The Walking Dead season 2 episode 8 review: Nebraska

The Walking Dead returns from its mid-season break with a great, well-directed episode. Here’s Ron’s review of Nebraska…

This review contains spoilers.

2.8 Nebraska

In the moments after the walker slaughter on Hershel’s farm, the survivors are tasked with a few important duties. First and foremost, they have to bury the dead. Then, they have to deal with the fall-out. They wasted precious days searching for a girl that has been dead in Hershel’s barn all along, and they put themselves at risk in the hope that a preteen would be able to survive in a zombie-infested wilderness when the average missing child is pretty much presumed dead a few days after disappearance.

Dealing with loss is a funny thing. Everyone in the real world would have a different reaction, and everyone on the show seems to have a different reaction, too. Carol goes off into the woods. Shane becomes caring. Hershel falls off the wagon. Shane is getting strangely nurturing. And Rick, seemingly, comes to grips with the fact that his decisions may not always be right.

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The immediate difference in the show since Glen Mazzara took over as show runner is style. The Walking Dead‘s pilot episode was sweeping; it was like a western with the undead. In subsequent episodes, it became more like a standard television show. There was no real sense of scope or breadth; some directors used the world better than others, but it was still television. Lots of tight close-ups, narrow framing, standard camera angles, etc. Nothing bad, but not quite like the Darabont pilot.

However, Nebraska actually gets a little creative with its camera shots, using an overhead shot, a long-distance crane shot, and some more western-style shot set-ups. Kudos to director Clark Johnson (SWAT, a bunch of TV) for his stylistic choices this week, and kudos to whoever decided that the show needed to look more cinematic.

Speaking of westerns, one of the show’s many sets was a perfect mock-up of an Old West saloon, and more importantly it was one of the show’s better moments. In fact, the show itself just seemed better under the new guiding hand; maybe I’m projecting all of the quality improvements onto the new man in charge, but it certainly feels more like the show from the first season. There was tension, especially between Rick and Dave, played brilliantly in a slow-burn by Michael Raymond-James. You know he’s up to no good, and that he and his hot-headed heavyset friend are going to be a problem, but earlier in the season they’re a problem that would’ve took a whole episode to resolve; this week, they’re taken care of in 15 minutes, and in awesome fashion.

After hinting at problems with other survivors early in the first season, TWD has decided to actually introduce people other than Shane as possible villains, and the show is better for it. Let’s be honest, who is more likely to survive a zombie apocalypse, people who are kind, decent folk or depraved criminals? That’s right. Bad people can survive bad things, too, and it’s about time that some of the more troublesome elements of society began to bedevil the life of the Grimes gang in the after-human world. The show needed something to be worried about again. Tonight’s episode has started reestablishing the walker threat while adding a new human threat element.

For the first time in a long time, characters actually make sense when they say and do things! It’s stunning, after so long when characters have been doing very stupid things, to see them A) making more reasonable choices, B) having more meaningful (and significantly shorter) debates on their actions, and C) making valid excuses for previous stupid behavior. I’m well aware that these twists in characterisation weren’t planned all along (and if they were then I’ll eat a bag of gravel), but it’s nice to see that they’re trying to make up for the first half of this season’s logical failings, if only retroactively.

Granted, there are still some heavy speeches from the pen of writer Evan T Reilly, but they make a little more sense tonight. Characters interact a bit more reasonably. T-Dog gets some lines. Glen and Maggie are still the best couple on the show. Shane’s darkness is growing without making him into a moustache-twirling villain. Daryl is pulling away from the group. Even Hershel’s heavy-handed moralizing comes off a little better this week. Most importantly, Rick seems to be doing a lot less fretting and a lot more being a legitimate leader.

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His scenes with Hershel actually do a lot to establish why Rick is still holding onto those threads of decency, and the way he handles himself in the bar proves that he should continue to be the leader of the team, and that he’s learned from his mistakes with Sophia (or so I hope). It also appears that Dale’s psychic powers—he’s the only one who knows that Shane killed Otis, despite not having much evidence—may stem from some kind of Vietnam experience. Dale says he’s seen guys like Shane before, he’s always wearing a boonie hat, he’s a proven shot with a bolt-action rifle… I’m just putting a few things together that may or may not be accurate.

Does absence make the heart grow fonder? Of course it does, but even the repeat viewing still holds up, and for a long while I was tuning out on AMC to watch other things and coming back for Talking Dead at midnight. Now, there’s a reason to watch the repeats, as it feels like the show is going to pull itself together. More importantly, I think they’re picking up something they hinted at in the first season.

When Jenner whispered something into Rick’s ear in the CDC, it could have been any number of things. Lori’s pregnancy, the paternity of the child, that there is no cure or no hope, or… and this is rampant speculation on my part… that the zombie virus is in everyone. In the bar scene tonight, after Rick shoots the fat guy in the chest twice, he goes back and shoots him in the head (he also shoots Michael Raymond-James straight in the head). Are we all carriers of the zombie virus, so when someone dies of natural causes, they have to be shot in the head to be sure? Is that farm girl who fell sick with mystery shock going to turn?

Remember, we haven’t seen anyone die of non-zombie causes yet. This may be important information.

Read our review of the last episode here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan is glad that The Walking Dead returned, but more importantly, he’s glad TWD is back in good form. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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