To say the barn massacre was a pivotal moment in the lives of the survivors on "The Walking Dead" (Sun., 9 p.m. EST on AMC) would be stating the obvious. But it wasn't clear just how crucial putting down the walkers in Hershel's barn, including his wife and daughter and the missing Sophia, would prove to be until the closing moments of the mid-season premiere.
The action picked up where it left off, with Hershel on his knees in shock and Carol beside herself with grief, and with Rick standing over the body of her daughter having just dispatched her second "life." Hershel finally reached his limit and announced that Rick's group needed to vacate the farm immediately. But this was a Hershel grieving and coming to some uncomfortable realizations himself.
As hard as Carol was taking the loss of her daughter, it hit Daryl pretty hard, too. He's had the visage of his dead(?) brother Merle goading him for wasting his time with these people while he was out looking for her. He put more blood, sweat and tears into the search than anyone, and it was all a waste.
When Hershel's youngest daughter collapsed inexplicably, Hershel was nowhere to be found. Instead, in his own grief he had made his way back into town and his favorite watering hole. That's where Rick and Glenn found him. It was in this moment perhaps that Hershel officially became one of them. He had to admit that his own beliefs that the walkers were still alive -- just sick and in need of a cure -- were wrong, leaving him a shell of a man. He wasn't the leader he'd wanted to be, and he'd been misleading his own flock for so long, wasting time corralling walkers and passing judgment on those who put them down.
But Rick had suffered his own crisis of faith when Sophia had come shambling out of the barn. He was the leader of his group, and he'd just wasted their time and efforts on a fruitless search for a girl who'd been dead and on the property with them the whole time. How she got there -- was it Otis before Shane put him down? -- is a mystery for which there may never be an answer.
As for Shane, Dale finally opened up to someone his own concerns about the cold-blooded killer when he confided in Lori that he believed Shane had killed Otis. He didn't tell her about Shane putting Rick in the sight of his gun at one point, but that would have probably pushed her too far over the edge. As it is, they're talking about Shane putting down a man none of them knew. That would have had her facing the fact of one man she loves considering putting down another; and the father of her child at that.
Perhaps it was this state of shock that led to her reckless decision to go after Glenn and Rick on her own. Surely, Maggie would have gone with her, had she asked. After all, she'd dropped the "L" word to Glenn, who panicked and didn't return the favor. But while Lori was having a rough time getting to town, instead hitting a walker and rolling off the road, the boys got a couple of unexpected visitors to the bar.
It was never made completely clear if Dave and Tony were no different than Rick and Hershel's people, or if they were a darker and more desperate. They certainly lacked a bit in the social graces. When Rick clammed up about the farm, saying there wasn't room for anyone else -- isn't that what Hershel had told him? -- things got tense in a hurry. At the least, it was clear that Dave and Tony were desperate, and when they effectively surrounded the guys, Rick once again made a cold leadership decision.
Was it the right one? It may be impossible to ever know. But rather than risk the situation getting out of hand, or losing the upper hand, he quickly and effectively dispatched both men in cold blood, as the more gentle Glenn and Hershel looked on in shock. Will the gunshots bring in walkers? Will the walker Lori hit coming looking for her in the wreckage? And how much longer will the farm be safe?
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