Uncomfortable silence. Several minds of pure, uncomfortable silence, followed by the big reveal. “There are walkers in the barn.” Midseason finales have one goal really: shock, awe and make up for all of your mistakes so that your viewers will remember you in January. The search for Sophia has dragged through half a season and, in “Pretty Much Dead Already,” the plot line is finally shut for good… The Atlanta survivors finally know about the walkers in the barn, and the deliberation begins. What exactly is the best course of action from this point? The camp is split in two different directions, with the “flee” viewpoint mostly belonging to Shane, and Daryl leading the change to stay and look for Sophia. Daryl has come such a long way from the survivor redneck that was willing to toss away his moral values for the sake of his own life. Shane has really gone in the opposite direction, from a bit of a self-righteous leader to the “shoot first, think about others later” type. The clash of these two guys who have more or less fit into each other’s shoes is a good overall centerpiece to this show. This dismantling of society changes people, some for the better, and some for worse. When it’s life and death, you can go two directions. You can either try your best to help everyone that you can, or you can make the logical, less emotional choices and leave nothing to chance.
In the Shane vs. Daryl way of thinking, there are no winners. There isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to go about surviving, but every action has consequences.
Daryl’s relationship with Carol is strained as his drive to find Sophia turns into a zealous passion. The kinship developed between the two has caused Carol to grow a fondness for Daryl, which complicates her feelings about him looking for her after being so badly wounded. Daryl immediately responds aggressively toward her hesitation, but apologizes later. Let me say upfront that the development that these two characters have undergone is the strongest point of the show. Even though their story is a much softer one than some of the more aggressive and “juicy” ones going around the farmstead, it is easily the most satisfying. Daryl and Carol are a testament of how good things can really come out of being uprooted from everything that once made you comfortable. It’s the story of taking full advantage of your second chance.
But back to the main plot, where we find Rick once again pestering Hershel. Instead of focusing on his wife’s “affair” he decides to get something done. He respectfully approaches Hershel about the barn, and is shut down without even weighing in. Hershel is determined to stick to his own ways, and demands that the group leaves within the week. Rick tries to talk sense into him, and shares his stories and perspective from the world outside of the farm. Hershel has been shielded from the worst of it all, and as a result, has come to care more about the might-be-living than the living people in front of him. As persistent as Rick is, he is in some ways just as blind as Hershel. Even after several flat “no’s” he is still somehow convinced that he can get the man to change his mind. He has an ideal image in his head of the survivors living in peace next to the barn full of walkers and Lori giving birth there.
Eventually, with the help of Maggie, Hershel’s tune changes about the survivors staying at his farm. He does, however, demand that the walkers are treated like people, and takes Rick out into the forest to show him how they take care of walkers on the farmstead. Let’s just say that it’s hardly effective, very dangerous, and makes the walkers look more like stray dogs than people.
Shane confronts Lori about her pregnancy and is once again pushed out of her life. Lori tells him that even if the baby is his, she will not allow him to be a father to it. As he huffs away Carl stops him to say that they need to keep looking for Sophia. Shane still looks at Carl like a son and, despite his relationship with Lori, he supports Carl’s ambitions even though he doesn’t agree with them. Once Lori sees Shane talking to Carl, she calls him away.
This is the big issue with Lori, and makes her the biggest contributor to the “Shane going crazy” sub plot. The more she pushes him away from her family, the more isolated he becomes. In the beginning it was easy for Shane to care for Rick and the rest of the family, and somewhere through it all, there was a happy medium of mutual caring between the jealously. Lori has no appreciation for all of the love and support that Shane has given her, which has more or less turned his feelings into something toxic. Shane has a lot to be unhappy about. He started off alone. Then he fell in love with Lori and she brought him into her family. She pushed for him to act as Carl’s father figure. She tossed all of this responsibility on him, and then the moment he feels like he is a part of something, it’s ripped away. He is cut down from his position as leader. Nobody respects him anymore. Lori goes back between wanting him to be there for her son to telling him he is nothing to her and to stay away from her son. He finds out that he may have a child on the way and he isn’t allowed to be a part of that child’s life. Does it really shock anyone that he is finally starting to crack apart?
When Shane makes it back to camp, he realizes that Dale has taken their gun supply to the woods to hide from him. Shane tracks him down and confronts him, only to hear the echo of his own words. Dale tells him that he belongs in this world in all of its ruthlessness. When Shane returns to camp, he instigates a full scale uprising against Hershel and his barn of walkers. He hands out the camp’s gun supply and opens the barn. Everyone around him is horrified, but they do nothing, as if a secret part of them all wanted this to happen. The group opens fire on the walkers. As the dust clears, one final walker comes out of the barn: it’s Sophia. The gunfire stops and weight of the situation sinks in. It is Rick who delivers the final blow.
There is something poetic about this ending. It is satisfying because it resulted in a waste of time. Everybody lost something. Carol lost her daughter. Daryl lost his hope. Hershel’s party lost every bit of ignorance that they have managed to package away in the old barn. Rick lost his idealism, and with Sophia’s emergence, his pedestal crashed underneath him. It wasn’t Shane, Andrea, or Daryl that took the shot that put the girl down, but rather him. Yes, the survivors have wasted their time. Not only was Sophia dead, but they had to see her dehumanized and rotting from the inside out. The poor girl died alone in the woods and none of Rick’s efforts amounted to anything more than pain for everyone.
The real kicker here, and the most satisfying twist of all, is that karma has been eliminated from this world. The good guy’s efforts don’t pay off. The guy painted as “the big jerk” for the last few episodes was right all along. The innocent are fair game for slaughter, and the good will die. Righteous men are stripped of their pride. Hope is an infectious disease. “Pretty Much Dead Already” was like a big fuck you to the entire world that “The Walking Dead” has built, littered with the cruelty and nihilism that a show about the apocalypse should have.