The Walking Dead, Season 2, Episode 8: “Nebraska”
Written by Evan T. Reilly
Directed by Clark Johnson
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET on AMC
“Nebraska” opens, as it should and as one might reasonably expect, immediately following the zombie massacre that satisfyingly capped off the first half of The Walking Dead‘s second season. Given the expectations involved in this particular circumstance, it’s hardly a shocker that the showrunners brought in some big guns on this one: director Clark Johnson is an A-lister as far as TV directors go (The Wire, Homeland, The Shield, Terriers, etc.), and co-producer Evan Reilly handles scripting duties. And who’s that in the credits? It’s Michael Raymond-James (Terriers, True Blood)! More on him later.
Thanks to the sterling effort of all involved, “Nebraska” works, even if it’s better characterized as “solid” than “spectacular.” It’s a fine episode with One Big Problem, so let’s get that out of the way now. Lori’s one-woman mission into town to retrieve Hershel after Rick and Glenn have already gone after him is bizarrely motivated, and another example of the show relying on its female characters doing dumb things in order to create tension. If Hershel’s granddaughter(?) had collapsed after Rick and Glenn had left, that would have made more sense, but Rick and Glenn are already aware of that when they head into town, so what is she meant to accomplish that Rick and Glenn couldn’t, especially given that she’s heading in alone? And why does she suddenly feel emboldened to do so? Her car crash is nicely staged, but can’t help but create some eye-rolling. (OK, one more minor complaint: it’s a little unfortunate that so much of the episode is powered by the collapse of a character we know absolutely nothing about.)
Otherwise, “Nebraska” hums along just fine. Johnson smartly keeps a tight focus on Scott Wilson, who’s really the heart of the episode, especially in the bar sequence, wherein he finally admits his mistake in believing the walkers could be saved. Raymond-James predictably nails his one-shot appearance as one of two roving survivors who wander into Hershel’s old watering hole, resulting in a standoff with Rick that echoes Justified (long, rambling anecdotes suddenly punctured by a quick-draw gunfight). It would have been wonderful to see Raymond-James on the show in a more permanent capacity, as his brand of low-key charisma would have been a welcome addition, but he still gets a nice showcase here. Hopefully the rest of the season takes its cues more from the bar sequence, with its effective shifts in emphasis and emotional beats, and less from Lori’s highway spill.
Given the end of the midseason finale, tonight’s return episode, titled “Nebraska,” really had no choice but to pick up immediately following the events of “Pretty Much Dead Already.” Thankfully its a solid hour of television, and a promising indication of where the series is headed. Truth be told, the episode works best as a direct extension to episode 7, with a big portion of the plot handed over to dealing with the massacre of the “barn zombies,” meaning, bodies need to be buried, corpses need to be burned and someone has to clean up the mess. Those yearning for high-octane special effects may be disappointed, as this, really if anything, works as a set up episode. Circling around a simple premise, “Nebraska” lays out some new groundwork, but also works as an exercise in guilt and grief.
While most of the action was focused on the everyday challenges of living in a zombie-filled world, “Nebraska” is a crucial entry in order to get Rick and his friends on with their journey. The splintering of the group continues as the episode begins to see the group take sides: there are those siding with Rick and those backing up Shane. If things continues as such, it will inevitably lead to a Rick and Shane standoff, and with that realistically comes the splitting of the entire team. Let’s be realistic here, the show can’t afford to lose half the cast. The only way out of this mess is to somehow find a way to get the group to stop fighting amongst themselves. Something or someone else (other than walkers) needs to interfere.
With the death of Sophia (symbolically at the hands of Rick), and Hershel witnessing his family shot down, both men have now completely lost hope in the possibility of a bright future. In a way this was the calling card we’ve all been waiting for so Rick can step up to plate and finally become something of the bad-ass leader we all expect. This transformation pays off nicely in the episode’s strongest scene, a confrontation in the town watering hole, between Rick and a pair of outsiders. This is the best scene the series has offered yet. Its chock full of suspense, the tension builds naturally, and the dialogue even rings with actual subtext (how rare is that for this series?). With the climax, “Nebraska” successfully sets out to not only further establish Rick as a leader and someone who can handle tough decisions, but to introduce a new threat. Five men stood in the bar, but only three walked out, and somewhere out there we are told there are more to come. The newfound threat will finally or at least hopefully bring the group back together and end the tired old bickering we the audience have had to put up with for far too long. And wouldn’t it be nice to find danger in something or someone other than zombies? I’m still convinced the season will end with a standoff between Rick and Shane, but not at the cost of the rest of the gang. One thing is for certain, if Rick continues to act like a leader ought to act (as seen tonight), the series might not find any need to keep Shane tagging along.
For our extended thoughts, listen to our Walking Dead podcast.
Simon mentioned how irrational Lori actions were in tonight’s episode. Of course, it wouldn’t be The Walking Dead if people weren’t doing stupid things for the sake of plot expedience. At least her character is consistent, and technically she only felt the need to leave only when Beth’s condition had changed for the worse. But someone please explain to me why Hershel headed out to town, having decided to take up an old drinking habit, a habit which had never once been mentioned prior? Even worse, how would he get back? Doesn’t Hershel know not to drink and drive, much less drink around a town crawling with zombies?
T-Dog has lines of dialogue, if only to defend Shane’s actions but not in any way build his character.
Glenn once again proves that the best conversations come when he involved. His conversation with Rick in the car was great. This is the sort of guy you want to meet hanging out at coffee shops.
The arm falling off the truckload of corpses was a funny gag, but what’s even better is how Andrea handled it.