Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

Remember all of the complaining about the seemingly never-ending search for the missing Sophia (Madison Lintz) on AMC’s The Walking Dead back in November? At times, we were right there with the naysayers; as unfair as it seemed to chastise a television show for spending too much time on character development, via each survivor’s specific reaction to the Sophia hunt, there were moments during the first half of The Walking Dead’s second season when the show felt sluggish, investing precious minutes on a storyline that could theoretically be handled in two or three episodes, tops.

But then came the midseason finale episode, “Pretty Much Dead Already,” and that Sophia-has-been-in-the-barn-full-of-walkers-all-along conclusion, with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) shooting the pint-sized walker in the forehead. As sucker-punched viewers figured out as Rick’s gun went off, The Walking Dead’s makers were building up to one hell of a midseason sendoff. All of the Sophia hub-bub completely paid off, at least in our eyes.

And as we learn in the show’s comeback episode, “Nebraska,” the undead little girl’s demise has drastic mental ramifications for everyone on Hershel’s (Scott Wilson) farm. Picking up immediately after Rick’s pistol ended Sophia, the ep finds every character reacting to the incident in a mixed state of shock and anger.

Shane (Jon Bernthal), the resident hothead who initiated the barn massacre, believes that Hershel and his whole family knew that Sophia was in the barn all along, even though Hershel reminds him that the late Otis put all of the zombies in there himself, without Hershel seeing each and every one check in. Rick, meanwhile, continues to rail against Shane’s beliefs, sticking up for Hershel; Maggie (Lauren Cohan) pimp-slaps Shane across the face and laments the fact that Hershel now wants everyone off his property with the quickness, before asking her new boyfriend Glenn (Scott Yuen) if he’s going to stay with her or join the group if and when they vacate the premises.

As for the recently toughened-up Andrea (Laurie Holden), she provides “Nebraska” with its lone bit of zombie carnage—as Beth (Emily Kinney), one of Hershel’s daughters, cries over her slain walker-mother, said walker-mother comes to, leading the ever-useful (sarcasm?) T-Dog (IronE Singleton) to kick the ghoul’s head in before Andrea drives a pick-axe through its skull. A rather hardcore moment of violence in an otherwise quiet, dialogue-heavy Walking Dead episode—just the kind that the haters will no doubt bitch and moan about.

"We bury the ones we love, and burn the rest."

Hershel, visibly distraught, digs into one of his bedroom’s drawers and pulls out a flask, which, as Maggie informs the group, is an old friend of his from before she was born. As soon as she made her infantile debut, Hershel quit drinking and kept liquors of any kind out of the house. And the reason why no one can locate him anywhere on the farm after Beth faints from shock is that he’s holed up in his old bar hangout in town. Rick, once again playing the hero, decides to head into town to bring Hershel back for Beth’s sake, and, as he points out to pregnant wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), as both she and Shane decry his wanting to leave them alone and help Hershel, they need good old doctor Hershel to help with Lori’s unborn child.

Unsurprisingly, Glenn opts to tag along with Rick on the mission, giving the two of them an opportunity to chat about something other than Sophia or walkers. Glenn tells Rick that Maggie told him that she loves him, and that he didn’t return the sentiment—other than his mother and sisters, no woman has ever spit the L-word his way; besides, they’ve only known each other for a brief amount of time. Rick, smiling for the first time in lord-knows-how-long, gives Glenn the same advice we’d bless someone with who’s got a sexy lady on his jock during a zombie apocalypse: Say the L-word back at her and make her happy. At least someone will get his rocks off as a result.

 

It’s good to know that Rick, once the kind of guy who’d never be so cold-blooded, has what it takes to kill something other than walkers. Looks like Mr. Rick Grimes is a changed man.

 

Because we sure as hell know someone like Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) isn’t going to smash anything anytime soon—he’s too busy stewing over Shane’s actions, which are potentially harmful to the group. After a brief confrontation with Shane, in which the latter gent basically tells Dale that he’s only good for automotive repairs and nothing else, Dale hits Lori off with his hot-topic theory: He believes that Shane killed Otis to save his own ass, rather than buying Shane’s story that walkers killed Otis. Lori, naturally, doesn’t agree, but Dale, nevertheless, laments over the possibility that Shane could ultimately kill someone else.

