Following last week’s romantic gestures, last night’s episode of The Walking Dead treated us to some frustrating reversion. Shane won’t quit harping on his duty to Lori and Carl; Andrea manages to take one step forward and two steps back. We finally get another dose of Merle’s vicious hatred (though not in the way you’d expect); Glenn’s turning into a teenage boy; and Hershel is turning out to be not at all what we expected.
In their search for Sophia, Rick and Shane begin to reminisce about Shane’s many high school conquests. But Shane’s moodiness gets the better of him and this shortly turns into a bitter argument. “It’s like we’re old folk,” Shane says. “The people in our stories are all dead.” There was a similar, and better done, moment in the new version of Dawn of the Dead: “That fat chick at the Dairy Queen? Dead,” explains one character to another, who responds petulantly, “Yeah, that sucks too.” Tropes from other TV and movies are continuing to pop up here, and though we get it – it’s all been done before! – it could really be done better here. Shane refuses to believe Sophia is still alive; and what’s worse, he can’t let go of his displaced protectiveness toward Lori and Carl.
In yet another male bonding session gone horribly wrong, Glenn admits to Dale that he slept with Maggie – and Dale responds the way any good southerner would: “How would her father feel about this?” Poor Glenn, whose self-composure we got a brilliant taste of in the first season when we first heard his voice as Rick’s savior, is reverting to a teenage boy. “Are all the women on their periods? First she’s mean to me, then she wants to have sex with me, then she’s mean to me again,” he laments. This could be poignant; Glenn is, after all, only in his late teens or early twenties, and as he explains, he could die tomorrow. It ends up being obnoxious.
Daryl, who in the last episode brought Carol a rose and said comforting words, gets thrown from his horse and tossed down a ravine. The multiple falls do a real number on his already overstressed brain, and who does he see, but Merle? Merle equipped with two hands and spewing vitriol, telling Daryl that everyone’s laughing at him behind his back, to be a man and shoot Rick in the head. This trope was interesting when Nate Fisher hallucinated Nathaniel for the first few seasons of Six Feet Under. Now, over on Showtime, Dexter consults with his dead father nearly every episode (Michael C. Hall is apparently drawn to characters who see dead people), and it’s getting a little old. Trust me, I understand: you don’t get Michael Rooker on your show and then just kill him off. But we’re ready for this season to kick it up a notch, and giving him to us in a vision is not going to placate us.
Meanwhile, Hershel finds out Daryl stole a horse and that Rick let one of “Hershel’s people” join them in the search. “You control your people, I’ll control mine,” says the old man. There are a few too many “control”s in that sentence. It’s a fact of life that when things go to hell, authoritarian personalities have a heyday – the Walking Dead novels are particularly interesting not because of the walkers but because of the surviving humans. For all his initial compassion and apparently sincere desire to help the needy survivors, Hershel gets just a little spookier every episode.
Basically, what AMC has given us, at nearly halfway through the season, is character reversion instead of character development. No one’s changing for the better, and no one’s changes for the worse are that interesting. What Glenn finds in the hay loft while searching for booty will add a little spice to the plot, but there are still seven episodes left in the season and audiences are flocking to better fodder. AMC had better step up its game.