Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

"Saving cats from trees."

Leave it to Shane (Joe Bernthal), The Walking Dead’s resident contrarian, to give voice to all of Season Two’s haters. Continuing on the survival-of-the-fittest path that he officially launched by feeding Otis (Pruitt Taylor Vince) at the end of “Save The Last One,” Shane lays his honest opinions out in the open for Rick (Andrew Lincoln) to hear loud and clear: It’s time they give up on the search for little missing Sophia (Madison Lintz), the ineffectively prolonged plot-line that’s slowly (though hopefully not surely) been driving The Walking Dead’s still-young second season into the ground. In Shane’s eyes, the group’s tireless treks into the woods to find a kid he thinks is already dead have been more harmful than noble—Carl (Chandler Riggs), still recuperating in Hershel’s (Scott Wilson) farmhouse from his bullet wound, is proof enough.

Shane’s admirable attempt to end the whole MIA Sophia conflict comes at the tail end of a particularly strong piece of character development, in which Shane and Rick stroll through the woods together on, yes, another search. Rick, realizing that Shane has been giving him the silent treatment (that’s what happens when you fall in love with the guy’s wife), digs into the past to get Shane talking about his favorite subject: girls he smashed back in the day, including the 30-year-old volleyball coach at their high school and the chick who worked at Dairy Queen (curiously similar to a dialogue exchange from 2004’s Dawn Of The Dead remake, no?). Before long, Shane redirects the conversation into the whole Sophia issue, and Rick, forever the noble and “soft” one, isn’t having it. The power struggle for group leadership has kicked into high gear.

And, yes, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) is still pregnant, but with whose kid: Shane or Rick? Smart money is on Shane, who was playing surrogate husband/father while Rick was presumed dead and the military was dropping Napalm all over city streets. Understandably, Lori hasn’t said peep to either Rick nor Shane, but Glenn (Steven Yuen) knows, and, as evidenced by how forthcoming he is about smacking backs with Maggie (Lauren Cohan) while conversing with Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn), it’s only a matter of time before Glenn blabs and tells Rick himself.

Though, thanks to his desire to have more sexy times with Maggie, Glenn has a much bigger piece of information that he’s no doubt dying to share.

"Ever do it in a hayloft?"

Old man Hershel, supreme cock-blocker—that’s a branding that the farm’s elder statesman is dangerously close to earning. Able to pick up on the flirtations going down between Maggie and Glenn, Hershel has a stern chat with his 22-year-old daughter. Reiterating a point that he’s made several times now to Rick, Hershel has no intentions of letting Rick’s group stay on his property any longer than it takes for Carl to totally heal and Sophia to be discovered either dead or alive. Adding to his frustrations are Daryl’s (Norman Reedus) unauthorized strong-arming of Hershel’s skidding horse, “Nervous Nelly,” and Rick’s approval of 17-year-old Jimmy (James McCune) joining the crew on the latest search-and-rescue trip; Jimmy, being a wee bit overzealous, asks for a gun, to which Daryl awesomely replies, “People in hell want Slurpies.”

Hershel’s rules aren’t exactly being abided by with care, so the thought of his daughter hooking up with “that Asian boy” is unsurprisingly an instant fuck-outta-here call from the humorless geezer. Maggie, who’s clearly harboring feelings for Glenn even though she’s been coldly treating him like an immature third-grade schoolgirl’s crush, defiantly repels Hershel’s declaration: “Don’t get too close to them; they’re not gonna be around forever.”

Once Glenn shares his new findings with Rick, Shane, and his cohorts, however, they might want to haul ass out of dodge on their own terms. It all starts with a dinner cooked by Carol (Melissa McBride) and Lori for both their friends and Hershel’s family, as a sign of gratitude for their hospitality. Breaking the uncomfortable silence, Glenn asks if anyone knows how to play the acoustic guitar that Daryl found on one of his excursions, which strikes a nerve for Hershel, since the only one who able to skillfully strum a guitar is Otis, and, well, he’s now stringy zombie leftovers thanks to his dealings with Shane and Rick.

