opportunity to catch our breaths or get relief, but that’s the plight of our band of survivors and the mark of a great show is being able to place us firmly in the series’ version of reality. The Walking Dead has done that in just two episodes and if things continue the way they should, we’re headed for a fantastic – and very uncomfortable – season.