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Recap | The Walking Dead: ‘Nebraska’

“I don’t know, I hear Nebraska’s nice.”Rick

There’s a temptation to dismiss “Nebraska,” the midseason premiere of The Walking Dead, as simply more of the same — more unfocused anger, more self-pity, more marching in place, more inexplicable behavior designed only to advance the plot. And, yes, there’s still plenty of that: Shane struts around fuming, Dale glares, Rick gets fitted for his metaphorical hairshirt, and a grieving Beth, better known as the Greene Girl Who’s Not Maggie, falls into a convenient, and vague, catatonic state.

But at some point, somewhere in the final act, “Nebraska” stops being about hope and hopelessness, grief and blame — all of those things that had fueled, if only barely, the first half of the season — and starts being about something else: transformation.

Picking up mere seconds after the slaughter at the barn in the midseason finale “Pretty Much Dead Already,” the survivors are left with the realization that Sophia, for whom they’ve oh-so-casually searched, has been a walker, corralled in the barn since before Otis’ death (I’ve lost track of time, but that couldn’t have been more than a week ago, right?). The Greene clan, meanwhile, must deal with witnessing the deaths, a second time, of their friends, neighbors and family, including Hershel’s wife and stepson — an emotional gutting that nearly becomes physical when the Greene Girl Who’s Not Maggie goes to cradle the body of her mother-walker, only to find that Ma Greene’s still kicking … and hungry.

Hershel, who had overseen the gentle wrangling and feeding of the undead as he clung to the belief that some day, some how, a cure would be found and he could resume life as it was before the apocalypse, is hit particularly hard by the events. His wide-eyed, silent weeping gives way to a disconcerting calm as he denies Shane’s accusations that he knew about Sophia all along, then orders Rick’s group off the farm before, in a particularly poignant scene, he begins boxing up his wife’s clothing and jewelry. In a series that’s produced a lot of one-note performances — Jon Bernthal as Shane, Sarah Wayne Callies as Lori and Laurie Holden as Andrea jump immediately to mind — veteran actor Scott Wilson’s nuanced portrayal of Hershel Greene really stands out; if anyone on The Walking Dead deserves an Emmy nomination, it’s him.

As the Greenes grieve and Carol withdraws, distancing herself and her daughter from the revenant lying on the ground, the others deal with more practical matters like the burial of Sophia and Hershel’s wife and stepson, and the burning of the other bodies. Following the brief, awkward service, Hershel disappears into town to take up the drinking habit he’d given up when Maggie was born. Had Beth not collapsed, he might’ve been left to drown his sorrows. However, Rick and Glenn volunteer to retrieve him, sparking exaggerated protests from Lori, who acts as if her husband is charging back into Atlanta, and Maggie, who seems more concerned for her boyfriend’s welfare than that of either her drunken father or her catatonic stepsister.

Rick has barely pulled out of the driveway when Lori, after being waylaid by an always-glaring Dale and his suspicions about Shane’s hand in Otis’ death, decides someone needs to go after Rick and Hershel. (Sure, Beth has developed a fever since Rick left, but it’s not as if he was planning to take Hershel to dinner and a movie once he found him.) That someone is Daryl, who not only risked his life to search for Sophia — as thanks, he was mistaken for a walker and shot by trigger-happy Andrea — but toward the end was the only one of the group making an effort. Needless to say, after the incident at the barn, he’s not mood to help, and lashes out at Lori, and in hilarious Sawyer-like fashion, dubs her “Olive Oyl.” Presumably that makes Rick Popeye and Shane Bluto.

And so Lori, who only minutes before lectured Rick about endangering his life for others when their son Carl needs him, sets off in a car in pursuit of her husband and their drunken host. Hitting the pavement, she takes her eyes off the road to consult a map and looks up in time to plow into a walker, which somehow makes the car flip. That’s right, there are now two women in peril: the catatonic Greene daughter, and a pregnant Lori trapped within an upside-down vehicle with a walker nearby.

