There have been a lot of split reactions to The Walking Dead so far, as viewers try to figure out what they want from the show. Is it an action gore-fest, is it an examination of survivor stress, is it a sprawling soap with some undead monsters shuffling around? It's a bit of all three, which is why I think the show is watched by many but loved by... fewer than many. Zombie adoration is off the charts right now, but will people have the patience for a show that talks about zombies, runs away from zombies, spies on zombies, avoids zombies, and deals with non-zombie-related life-threatening injuries? Some will, some won't.
The greatest moment of the Season 2 premiere was the suspenseful, 25-minute opening in which a herd of zombies bore down on our survivors. But let's face it, it was a bunch of people hiding from zombies. Not exactly the proactive heroism we're used to from decades of action movies. Last night's episode, "Bloodletting," avoided zombie conflict even more as the focus shifted to saving Carl's life, threatened by stray bullet from a hunting accident. A hunting accident that didn't involve a zombie in any way, shape, or form.
But that's what The Walking Dead is, for better or for worse. There's no clear goal other than to live to see tomorrow, and there's no single villain to defeat or Mordor to walk into to end things. Right now, we're just watching a bunch of people try to survive, with no way of winning in sight, and I think that may put some viewers off. There's no Point B to get to because there isn't even a Point A. Watching The Walking Dead is less like a horror movie and more like a psychological case study of one of the most elaborate and twisted experiments ever. Personally, I love that. That's what a zombie apoc is like... just making it to the next day.
Those who thought last week's "What Lies Ahead" was slow were probably clawing their eyes out last night. "Bloodletting" was straight-up survival-porn, with most threats—a stray bullet, impatience, searching for a lost kid—coming from survivors themselves. I don't even think a zombie showed up in the first half of the episode. But like I said, that's The Walking Dead: a show about the survivors of a zombie apocalypse, not the zombies or even a cure. The title itself refers to the survivors, not the zombies, right?
The episode's main goal was to introduce some new characters (Hershel! Maggie!) and add some heft to Shane and Rick's relationship. I loved the opening flashback with Shane telling Lori that Rick got shot. Some people consider Shane a villain, but that's so far from the truth. He's just the guy in the worst position. And throughout "Bloodletting," Shane cared for Rick—without any hidden agenda—in a way that bros only do for their bros. He's a good guy, but at times he freaks out because everything he had has been taken away. I don't blame him. Zombies + getting dumped = one ticket to Crazytown. Still, he's not a bad man and he's probably a better leader than Rick, so stop saying bad things about him, okay?
Meanwhile, Carl was on a table, bleeding his guts out. No one actually thinks he's going to die, right? In situations like these, there are two things TV writers can do. They can either resolve threats quickly (phew, that was a close one!) or they can drag them out to build character. The Walking Dead chose the latter, which makes sense because it's a character-driven show, and to make it work the writers put the kid through hell. I've already said that Chandler Riggs (who plays Carl) is a much better actor than a child actor should be, but I'll say it again. Especially after seeing that kid from Once Upon a Time. Watching Carl scream for his life while Hershel was removing bullet fragments from his gut was hard to watch. Mr. and Mrs. Riggs must have dealt with some very convincing tantrums while raising that kid.
Carl's not healthy enough to go Trick-or-Treating yet, and to save his life Hershel needed supplies from a FEMA tent set up at a local high school. It was practically a suicide mission, but I guess guilt—whether from sleeping with your best friend's wife or shooting a kid—is one heck of a motivator, and Otis and Shane volunteered to go out shopping. A noble decision, but noble decisions get you killed in zombie apocalypses, and the episode ended with the two of them in a precarious position.
Now we're left with the group split up and facing a really tough decision: Do they all head back to the farm for safety, or do they continue the search for Sophia? Or do they do both, leaving a few people to wait for Sophia on Zombie Highway 1 while the rest eat farm-fresh eggs and drink Mint Juleps on the porch of a gorgeous farmhouse?
The Walking Dead is all about making tough decisions and dealing with crummy circumstances, and "Bloodletting" had its share of both. Was it slow? Yeah. But it held my interest for another week. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be at the farmhouse complaining about how my omelette is too runny and would it kill someone to slice up some fresh avocado?
– T-dawg is in trouble. Not only does he have a nasty blood infection, but now he's talking about leaving others behind. It's almost as if the show is trying to get us to hate him so that they can kill him off.
– I barely recognized Lauren Cohan (Supernatural's Bela) as Maggie, probably because she's speaking American and looks like a sexy version of Scooby-Doo's Thelma.
– Zombie rule inconsistencies seems to be a pretty big topic. In Season 1 Rick and Glenn covered themselves in zombie guts to get by the geeks undetected, but in the Season 2 premiere they just hid under cars. Creator Robert Kirkman addressed the issue on Talking Dead, saying something about Rick and Glenn being so close to them that it mattered, but are we buying that?
– Lori is a bitch. She sucks. If she wants to wait and call 1-800-DOCTOR while Carl bleeds out, then she's insane. I'd take my chances with a butcher digging into my kid over doing nothing. Has she done one good thing in this series ever?
– Yes, I think that was some Grade-A blue meth in Earle's drug stash. I'd be very interested to see what a zombie behaves like on a ton of meth. Someone make it happen.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom