Submitted by Corodon Fuller
The initial havoc of the first season of The Walking Dead is behind us. Season 2 is where the ensemble—the show’s real strength—start to come out of the woodwork. The plot… well, you can’t win them all (but give it another season). The Greene farm hosts an awful lot of bickering, dickering, dithering, and dicking, but it all leads up to what might be the show’s most powerful midseason finale. What Hershel has hidden in the back of his barn ends up shining a harsh light on the hope that Rick and the other survivors had been clinging to.
False hope is the dominant theme of this half season. The survivors use it to stave off despair and inhumanity in brutal circumstances. But what happens when they hold on too long? Or abandon hope too quickly?
Season 2.0 could well be subtitled, “The Search for Sophia,” or alternatively, “You Can’t Take Your Kids Anywhere.” Sophia and Carl, the group’s two tween tagalongs, kick off most of the trouble in this arc. When the group gets chased off the road by a herd of zombies, Sophia gets lost in the woods; while Rick and Carl are looking for her, Carl gets shot. The group ends up squatting on the Greene family farm while they wait for him to mend.
The odds of finding Sophia alive start slim and get worse as time goes on. The group’s plan to head for the nearest army base is a desperate long-shot at best, and now that it’s delayed the group starts to fracture. Rick turns the ongoing search for Sophia into a symbol of continuing hope—hope for hope’s sake, the odds be damned.
Shane turns into the leader of an opposition faction. So far Shane has tried to style himself as the voice of utilitarian calculus, but he isn’t as cool-headed as he thinks he is. Throughout the search for Sophia, he argues that the group should pull up stakes and leave her for dead. Rick, a cop, points out several times that when a child is missing for more than 48 hours the police stop expecting to find her alive.
Shane’s point is reasonable, but the show maneuvers us into siding with Rick against the evidence: we know that Shane is unstable and a killer while Rick is a moral paragon. (There will be more to say about how both of them develop in the next article.)
On the sidelines of this debate, the Greene family are in their own parallel state of denial. Hershel, the paterfamilias, refuses to believe that the walking dead are truly dead. Seeing them as sick people, he did the reasonable thing: collect all the walkers he can find (his wife and stepson included) in a barn and feed them livestock. To Rick’s group, it’s horrifyingly delusional behavior—but it’s easy to see how horrifying their kill-zombies-on-sight policy must look from Hershel’s perspective.
With Hershel holding out for his delusional hope and Rick holding out for his own, the two leaders’ end up working together. Rick agrees to help Hershel gather wandering walkers into the barn, and in turn Hershel tolerates the group living on his farm while they look for Sophia. This decision to move deeper into denial rather than move on triggers the confrontation between Team Rick and Team Shane.
Because Shane is Shane, he resolves the problem in the least rational way possible. Grabbing an armload of guns and some like-minded survivors, he breaks into Hershel’s locked barn and shoots everything that’s walking inside. Almost too perfectly, with the last zombie who steps out of the barn, everyone’s false hopes get blown to smithereens one way or another. And we’re dealing with the fallout from that through the rest of the season and beyond.
We’ll pick up from here in the next article ‘The Killing Dead: Rewatching The Walking Dead Season 2.5‘.