As far as mid-season finales go, The Walking Dead did something right which few shows can. They ended multiple story arcs in a satisfying way, and most importantly they didn’t give the audience any silly cliffhangers. Of course our journeyers’ survival and their time with Hershel will all be reckoned out once the show returns, but personally I find it a cop-out when writers take a mid-season or even full-season finale and turn it into a confusing wreck of problems. It’s much nicer to have shows like The Walking Dead take things a step at a time, and because of this I can honestly say “Pretty Much Dead Already” became one of the show’s most excellent episodes.
In previous articles we never gave much time to the directing style, because while the show kept up a high standard there wasn’t much to point out. Well Michelle MacLaren knocked it out of the park on this one. After working closely as executive producer for Breaking Bad and herself directing some of the better episodes (full list here), MacLaren’s skills were put to perfect use in directing this forty-two minute nail-biter. Every single shot with the barn in it was shot brilliantly, singling this somewhat-abandoned structure out as an ominous task for our roughened crew to pass before moving on. Notable also were the performances she got out of Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale), Steven Yeun (Glenn) and best of all Scott Wilson (Hershel). Hershel’s debate (ahem, discussion) with Rick pushed the tension in a way only Walkers had previously.
Hershel is the hidden good guy within all of this it seems, prone to anger only when his flock is threatened and set in his ways for the good of his family. While our travelers are entirely correct that he’s made a grievous error, it’s worth it to recognize that it was a mistake his heart kept him from getting right. There’s a lot of discussion and personal nuance each character displays when faced with the Walkers, and I think it was the right call for The Walking Dead to battle those internal demons early on in the show. Glenn’s fantastic speech to Maggie about keeping her alive felt a little “heard that before” but came off as sincere mostly because Glenn himself is a character we’ve never quite seen before. And Dale’s interactions with Shane and Andrea simply keep escalating in scale, to the point where he’s becoming a pivotal player for each other character to work through their issues with.
The final demon though, of course, was (mega-spoiler) Sophia appearing as a Walker in the final minutes of the show. Removing the Walkers from the barn and finding Sophia both had to happen eventually, but this was an unexpected and seriously sad moment for both these plot points to end. Normally I find myself yelling at the TV screen when a show pulls some last-second cliffhanger out and I’m left alone with new thoughts to process before the answers come next week/month/year. But “Pretty Much Dead Already,” besides being a Breaking Bad-esque spoiler title in itself, had me denying the truth until Rick came and killed what used to be Sophia. His moment as the final shooter was a perfect reflection of his leadership and personal character, two things that I’m sure will be in full fling when the season starts up again.
I just wish it would start up sooner.