The Walking Dead S02E10: “18 Miles Out”

We’re three episodes into the new regime of The Walking Dead, and already things are looking pretty different. And better. “18 Miles Out” did much more with less, cutting down on ensemble participation in order to focus on a handful of characters in just two storylines. As a result, we got a more focused episode that told its micro-stories smarter. Heck, by cutting out a lot of dead weight, showrunner Glenn Mazarra was even allowed to get a little arty with Shane! How we all long to be lone zombies frolicking in the meadow, each in our own way.

There were two things going on in “18 Miles Out,” blatantly divided by gender. This was okay with Lori, who continues to trigger an involuntary reaction from me wherein I slap my forehead with my palm; she declared that all women belong at home, cooking and do laundry, even during a zombie apocalypse. No exceptions! The ladies stayed back on the farm and talked about their feelings, and the men went out and punched each other in face! *grunt* *ball scratch* But both storylines tied in nicely to each other thematically, with tough decisions and humanity (duh, what else would it be in this show?) at the forefront of each.

Last week, I said “Triggerfinger” exemplified the type of show that both we and the writers want The Walking Dead to be. There was enough visceral gore, skull-cracking violence, and pee-your-pants tension to satiate our bloodlust, but there were also plenty of forward-moving talky parts that developed characters and revisited dormant plots. The only problem with “Triggerfinger” was its lopsided pacing; the intensity was all crammed in one half, the verbal drama all in the other.

Not so in “18 Miles Out.” The creative choice to tell just two stories—one a brutal, high-stakes tale about past frustration bubbling up, the other an examination of the emotional toll a dying world takes on a young woman’s hope, and both of them about making tough decisions—was very effective for what amounted to a standalone episode. Things are looking a lot better for The Walking Dead. I’d suspected that Frank Darabont had been part of the problem with The Walking Dead slowing down to a no-legged crawl while life on the farm was just life on the farm, and the first two episodes of the second half of Season 2 did nothing to change my mind. To be fair, Darabont meticulously put everything on a tee and Mazarra is just hitting them out, but right now the show is definitely on the upswing.

In the macho story, Shane and Rick packed up their car with a tied-up Randall in the trunk, looking to dump him in a place where he had at least some chance of survival. Rick used the adventure to man up (guys hate it when you say that) and become a badass, venting built-up frustration with a good old fashioned stern talking-to. I like to think that I’d let emotions from past hook-ups slide until the zombie apocalypse was over, but Lori’s been all over Rick’s case about Shane, so he had to confront Shane in order to shut her up. If I had Lori chewing my ear off at every turn to excuse her whoring ways, I’d probably want to stop it in anyway possible, too.

Shane decided Randall had to go when Randall said he knew who Maggie and Hershel were, so Shane did what Shane does: He started shooting! That started a brawl between Rick and Shane that’s been a long time coming. Yeah, it’s kind of stupid to be fighting each other when you’ve got a prisoner on your hands and zombies on the loose, but boys will be boys. And Rick is finally becoming a man! It’s the Rick we’ve been waiting to see. Tough. Decisive. Angry. That had to be near the top of the list of things Mazarra wanted to change about the show. I can see the whiteboard now: “1) More zombies. 2) Make Rick less of a pussy. 3) Less farm. 4) Make Lori more stupid (just a personal challenge, don’t think it can be done).”

One flying wrench later, there were walkers were all over the place, and Shane found himself trapped in a school bus with plenty of undead after him. With the zombies all focused on Shane, Rick did the unthinkable and bolted, leaving Shane to die. It was only later, after seeing the bodies of two zombie cops, that Rick that Rick reconsidered—perhaps he was overcome by memories of the good old days, when he and Shane wore badges and caught bad guys like best buds. Rick played cavalry and rescued Shane, but the fact that chose himself over Shane, even for just a few moments, shows how far Rick has come in just a few episodes. And that’s very good.

