Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
“I wouldn’t drink that if I were you.” – Dale
After the tension, and shocking ending, of last week’s episode, “Cherokee Rose” feels very … quiet. Oh, a lot happens — Carl wakes up, Maggie and Glenn have sex, Daryl finds apparent signs of Sophia, Lori pees on a stick — but there aren’t any Big Moments. That is, unless you count the rotund, water-logged walker in a well (ah, there but for the grace of God goes Otis).
Written by Evan Reilly (Rescue Me), the fourth episode sows the seeds of conflict for the bulk of the second season, bringing the remaining survivors to the Greene farm, where the hospitality of Hershel, the God-fearing country vet, is revealed to have its limits. Although he allows them to set up camp — not near the barn, mind you — Hershel informs Rick they shouldn’t get too comfortable: Once Carl has recovered and they’ve found Sophia, they’ll need to move on. Rick, clearly believing his rag-tag band had found a home in this pastoral setting, far enough removed from the apocalypse, appeals to Hershel in a lengthy discussion that touches upon faith (naturally), father-son relationships and the burdens of leadership. The vet, who despite his plain-spoken ways clearly has secrets, finally relents, saying he’ll reconsider … as long as the group respects his rules.
Chief among those is a prohibition against carrying guns on his property, although Hershel begrudgingly allows Dale to serve as an armed lookout. Alas, there’s no mention of whether shooting fleshy farmhands and leaving them for zombie chow is permissible; I don’t know, maybe that’s “understood.” It’s just as well, though, as the freshly shorn Shane, dressed in oversized bib overalls, earns a starring role at Otis’ memorial service. The new arrivals gather with the Greene clan around the newly erected cairn, and a grieving Patricia asks Shane to share her husband’s final moments so she’ll know his death had meaning. An uncomfortable Shane offers a sanitized version of events, helpfully punctuated with flashbacks to their dash from the high school, ending with the hilarious acknowledgment that, “If not for Otis, I never would’ve made it out alive — that goes for Carl, too.”
(In case you’d forgotten that the extended Greene family is more than merely Hershel, Maggie, Patricia and the dearly departed Otis, in this scene we again glimpse daughter Beth and her straw hat-wearing boyfriend Jimmy. I realize they’re not even secondary characters at this point, but … where do they go? As far as I know, Jimmy has yet to utter a word; he shows up, tosses a rock into a wheelbarrow, and then disappears again. Is he, and to a lesser extent Beth, part of the Mystery of the Farm, or have the writers just not figured out what to do with him? Maybe he and T-Dog can strike up a friendship …)
With Otis properly, if awkwardly, eulogized, the survivors turn their attention to finding poor little Sophia. Although it feels as if she’s been gone for weeks, it’s actually only been three days (really!), and Rick’s tired of dicking around. Armed with a county survey map provided by Hershel and Maggie, they plot a law enforcement-style grid search of the area, only to have it postponed by Doc Greene, who tells Rick and Shane that they’re in no condition to comb the countryside (the former because of all the blood he gave, the latter because of his injured leg). That, for some reason, leaves only Daryl, who sets off on his search while the other two regain the strength. Except, they don’t rest; Rick strolls the farm with Hershel, and Shane limps along with Andrea and Carol back to the highway to see whether Sophia wandered back to the message (and food and drink) they left for her. Why Shane was able to walk there, but not participate in a search — or, hell, why they didn’t drive to the Interstate — I’m not sure.
It’s also unclear why some of the others couldn’t venture out with Daryl (surely Jimmy is familiar with the area; at the very least it would’ve given him something to do). If I were to guess, it’s primarily only because the producers needed to pair Glenn with Maggie for an excursion to the local pharmacy under the pretense of scavenging more medical supplies — wouldn’t they have cleaned it out ages ago rather than risk repeated trips? — but really so Glenn could find a mystery product for Lori in the feminine-hygiene aisle (whatever could it be?) before endearingly fumbling his way into sex with Maggie. “I’ll have sex with you,” she says to a disbelieving Glenn. “You’re not the only one that’s lonely.”
Before leaving the farm, however, they needed to participate in The Walking Dead‘s perhaps-unintentional ode to The Silence of the Lambs, in which Glenn is cast as … the basket. Dale and T-Dog, the latter eager to have his fevered ramblings forgotten, head to one of the farm’s four wells to replenish the caravan’s water supply, only to discover a portly, snarling walker has fallen through the wooden cover. Shane, Lori, Andrea, Glenn and Maggie are quickly rallied to devise a plan to rescue Baby Jessica in an effort to maybe salvage the well. Shooting the zombie is derisively dismissed by Andrea, who insists the blood and brain matter would contaminate the water (never mind that the gangrenous ghoul has been steeping like an oozing, decaying tea bag in the well for who knows how long). An attempt to lure the walker into a noose by dangling a canned ham comes up short, with Lori sagely observing that if the undead wanted canned goods they’d be raiding their cupboards. Because it apparently never occurs to anyone to simply seal the well and use the other three, the survivors instead lower down Glenn as bait. As solidly conceived as that may sound, the plan goes awry when the old rusty water pump they’re using as a pulley breaks, sending Glenn within reach of the ravenous revenant. They, naturally, save Glenn who, despite his panic, managed to lasso the corpulent creature. Unfortunately, the risk and subsequent struggle to haul out the zombie is all for nothing, as its rancid body gets snagged on the lip of the well only to rip in half, dropping its fetid bowels into the water below. “Good thing we didn’t do anything stupid like shoot it,” T-Dog deadpans.
It’s a gross and memorable scene that shines the spotlight again on Glenn — he’s been relegated to background player so far this season — but ultimately serves no other purpose than to provide the episode with an “action” sequence. (Although you could make a case that, as far-fetched as it is, the stranded walker serves as reminder that the farm isn’t as far removed from danger as they might want to believe.) If not for Glenn’s descent into the well and Daryl’s silent excursion into the woods, “Cherokee Rose” would be all talk.
That’s not all bad, mind you: Even if Shane’s limping trek to the highway doesn’t make much sense, it does provide the stage for an exchange between he and Andrea that reveals how he’s coping (for the moment, at least) with murdering Otis. While earlier he seemed ready to come unglued, here Shane is back to his old self, giving what starts out as a cliche speech about how shooting a stationary target is a world away from killing a moving, “living” creature. Asked how to steel yourself, Shane advises, “You turn off the switch, the one that makes you scared, angry, sympathetic, whatever. … When you get it done, you have to forget it. I guess I haven’t got that last part down yet.”
Cross-bowing wielding Daryl, who does have it down, discovers signs that someone — someone small enough to fit in a cupboard — has found shelter recently in an abandoned house. He ventures back to the RV, with a flower in hand, to find Carol preparing the sleeping area for Sophia’s eventual return. Although she had brushed off Andrea and Shane’s empty words of hope, Carol listens as Daryl gives her a Cherokee rose he found outside the house, and relates the legend of flowers springing up where the tears of weeping mothers fell along the Trail of Tears. “I’m not fool enough to believe any flowers are blooming for my brother,” Daryl confides, “but I believe this one bloomed for your girl.”
Rick, meanwhile, gives Carl his hat before shedding his badges and shirt, the remaining emblems of his authority. Is he hopeful, and confident, about relinquishing to Hershel the leadership role he never sought, or is he laying down his burdens? Whichever the case, Lori approves before sneaking off into a field to reveal that (gasp!) she asked Glenn to pick up a pregnancy test, and that (double gasp!) it’s positive! Okay, it likely didn’t even surprise those who haven’t read the comics, but still …