Smitten by Glenn’s ice-breaking effort, Maggie slips a note under their table asking him “Tonight…where?” Since there’s no smush room in Hershel’s crib, Glenn opts for a more private location, one that Maggie learns about far too late. Glenn’s written reply suggests that they meet up in the hayloft of Hershel’s off-limits barn, where Glenn heads first to set the mood. But instead of smelling roses, he catches major whiffs of deadness, the collective stench from the small army of zombies locked inside the barn. When Maggie’s mad sprint to the barn ends, she states the obvious to Glenn: “You weren’t supposed to see this.”

But any Walking Dead fan should be glad he does. They might not have found Sophia yet, but, with Glenn’s discovery of Hershel’s captive walkers (introducing a nifty plot-line taken from Robert Kirkman’s comic book source material that we won’t spoil here), The Walking Dead’s second go-round finally has the undead-heavy dramatic arc it so desperately needs. Cynical viewers can’t take another zombie-deficient episode like last week’s “Cherokee Rose,” the show’s worst hour to date. Last night’s episode, “Chupacabra,” was one of the series’ best yet, partly for its big reveal, but mostly for spending an abnormally long amount of time with one Daryl Dixon, who’s now legitimately The Walking Dead’s most interesting character.

"Shoot your pal Rick in the face for me."

Can you really blame old Nervous Nelly for freaking the hell out? Who wouldn’t jump at the sight of a rattlesnake hissing their way? It’s not Nelly’s fault that the equestrian sissy has Daryl, who’s on another solo mission to find Sophia, on its back when it wigs out, sending him crashing down into a ravine and causing an arrow to lodge itself into his left side. The accident triggers Survivor: Outskirts Of Atlanta, starring Daryl Dixon as he painfully climbs back up the hillside.

A large portion of the credit for Daryl’s resilience goes to his brother Merle (Michael Rooker), Season One’s polarizing, racist standout who’s been missing for nine episodes prior to “Chupacabra.” Though, he’s not exactly back in action—he’s actually The Walking Dead’s answer to Dexter Morgan’s “dark passenger” over on Showtime. Near death and baking under the sun, Daryl hallucinates that Merle’s standing over him—with both hands intact, mind you—and insulting his little brother to no end. Calling him a “bitch” for becoming friends with Rick, who, if you recall, handcuffed Merle to the roof’s pipe and left him for dead, and the rest of the folks Merle hates oh so much. And momentarily distracting Daryl from the walker that’s gnawing on his boot the entire time—did the ghouls chew on any skin? Too hard to tell, but we sure as hell hope not—Daryl needs to stay around.

Not-real-Merle’s shit-talking gives Daryl the motivational fuel he needs to find his way back to Hershel’s farm, yet not without instilling new questions as to whether Rick and the others actually give a damn about redneck Daryl. To exemplify his cracking sanity, Daryl does some strange arts and crafts, designing a macabre necklace adorned with the ears of zombies he’s killed (two of which wake Daryl up from his Merle-guided hallucination in a wicked scene of badass walker-slaying), carrying around Sophia’s doll (which he found in a lake), and eating a squirrel’s innards like it’s a stuffed turkey.

It certainly doesn’t help Daryl’s sudden distrust towards the group that useless Andrea (Laurie Holden), finally in possession of a damn gun, grazes Daryl’s forehead with a rifle bullet when she thinks he’s a walker stumbling toward the farm; really, though, Daryl just looks like utter shit after his harrowing woods incident. Hershel tends to Daryl’s head wound, and Mr. Dixon has to sit out the big group dinner so he can rest up in bed. Carol brings him a hot plate and kisses his head, letting Daryl know that he “did for my little girl [Sophia] today than her daddy ever did.” And when Daryl suggests that Rick and Shane have done more, Carol retorts, “You’re every bit as good as them.”

Actually, Carol, in regards to The Walking Dead itself, he’s much better.

Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)