As for Shane, well, it seems The Walking Dead is no longer interested in printing “Team Shane” T-shirts. I’ve always said I’d rather follow Shane than Rick, because as crazy as his decisions are, they’re the ones that will help you survive. But Rick is the star of this show, and denying him the role of leader for so long has been a mistake on the writers’ part. To build up Rick, they had to take away from Shane, and having him almost shoot Randall was inexcusable—thus it achieved exactly what the writers wanted. It sucks, though, because even the old Shane would have had more sense than that. But it’s clearly Rick’s time to Shane, and that’s going to come at the expense of Shane. The telling sign that the writers have pushed Shane to the dark side was in his reflection in the broken glass just before the walkers came: He looked like a zombie, with hunched shoulders and a blank face tinted a dull grey. As Mr. Metaphor would say, Shane has officially become a monster. It’s no wonder he sympathized with the lone zombie in the field TWICE in the episode. Without Lori and Carl, who’ve been taken away from him by Rick, Shane is alone. Sad.

This is unfortunately looking like the beginning of the end for Shane, because I don’t see him all of a sudden saying, “Awww shucks, Rick. You was right. My bad!” The only thing worse than living in a zombie apocalypse is getting your heart broken in a zombie apocalypse. Most of the other fish in the sea are now more interested in eating you. Personally I’d like to see Shane do what he was always meant to do, which is leave on his own. Realistically, I think we have ourselves a big moment for the Season 2 finale.

Back at Lady Camp, young Beth was hurtin’ in the head. She was so bummed out about her mom dying twice that she wanted to take her own life with a steak knife. Lori and Maggie were all, “Ummmm no.” Andrea was all, “Well, if that’s what she wants, let her go ahead.” It’s not a popular viewpoint to condone suicide (“Hey Andrea, will you babysit my teenage daughter?” is something she’ll never hear), but Andrea believes that convincing people not to kill themselves is damn near impossible. Their value on their own life has to come from within, as she knows from personal experience.

Beth couldn’t cut deep enough, and Andrea felt like that pretty much validated Andrea’s point. “She wanted to live!” Andrea said. Ummm, what if she had a gun instead of a knife, girl? Wanting to end your own life is different from having the guts to cut your own wrist off. I’d say Beth is still a huge danger to herself.

But for the purposes of The Walking Dead, Beth’s refusal to go all the way is a victory for humanity, I guess? I did enjoy this story, because I enjoy seeing the debate over the right to choose your own fate played out. But I still think there’s more to be told, and I hope The Walking Dead doesn’t end Beth’s problems right where tonight’s episode left them. I want to see her return next week even more messed up in the head—as long as the writers do it right. If the plan is to show us a teary-eyed Beth walking into the field to sacrifice herself to zombies, let’s just end the story right here.

“18 Miles Out” was probably the most mature episode of Season 2 in terms of storytelling ability. The pacing was fantastic, there was more depth (now we can go waist-deep), and there was some attempt to further stylize the show. There’s still plenty of room for improvement, but when you look at The Walking Dead‘s last four episodes (starting with the midseason finale), the effort is clearly there.

This Stuff Was Rad

Rick Puts a Zombie’s Head to Good Use
Holy crap did you see Rick fire off three rounds through a zombie’s mouth into the brains of another zombie? Can we put that on the shortlist of The Walking Dead‘s best zombie kills ever? The only thing preventing me from naming this scene one of the greatest things ever is that Justified‘s Raylan Givens did a very similar thing just a week-and-a-half ago. Also… ZOMBIE DOG PILE ON RICK!

Zombie Heads Poppin’ Like Grapes
Backing a car over a zombie’s head so that it bursts like ripe fruit is so cliche, yet I will never ever get tired of it. I remember the first time I saw a head get run over, exploding brains and fluids on the pavement. It wasn’t even a zombie, it was just a kid. That movie was The Toxic Avenger, one of the greatest films ever.

At Least Rick and Shane Abandon People to Good Music!
If you’re going to have a hood thrown over your head and earbuds taped to your earholes so you can’t see or hear where you are going, you could do worse than to get a playlist involving Wooden Shjips and The Cave Singers.

I’m Not Sure This Stuff Was Rad

POV Or POVerkill?
Were the multiple point-of-view cams that filmed Rick dragging Randall around cool or not? Was The Walking Dead just trying to rip off the much better Breaking Bad? Not sure it really added anything to the story. It felt more like one of the cinematographers was bored.

Episode MVP

I want to give this one to Randall, because more people need to trash talk zombies, but for the second week in a row the title belongs to Rick. Putting his gun in a zombie’s mouth in order to shoot another zombie, all while stuck under a pile of dead zombies, was sweet. Rick also left Shane for dead AND came back to save his ass? He did it all. More proof that this is Rick’s time. Rick: 2, Everyone Else: 0.

Follow writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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