TV Diary | The Walking Dead: “Nebraska”
TV Diary | The Walking Dead – Episode 2.08 – “Nebraska” – Original Airdate: 2/12/12
Episode Grade: A-
The Walking Dead has always been the type of show that I respected more than I liked. I watched the first season in 2010 and felt that while it was fine enough, it never really reached the heights of its AMC network brethren, Breaking Bad and Mad Men. Whether it’s fair to compare a genre show like The Walking Dead to either of those two certified classics is up for debate but the fact is that they share a network and a brand in AMC so there’s at least some validity in such a comparison. That said, I re-watched season one ahead of the show’s second season premiere back in October and was surprised at how much I enjoyed more than I’d remembered. It’s because of that reason that my hopes were high headed into its second season but outside of the season premiere and its midseason finale – which saw Shane brazenly gun down a barnful of walkers  before Rick was forced to pull the trigger on an undead Sophia, the young girl that the cast had been searching for for the entirety of the first half of the season – I thought that too much of the middle of the season was soft and uninteresting. But that final image – a broken Rick forced to shoot and kill what was once a young girl and in the process kill the hope of most of the show’s characters had been desperately grasping onto – was so indelible and so grim that I was very excited for the three-month break between episodes to end and The Walking Dead to return. And “Nebraska,” the first episode back after the hiatus? In my opinion, it might be one of the best episodes the show has ever done. That a series this bleak and this nihilistic can somehow attract record ratings for AMC  makes the misanthrope in me smile. Almost every moment in “Nebraska” was dark and depressing, from the previously blind optimist Hershel’s realization that hope is gone, to Rick being forced to essentially cold-bloodedly murder two humans as a means of protecting his camp, to a pregnant Lori falling victim to a car crash, to the growing sense that the conflict between Shane and Dale is going to leave one of the men dead, “Nebraska” was almost a treatise on the harsh realities of the show’s apocalyptic setting. The first half of this second season focused largely on Rick and his camp of survivors stumbling upon a bucolic outpost lead by Hershel, a doctor who naively believed that the walkers were just afflicted with a disease that could eventually be cured instead of seeing them as the monsters that the show (and the cast) has painted them as for most of its run. Eventually, these differing viewpoints had to come to a head and they did in the show’s last installment, “Pretty Much Dead Already,” when Shane barged into the barn where Hershel and his people had been housing walkers  and gunned them down in a massacre. Hershel’s realization that he hope he’d been holding onto was misplaced, thus taking quite possibly the show’s one positive and optimistic character and destroying him, was a telling statement for showrunner Glen Mazzara and writer Robert Kirkman to make. Most shows would be afraid to take such a dark worldview but it’s a necessary – and not to mention ballsy – move to make here. Hershel’s response – to dangerously head out on his own into town to a bar – leads to yet another chilling situation after Rick and Glenn are forced to retrieve him following a medical emergency back at the farm. After arriving at the bar and finding Hershel struggling with his new reality, they’re soon joined by two interlopers (Terriers’ Michael Raymond-James and Aaron Munoz) with numerous questions about how Rick and his camp have survived and where they’ve set up camp, making it obvious that they’re angling for an invite and are willing to obtain one via force if necessary. The entire scene is a master class in how to effectively build tension as the two strangers – particularly Raymond-James – are great at portraying the subtle menace that the duo possesses, ultimately leading to Rick having to shoot and kill them  to the horror of Hershel and Glenn. Between pulling the trigger on Sophia at the end of “Pretty Much Dead Already” and now this, the show has gone a long way towards addressing Shane’s criticisms that Rick is unfit to make tough decisions when necessary. “Nebraska” was one of the harsher and darker episodes of television that I can remember in some time and, frankly, it’s a very good look for the show.
 Which, in retrospect, set almost everything that happened in “Nebraska” into motion.
 “Nebraska” pulled in 8.1 million viewers last Sunday night, the biggest audience in show and AMC history, along with being in line with the ratings for a cable juggernaut like <pukes> Jersey Shore.
 Including Hershel’s own wife, while waiting out the possibility that a cure for their condition would present itself one day.
