Axel-In-Charge: Navigating the "Civil War II" Landscape, Bringing DMC to Marvel
“I know what kind of man you are.” – Dale
I’m not sure you could find a better episode than “Secrets” to illustrate my frustrations with The Walking Dead. It starts off strong, really strong, forsaking those vacuous flashbacks for a seemingly tranquil depiction of daily life on the Greene farm. Carl, quickly recovered from his gunshot wound, jokes with his mother as they cheerily feed the chickens until the boy sagely, if darkly, observes, “Everything’s food for something else.” As if on cue, Otis’ wife Patricia eases into the chicken house, breaking a hen’s legs before slipping off to the barn to deliver breakfast to the walkers.
It’s a remarkable window into the life of Hershel’s clan, with Patricia tending to the undead as she would the farm’s living inhabitants. In a talky Season 2, we’ve only been told the Greenes view the zombies differently than the other survivors do — “Hershel wants to deal with the walkers,” Rick shouted last week — but here we see their devotion to the ones locked in the barn. Why else would you take the time to break the legs of the chickens, to ensure the slow-moving walkers can catch their breakfast, unless you cared for who they once were — and clung to the hope they could be that way again?
The moment, unfortunately, is fleeting, as the series lapses back into its ridiculous handling of the search for Sophia. Five days in, any urgency that might’ve existed is gone, largely because Daryl, the only one intent on finding the girl, is laid up in a tent recovering from his injuries. Again we’re teased with the possibility of an all-out search, as Rick, Shane and Jimmy study a county map, only for the plan to be sidetracked by the apparently more pressing need for firearm training. Carol, who should be screaming at her companions to get their shit together and find her daughter, instead haunts the background, not particularly concerned about anything. If they do find Sophia alive — at this point, though, do you care? — she’ll undoubtedly be able to teach Daryl a thing or two about wilderness survival.
An anxious Glenn, a definite bright spot of this episode, discovers that two secrets are two too many. After fussing over Lori and prodding her to tell Rick about her pregnancy, he makes an excuse to remain at camp while most of the others drive off for target practice. He then turns to Dale and blurts out, “There’s walkers in the barn and Lori’s pregnant!”
Now, I like Dale, whom the writers undoubtedly envision as the wizened conscience of the group. More often than not, however, he comes across as little more than the camp busybody, inserting himself into situations where he doesn’t belong. In “Secrets,” that tendency mostly pays off for the viewers, as Dale makes a beeline to confront Hershel about the walkers in the barn. As the plain-spoken veterinarian brushes Nellie the horse, newly returned from her trek into the woods, he fleshes out his views on the undead, and expresses his disgust with the incident at the well. “We don’t shoot sick people,” Hershel tells a visibly rattled Dale. “My wife and stepson are in that barn — they’re people.”
Now realizing the “Kill All Zombies” path is a futile one, Dale shifts gears, offering to talk to Rick — “He’s a good man” — about making the barn more secure. Hershel turns him down, asking Dale to keep the information about the walkers to himself, deftly pushing forward the beatification of Deputy Grimes while setting up a later confrontation: “Rick’s a man of conscience, but are you so sure about everyone in your group?” The answer, of course, is no, he isn’t.
Lori’s conversation with Hershel goes no better when, after thanking him for his help and hospitality, she offers for the group to earn its keep on the farm. While he appreciates the overture, he makes it clear he expects she and the others will be on their way soon. Finally realizing the Greene farm isn’t their new home, Lori confronts Saint Rick, wondering why he hadn’t told anyone. “I don’t see how you can keep something like this from me,” she says, demonstrating a cringe-worthy lack of self-awareness. Her husband assures her that Hershel’s decision isn’t written in stone, but that even if they do have to leave the relative safety of the farm, they’ll be fine.
Returning to the tents, Lori is nauseated by the smell of cooking food, giving Dale his opening to confront her about her pregnancy. (“Glenn told you,” she says. “What did you expect?” he replies. “The boy has no guile.”) Insisting that the baby is Rick’s, and not Shane’s, Lori frets more about what kind of life the child might lead in this post-apocalyptic world, then takes Glenn up on his offer to go back into town to find anything she might need for her condition.