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Rick and Glenn, meanwhile, have a heart to heart about love — Maggie told Glenn she loves him, but Glenn didn’t return the sentiment because he wasn’t sure whether the meant it — before finding a drunken Hershel exactly where they thought they would: the dusty corner bar. The once-hopeful country vet is a broken man, defeated by the realization that he was living a lie and foolishly caring for rotting corpses, not friends and family, and endangering the lives of the people he loved. Rick, instead of wallowing with Hershel, convinces him that he has to hold onto hope not for himself, but for the people who need him.

Then, as two more unexpected patrons enter the bar, the scene abruptly shifts from hopeful to menacing. Dave and Tony, refugees from Philadelphia — the former is played by Michael Raymond-James of True Blood and Terriers fame — pop by, scouting for a larger group of survivors heading to Florida after stories of safe havens in Washington, D.C., and Fort Benning and trains to Nebraska didn’t pan out. However, it quickly becomes clear that Dave and Tony aren’t there for conversation and a drink: They’re searching for a home, and pounce on the mere hint that Rick & Co. have a farm nearby.

Rick rebuffs their “friendly” suggestions that they join with his group, saying he doesn’t know them and that the farm can’t sustain them all. A striking contrast emerges between Rick and the band represented by Dave and Tony, and Hershel and Rick’s group. Faced with armed strangers in need of help, Hershel cautiously opened his home, only to later regret it (moments before Dave and Tony darkened the door of the bar, Hershel shouted at Rick, “You people are like a plague. I do the Christian thing and give you shelter — and you destroy it all!”).

But here Rick, his hand always near his holster, is suspicious of Dave and Tony, and rightfully so; there’s something wild and predatory about the duo, an element made even more clear when Tony urinates on the floor. Despite the smiles and reassurances, Rick knows they represent danger to the farm, more so than the walkers and Shane do. So as tension builds, Wild West-style — a lawman facing two desperadoes in a dusty saloon — Rick makes a split-second decision and guns them both down. It’s in that moment he shifts from the role of Hershel, kindly if stern guardian, to that of Shane, rash and brutal defender.

It’s a shining moment for Rick, who for so long had played a reactive, secondary role in his own story. While Shane and Daryl acted, Rick has talked and moped and talked some more, too busy anguishing over his own missteps — Carl’s accidental shooting, the loss of Sophia, etc. — to actually do what needs to be done, proving the criticisms of him correct. Here, though, he takes charge, and he’s badass.

Take that, Shane.

Grade: A-


  • Anonymous

    Overall, I was just as bored as I was last season.  Shane (one of the few likable characters) continues to go down this forced dark avenue for no other reason than he didn’t survived this long in the book.  Rick still comes off as an idiot, even though they are subtly turning him into the character he eventually becomes.  Laurie continues to annoy me, and her overly predicable car crash did nothing to excite me because we know she didn’t die, and I’m sure the baby will also magically survived.  When we finally get to the meat and potatoes of the episode, which re-enforces the idea that living people are the worst enemies in this world, but even this scene came off so damn scripted.  The scene had zero suspense because you knew Rick was gunning these two down the moment they began their conversation.

  • Graphic Content Suggested

    Shane is likable? Selfish. Aggressive. Misogynist. They set up his character in that first scene that he had with Rick in Season 1. Shane thinks he knows it all. He’s loyal and he means well, but he has a mean streak that was subdued but has manifested fully in this new survival scenario.

    But that’s just my interpretation.

    This season slowed down a bit during the search for Sophia, but I have been liking it thus far. Not LOVING it, but this episode was a step in the right direction. Bring on the prison…

  • Anonymous

    Well, not likable as I would want to hang with him, but I think he makes a better leader then Rick as this point.  The show went through great efforts making him redeemable when they put in the twist that he really thought Rick was dead which is why he left him in the hospital, opposed to the book version, where Shane straight up lied to Lori.

  • Lldrea

    I agree! Bring on the prison!!! I think the season/show will pick up once the group leaves the farm.

  • joseph

    im very disappointed in the direction the shows going so far. I hope the they can get the quality level on par with the comic in future episodes.