With Rick and Glenn off on their get-Hershel trip, Lori feels desperation set in as Beth’s condition worsens. She tracks down Daryl (Norman Reedus), who’s off on his own and back in antisocial mode now that Sophia, his entire reason for connecting with the group, is dead; Lori tells Daryl that she needs him to go into town and bring Rick, Glenn, and Hershel back to the farm, prompting a pissed-off Daryl to call her “Olive Oil” (a spot-on diss) and crap all over her plans. In his eyes, he’s done “fetching” people and trying to solve other people’s problems—all he has to show for his pro-Sophia efforts is a bullet wound and a scar from an arrow’s impact.

Being that Daryl’s a no-go, Lori grabs a gun, hops into the car, and drives into town all by herself. Apparently not realizing that reading a map while behind the wheel of a moving vehicle is a bit disruptive, she neglects to see a walker stumbling across the road, rams it with the car’s front section, loses control of the wheel, and sends the whip crashing into some trees, flipping over a couple of times before landing on its side. And, of course, she’s in the middle of nowhere—hurt, and left injured in a busted-up car as free, effortless food for any nearby walkers.

"You people are like a plague!"

Unaware that his wife was involved in a mean fender-bender, Rick makes his way into Hershel’s favorite local drinking hole, where he and Glenn find the old man sipping his way through “enough” glasses of booze. The two idealistic leaders engage in another one of their trademark heart-to-heart debates, this time covering Hershel’s realization that there’s no cure available and all hope is gone, and Rick’s determination to make the elder fella get over himself and go back to the farm and help his loved ones—it’s not about their own views, anymore, Rick points out, but rather the safety of their fellow survivors.

Well, “fellow survivors” meaning their close friends, living family members, and the rest of the farm’s current inhabitants—not anyone else, especially not a couple of douchey guys from Philly who interrupt Rick’s conversation with Hershel and invite themselves into the bar. Their names are Dave (True Blood and Terriers actor Michael Raymond-James, on his A-game here) and Tony (Aaron Munoz), and they’re part of another band of breathing survivors camped out on the outskirts of town.

A reasonably friendly bit of chit-chat leads Dave to inquire about their living arrangements. Dave and his chubby pal Tony have reportedly been living in a car, but Dave knows that Rick and his crew haven’t been doing the same after noticing that Rick’s car, parked outside of the bar, is virtually spotless and sans pillows or gear. Rick, growing increasingly annoyed, repeatedly tells the chatty Dave that his group can’t stay with them on the farm, because it’s “too crowded as is.” It doesn’t help the Philadelphia guys’ case that Tony pisses in front of Rick and asks if there are any girls at the farm, because he’s been dying for some “cooze,” a.k.a. female genitalia.

Dave hasn’t been all negative, however; in addition to informing them that Nebraska is an ideal haven (“low population and lots of guns”), he tells Rick that Fort Benning, where Rick hopes to bring his group to for shelter and help, has been overrun by “lame-brains.” This is his word for the walkers, the zombies that he’ll never see again, since the contentious no-farm-for-you-Philly-folk talk erupts into an expertly executed Old West-styled standoff, as well as a double homicide. A pair of fresh corpses led to the not-so-promised land by Dave’s foolish move to grab his gun, causing Rick to fire a bullet into his brain and then shoot Tony twice in the chest and once in the head.

For all of its intimate character drama and outbursts of zombie violence, the one thing that, up until this point, The Walking Dead hasn’t explored well is the threat of outside survivors (the "gang bangers" protecting the nursing home was so awful that we nearly forgot about it)—it’s good to know that Rick, once the kind of guy who’d never be so cold-blooded, has what it takes to kill something other than walkers. Looks like Mr. Rick Grimes is a changed man, but is it for the better? Cheesesteak-lovers Dave and Tony certainly wouldn’t think so if those bullets lodged in their brains enabled them to think anymore.

Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

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