So here we are at the mid season finale. It’s an odd term to use, as the show goes on hiatus until next year (February to be precise). But it does feel like a finale as everything comes to a head with a final moment reveal which is a welcome end to a tired subplot.
From its sombre opening seconds you could be forgiven for thinking that we will be treated to another tension building episode. But then Glenn finally comes clean to everyone about Hershel’s zombie infested barn and what follows is the break down of the group dynamic as Shane goes berserk. Obviously there is tension here but everything bubbles over and the third act of the episode is a real treat.
But before we get there we have Shane confronting the group with a few home truths as they argue outside the barn. Shane states the only real choices the survivors have; either clear the barn out or leave the farm. Obviously Rick disagrees, as he has to think of his pregnant wife and still feels like he owes Hershel a debt after he saved Carl. It’s a great moment and all the actors are firing on all cylinders as Shane tries to provoke the group into action. His comments to Daryl about Sophia are harsh but truthful.
After the beginning the dominoes start to fall as cracks begin to form. Daryl snaps at Carol, Dale and Andrea butt heads over Shane and of course Rick has a conversation with Hershel. It was nice to see Carol actually do something other than look upset, her two scenes with Daryl actually bring out some character development for her. Also it looks like Dale and Andrea’s relationship has taken a nosedive again, but this time it’s Dale that has had enough of Andrea’s life choices.
But the Rick and Hershel scene steals the show. Rick is all but on his knees as he begs Hershel to reconsider. There is a desperation in Andrew Lincoln’s performance, which hasn’t been seen before. He needs the farm to save his unborn child and will do anything (which we see later as he wrangles zombies from a swamp for Hershel). He is a man with everything to lose and it all rests on a stubborn old man’s decision. Hershel’s utter belief about the zombies being ill is the conviction he needs to rebuke Rick. It’s an assured performance from both Lincoln and Scott Wilson, with both sides getting to state their case. However the most interesting of Hershel’s comments is that he trusts Rick to work with him, but he doesn’t trust the rest. Has Hershel figured out how dangerous some of the survivors are or does he realise that his insistence to keep his dead wife in a barn is completely insane? Either way it is an interesting comment that sets up what happens in the last act.
Everyone gets some great moments as past events are actually remembered. Shane and Lori have an intense scene, which reinforces the fact that she and Carl are the only reason he is around. And now that he found out she is pregnant he is convinced it’s his and he will defend it no matter what. Which is the push he needs to do what he eventually does this episode. Glenn gets a great ego boost from Maggie as they come together in the current crisis. Lauren Cohan’s Maggie continues to impress as she gets a meaty scene with Hershel as she questions his moral state, knowing that he isn’t the man she once looked up to.
All in all the run up to the third act is emotionally charged as everyone gets some good moments and you can tell that this is all set up for when the second half of the series returns next year. It is nice to see a show really take time over establishing the bonds between its characters, whether they are broken or strengthened. But these moments are the calm before the storm.
It all kicks off after Lori and Shane’s conversation. His stance that this world isn’t for heroes is an interesting one. He has a point that everything Rick has done has actually put the group in unnecessary danger. From taking people on a mission to save a hick on a roof or hunting for Sophia in a vast zombie filled forest, Rick’s decisions might be noble but they bring with them danger. So Hershel’s zombie barn is the last straw and Shane becomes a man on a mission to arm himself.
This leads him into a confrontation with Dale, who is hiding the weapons. Dale had suspected Shane would become unstable and their stand off in the forest is edge of you seat stuff. Dale knows he can’t win in a fight and doesn’t have the gumption to kill someone in cold blood, but his words are his weapon. They definitely get a response from Shane, who believes Dale is so worthless it would be a waste of a bullet to kill him. It is a great scene and even though Shane takes the guns, it doesn’t feel like he won that battle. Jon Bernthal’s intensity is phenomenal as he manages to make Shane seem like a cold, calculating and dangerous man. This is balanced with Jeffrey DeMunn’s clearly terrified but brave demeanour. This allows the audience to really get behind Dale, even if you agree with Shane’s argument.
But it is after the rousing “we should arm ourselves” speech that Shane truly flips out. Seeing Rick helping Hershel put zombies in the barn leads to Shane opening the barn. What we get is a group of survivors shooting a mass of zombies to pieces. Hershel watches on as his heart breaks, Wilson’s performance is understated but pitch perfect. There is a palatable air of horror as the zombies are disposed of. If nothing else this action has shattered that peaceful existence they had on the farm and the fallout is going to be interesting to watch. Even after the Rick and Shane conversation, which had them disagreeing but still friends, this looks set to blow that pairing apart.
Even when everything settled the show wasn’t ready to let us go without one last shocking moment. The question of Sophia’s existence was revealed as she crept out of the barn. After everything the survivors had gone through for this little girl she turns out to be another zombie. Andrew Lincoln pulls off a portrayal of a man utterly crushed at the site of the undead girl. After all it was Rick who left her in the woods, Rick who sent people into danger for her, but above all she was the last thing keeping Hershel from throwing them off his farm. As long as she was alive he said they could continue the search, yes after the discovery of the barn he had wanted them gone sooner. But she could have been used as leverage to let them stay. But not any more.
It is a brutal conclusion to a fantastic episode. Not only due to the gory zombie shooting gallery but the emotional implications of Sophia’s reveal and Shane’s actions. As we look at Rick pointing his gun in Sophia’s face we know he is a broken man and as he puts a bullet between Sophia’s eyes we leave the survivors and Rick, after everything they have endured this season, with no hope at all.
Review by Dan