  • Destro

    I really am starting to get annoyed at all the “too stupid to live” moments they have characters exhibit on “The Walking Dead”. It’s a zombie Apocalypse – why are people roaming around on their own? Stupid!Walk into town without a defense? Stupid! (OK maybe the character in question wanted to die) But they have a character drive into town on her own? WTF? Earlier episodes two characters take horses on a slow ride into the town and they act as if there is no threat lurking around. I don’t care how empty a town was when this came down – zombies move back and forth searching for the living to consume. They are like a tide. Do the survivors not realize this yet? How can they not?I know budget considerations means they need to show less zombies but it is a world that is overrun with zombies to the point you can’t wonder into town and sit down in a bar for a drink and live long.Also, outside of story exposition purposes there is no way Dale can recreate what Shane did to Otis just on a hunch – not even Sherlock Holmes could recreate what happened.I do like the idea of two leaders with two different leading styles being presented to the survivors for a choice. You want a Stalin like figure (Shane) or Churchill (Rick) in a Zombie Apocalypse world to lead you? That is an interesting sub plot.Also, I am sick of women characters who are married to cops, etc being upset they act like cops and put their lives at risk – that is a cliche that needs to die. How about Lori instead of being upset that Rick is doing dangerous things actually is more of a Machiavellian figure rather than some annoyed wife getting into fights with her husband and ignoring her former lover?And one last thing, there should be a sense of terror all the time. Just imagine you are lost on foot while on jungle safari in lion country with limited defenses as to what dread should be represented.Yes, I have been reading the comic since the first issue but what works in comic form does not usually work in another medium and I have to say the translation is not working here with the TV show that well yet.I don’t know if I feel this way because I have read the series and thus I am not taken by surprise much as to the next direction (even with the subtle changes and new characters) but maybe the TV show of the comic book series would have been better served if it followed the adventure of another band of characters in parallel to the comic book version. The Daryl Dixon character is one direction it could have gone (ditching the Rick Grimes party) or the show could follow the Morgan Jones character with his son who was a powerful character in the pilot episode probably because of the acting power of African- American actor Lennie James. Having a father and son dynamic as a focal point would have made for some powerful bonding between audience and show.Let me know your own critiques of “The Walking Dead”, if you think the show is great as is or if you share my concerns and have your own ideas.As of yet, I don’t feel the series is living up to its dread potential and seems to not be firing on all cylinders.

  • Jesse,

    That was the exact same thing people said when the crew left the CDC at the end of last season. 

  • Thomas

    Well whoever said the prison was expected after the CDC is dumb cause if they didn’t end up at Herserls farm it would be pointless. In the book the Herserl family is half the group in the prison. Also you can tell the prison (Or maybe somewhere else) is coming up because Maggie and Gleen were talking about Gleen staying when his group leaves the farm. So we know they are leaving sometime soon, hopefully the prison, and I think just like the book, the last scene of the season will be them finding the prison.

  • Terry Thielen

    this show has been a series of missteps, poor acting, and bad writing. Its main fault is that in trying to be different from the books, it lost sight of what made the books good.

  • Bobby Hicks

    I felt the same way about the scene with Rick going Lawman on the scouts. I’m a firm believer that characters have to be reaffirmed in shows occasionally. More often than not, we’re explained that characters are capable or badass, only to constantly see them getting tooled over and victimized (Kate from LOST comes to mind). You have to have a moment like Rick’s showdown in last night’s episode that shows us, “This guy is capable, he’s badass, and he can back up his talk.”

    I’m glad they finally did it for Rick.

  • Adam Walker

    Lori going after Rick was so stupid. I really can’t believe they pulled that off. Her flipping in the car made me nearly flip off the show. Was this written by ten year old? Who else would believe that someone who watches the show couldn’t guess what happens next?

  • Art

    Lenny James is English. And the tone of the show is quite a bit different than the comic because of adjustments made, which makes it less enjoyable, not because it’s a direct translation as your suggesting. The book constantly has people dropping like flies in violent and gory fashion. Here we are seeing less “anyone can die” rules.

  • Althea

    ……..NOTHING HAPPENED IN THIS EPISODE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! >>>>>>>>>>>>>GRRRRR!