The beginning of the second season of AMC’s The Walking Dead was a bit of a sore spot for the show's original fans. Not only did the series lose its creator, Frank Darabont, to contract disputes, but the plot of the sophomore season moved at a snail’s pace. Audiences everywhere were getting frustrated. The entire first six episodes, airing in the fall of 2011, were wasted on a lost cause: finding little Sophia. While the search raised all sorts of moral questions about hope and survival, the one thing it didn’t shake up was what fans really wanted — blood and gore. It may have been a protracted character study of some depth, but generally speaking Season 2 of The Walking Dead was more on its way to becoming the next Steel Magnolias rather than the next great zombie classic.

However, by the end of the mid-season finale, redemption seemed possible. The group found little Sophia, but with a catch: she was a “walker” (in a barn full of her kindred), confirming the hopelessness of the group’s search and perhaps their situation in general. And when Rick, long the bastion of hope, put Sophia down, he drove the final wedge between the Greene and Grimes camps.

Finally, it seemed, the group could get on the road and back to the action. Not so quick.

After the fallout from the barnhouse bloodbath, Hershel demands that the group leaves the farm, again, while Rick continues to argue that leaving the safety of the farm would mean certain death to his wife, Lori, and their unborn child. Hershel insists that his hands are clean and then disappears. Rick and Glen go in search of Hershel and find him at a local tavern, slamming back bourbon and reassessing his moral code. Meanwhile, Shane goes even deeper off the agro-male ledge while Dale tries, in vain, to convince the rest of the group that Shane is dangerous. Maggie says she loves Glen; he doesn’t return the sentiment. Carol goes off into the woods to mourn her daughter and Dale says he’s through helping other people. Lori, in her infinite wisdom, goes off in search of Rick and Glen (who are in search of Hershel), despite having pled with Rick to stay because of familial obligations, and winds up flipping the car.

Up until the end of the episode, The Walking Dead appeared to be hobbling along as in the beginning of the season, giving plot twists only as a means to coerce the audience into watching next week’s show. But after a heated, and lengthy, discussion on hope (yes, hope) between Rick and Hershel, we’re finally introduced to some interesting free radicals in the form of two unsavory boys from Philadelphia. After the foul-mouthed Yankees try to impose themselves onto the already overstressed farm, what started as a forced friendliness devolves into a shoot-out. This proves Rick’s allegiance to the farm, but better yet, sets the stage for a different type of barbarity.

Will The Walking Dead play the Mad Max card? We can only hope. The mid-season premier gave the series a new lease, and while last night’s episode seemed to falter, it looked pretty clear that this half of the season can maintain its second wind. It’s about time The Walking Dead got scary again and it’s about time the show embraced the man vs. man aspect of the zombie apocalypse in a more visceral way, i.e. bloodshed not discourse. I’ve got my fingers crossed for armored dune buggies, Tina Turner, and please, for god’s sake, more zombies.

—MATTHEW ZINGG

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