 A goddamn shame, too, because I would have LOVED to have seen at the very least Raymond-James as a part of this cast. True, I’m a loyal and avowed Terriers fan but Raymond-James would have been a dynamite member of this show given the chance.
*As mentioned earlier, there were three other major developments beyond Hershel’s faith being shattered and Rick’s double-homicide that helped contribute to the despair caked all over “Nebraska.” One was Lori’s car crash. For a while, it seemed like The Walking Dead may have painted itself into a corner because introducing a baby on a show like this seemed like an impossible task. The subject of abortion was already broached and discarded earlier this season but, still, it seemed unlikely that the pregnancy was ever going to come to fruition. Enter a little deus ex walker-a (I’m sorry), as Lori – after having her request for Daryl to go into town to retrieve Rick, Glenn, and Hershel rudely rejected – drove off on her own, only to run into a walker in the road, swerve, and flip her car off into a ditch. I’d have to say that this probably goes a long way towards solving the baby conundrum, as well as creating no small amount of guilt for Daryl and resentment of the redneck from Rick as we move forward.
*Secondly, round two in the Dale/Shane conflict likely goes to Dale after he confesses his (correct) suspicions of Shane’s involvement in Otis’s death to Lori. While it seems kind of convenient that Dale would put everything together to a T, this is definitely one storyline that I’m very excited to see play out as the season progresses. I’ve consciously stayed away from any type of spoilers or from any knowledge of the Walking Dead comic series that the show was based on but this news seems to telegraph the ultimate resolution more than a little. Still, it doesn’t damper my enthusiasm for the storyline as watching Shane devolve into full-on villainy has been one of the most enjoyable threads to watch in the second season and it looks like there may be little factions developing within the larger group as Andrea and T-Dog both seem to back Shane’s play at the barn.
*Last but not least in the hope-destroying category? Raymond-James confirms that Fort Benning as a landing spot is a myth, saying that it’s overrun by walkers. That is, unless he was lying. But, judging by the way the rest of “Nebraska” played out I’d say he was probably being truthful.
*Loved director Clark Johnson – a veteran of The Shield and The Wire – choosing to open the episode focused on the smoking barrel of Rick’s gun seconds after shooting Sophia in the head. I liked that we got another chance to see the aftermath of that brutal decision and it served as a nice bookend with what happened in the bar at episode’s end. This is the first episode that Johnson has directed and I would absolutely love for the show to bring him back in the future.
*This week’s Walking Dead Extreme Gore Moment: Two this week, both involving Andrea – first, Andrea putting a pick-axe through the back of the head of a walker and secondly, Andrea jumping off of the back of a pickup truck to retrieve an arm that dropped out of the truck’s bed as she and T-Dog were driving out to the woods to dispose of the aftermath of the barn shooting.
*One criticism – If I’m understanding correctly, the blonde who collapses at the farm’s kitchen, causing the medical emergency, is a daughter of Hershel’s? This is a problem that the show needs to correct going forward in that things seem to happen to random characters who have little to no previous introduction and the show expects us to immediately care about them. It kinda doesn’t work that way, guys. Maybe a little attention prior to the fact might help.
*So, we’re supposed to look at Carol as a metaphorical walker now, right? Obviously, seeing what happened to her daughter would wreck anyone and Shane seeing her coming out of the woods looking catatonic reinforces that.
*Sophia’s death also seems to have taken a toll on Daryl as he looks to have regressed back to original Asshole Daryl when Lori asks him if he can go into town to bring Rick, Glenn, and Hershel back. He snaps back, “I’m done looking for people.”
*Beyond the fact that Raymond-James is a kickass actor who was on Terriers? His character was from Philly! 215 represent.
*”We bury the ones we love. And then we burn the rest.”
*”If I’m such a danger and I’m such a threat, what did you do to stop me?”
*”That’s not my little girl. That’s some other… thing.”
*”You people are like a plague. I do the Christian thing and give you shelter and you ruin it.”
*”Ever been to Nebraska? There’s a reason they call ’em flyover states.”
*Not sure if there was any intended connection, but it can’t be just a coincidence that Nebraska was also the name of Bruce Springsteen’s darkest album, right?