Despite being angry that he blabbed the secret of the barn, Maggie accompanies Glenn to the pharmacy, chastising him for referring to the undead as “walkers.” “What do you call them?” he asks, setting up Maggie to deliver the blow: “Mom. Shawn. Mr. and Mrs. Fisher. Lacey. Duncan …” As they search the shelves for what Lori requires — come on, you know what it is — Maggie is grabbed by a zombie, only to be saved by a quick-thinking, shelf-swinging Glenn. Upon their return to the farm, Maggie slings the items at Lori, loudly proclaiming that she and Glenn aren’t her “delivery boys” before announcing, “and here’s your abortion pills!” (Shocking, I know.) Well-meaning Glenn complicates matters further by also giving Lori prenatal vitamins. “Your choice,” he says. “Maybe you shouldn’t make it alone.”
Elsewhere, target practice goes well, with Andrea demonstrating that she’s the crack shot readers of the comic knew her to be. It’s suggested that she stay behind with Shane for advanced training (wink, wink), during which he berates her while she fires on a chunk of wood hanging from a swinging rope. In an effort to rattle her, to get her to focus under pressure, Shane goes too far, shouting, “That’s the walker that got Amy! Shoot that son of a bitch! Shoot him!” Mortified, Andrea takes off walking back toward the farm. An apologetic Shane pulls up in his new ride, suggesting she accompany him to a nearby housing development where Sophia could be (come on, you know she isn’t). There they search a corpse-strewn house for signs of the girl before being forced to retreat by a troupe of walkers. After initially panicking when her gun jams, Andrea coolly picks off zombies with shots to the head, an act that excites her so much that she puts the moves on Shane, sparking a round of horn-honking car sex. Thankfully, the camera cuts away.
The two can barely contain their smiles as they return to camp and break the news to Carol that their all-to-brief search (let’s call it foreplay) came up empty. An observant Dale, recognizing a post-coital glow when he sees one, suggests to Shane that now may be a good time to hop in his car and leave. It’s not necessarily the welfare of the group Dale is thinking of — I like that the group’s conscience is flawed, a little selfish — when he lays his cards on the table, voicing his suspicions about Otis’ death, and bringing up that moment in the woods, back at the quarry, when he witnessed Shane pointing his gun at Rick. I’m not sure I buy Dale’s skepticism about the Otis Incident. If he’d earlier probed for details of the evening or questioned inconsistencies, then sure, but here it feels like a writer’s cheat used to paint Shane into a corner. It works, though, with Dale’s big J’accuse! moment — “I know what kind of man you are” — met by a glowering, unnerving response: “You think that’s the kind of man I am? If I’m the kind of man who’d gun down his own best friend, what you think I’d do to some guy I don’t even like when he starts throwin’ accusations my way. What you think?”
Meanwhile, Lori swallows a handful of morning-after pills, uncertain if they’ll even work, then runs into the trees to throw them back up. Careless, she leaves the packaging in their tent to be found by Rick. Tracking her down, he asks, “Is there something you need to tell me?” leaving us wondering what Jenner whispered in his ear at the Centers for Disease Control. (Seriously, if it took this discovery for Rick to realize his wife is pregnant, then what information could the mad scientist have shared with him?) “We can’t leave, I’m pregnant?” Lori answers glibly, launching another anguished exchange about what kind of world a child might be born into.
“I can’t live like this anymore — we can’t live like this,” an exasperated Rick finally exclaims. “Is there anything else I should know about?”
“Shane and I –” Lori starts, having difficulty summoning the words before Saint Rick cuts her off. “I know, of course I know,” he says sedately, skipping from the confession to the absolution. “You thought I was dead. The world went to shit and you thought I was dead, right?”
Even if Rick had suspected their relationship, which he obviously had, the expected — the normal — reaction when finally confronted with the information would be, what, anger, betrayal? But not Rick Grimes, the man without flaws. Clearly the revelation is designed to further strain his friendship with Shane, with the writers lazily leaving Rick unblemished and virtuous. Weeping, bighearted Rick is just too good for this terrible world. Shane, on the other hand, is murderous and covetous, if pragmatic — and ultimately, better suited for post-apocalyptic survival.
They’re obviously heading for a big showdown. However, if the Sophia storyline is any indication, we may be waiting a long time for them to get there.