Since arriving at Hershel's farm, Series Two of The Walking Dead has tended to feel slightly sluggish and drawn out. The last two episodes, particularly, whilst good from a characterisation standpoint, served only to emphasise by how much the search for Sophia is slowing the series down. But as any fan of the comic books knows, The Walking Dead is famed for its moments of calm before the storm.
Not only has the storm arrived with Pretty Much Dead Already, but it also serves to be the best episode of The Walking Dead so far. It's an episode full of confrontation, arguments and topped off with an emotional gut punch worthy of the comics themselves. Finally, the show has caught up with Kirkman and Adlard to deliver forty five minutes of television worthy of the title. With Pretty Much Dead Already, I finally looked at Andrew Lincoln and saw Rick Grimes glaring back at me.
Following the emotional revelations in the aptly named Secrets, the episode kicks off with yet another: Glenn marches into the middle of the camp and lets Hershel's dirty little secret right out of the bag. Way to put folks off their breakfast, Glenn. But never mind all that. On top of everything else it does (and it does a lot) Pretty Much Dead Already delivers the biggest shock of the series. Dale finally takes off the stupid potty hat.
But if The Walking Dead has taught us anything, it's that some things just won't stay down. The hat looks no less ridiculous on Glenn's head than it did the old man's. It's an episode full of stupid hats though; little Carl gets in on the act, wearing daddy's cop hat to swear at Shane and demand they find Sophia. Dale is still out of sorts following his confrontation with Shane, and heads into the nearby swamp to hide the group's guns. Shane is hot on his tail, and a truly tense showdown occurs. His fuse burnt within an inch of explosion, Shane provides a catalyst for most of the action within Pretty Much Dead Already. He leads the group in marching up to the barn and suggesting they either flee or kill every last zombie within. As he spends almost the entirety of the episode ranting and raving, there's a feeling that this episode could be a game changer.
It's certainly a change of pace, seeing heated argument after argument precede a bloody shootout in the last ten minutes. Hershel demands that the zombies be corralled and kept locked away in his barn, telling Rick that the group may only stay on the condition that they abide by this rule. Reasonable Rick is on board, and even helps the old man collect a couple of lost walkers from the swamp. But as they make their way towards the barn (leading the zombies like the captive dead in Day of the Dead) Shane decides to make his move.
It's like the massacre at the OK Corral but with zombies and an old man crying on his knees. Hershel is powerless to stop his guests, and looks on in horrified silence. No doubt he'll have something to say about this in the next episode (most likely a variation on “get off'a my land”). But his stunned, shellshocked silence is likely to echo that of the viewer's as the episode's big twist emerges from the barn. It hardly comes as a surprise (many will have seen it coming) but that makes it no less emotionally devastating.
Pretty Much Dead Already is a superb episode of an already consistent television show. There are still little niggles and visible flaws, but they're eclipsed by the sheer bravado elsewhere. It takes guts to be as depressing as this on Channel 5 on a Monday night.
Grim as Pretty Much Dead Already gets, something tells me that the aftermath is going to be even worse.