Warning! This review necessarily contains spoilers for Episode One: What Lies Ahead. If you've not seen it yet and you want to remain in the dark then turn around now. It also contains plot details from early on in Episode Two.
If we're going to have flashbacks in this show (and we are) I'd like to register my interest right now in seeing a flashback to Dale in the 60s. I like to think that he had hair down to his ass, a handlebar moustache and rejected all clothing that didn't have a tie-dye pattern. Or better yet, rejected clothing altogether.
Enjoy that mental image.
This week's episode – Bloodletting – begins with a glance back at happier times, when Lori would stand around in car parks with a red-headed character who we'll never see again, complaining in that way that women do that her husband is too reasonable and doesn't scream at her and call her a bitch. Woe is me. It's a roundabout way of revealing that Lori and Rick had a big fight right before Rick got shot up and wound up in a coma for 28 days (or thereabouts, who's counting?)
It also draws a very obvious parallel with the big shock from the end of the last episode, and we catch up with Rick as he's running for miles through cornfields with Carl in his arms, bleeding all over that nice Sheriff's outfit. They're headed to the home of Otis, the man who accidentally shot Carl whilst out hunting for some tasty venison, and so they use the run as an opportunity to shove him around and call him names. Generally poor first impressions all round.
This episode is an interesting turn of pace because for the first time in a while the Brave Sir Robins encounter some other survivors of the zombie epidemic, admittedly not in the best of circumstances. Hershel, the head of the group, is a doctor and is able to stop Carl from dying on the spot with the help of about four gallons of Rick's blood, but explains that in order to remove the bullet fragments he needs specialist equipment from a nearby medical facility that, the last time they went there, was completely choked up with a horde of Walkers.
What follows is an episode that managed to touch sincerely upon the subject of leadership without resorting to a "who elected you leader of this outfit?" standoff. Rick struggles to cope with the fact that, since he is the only person around with Carl's blood type, he has to remain at the house at all times, weakened from the transfusions. Meanwhile, Shane takes care of "everything else", which includes braving five hundred zombies for the sake of a respirator, and it's left to one of Hershel's daughters to find Lori and the rest of the Robins and explain what has happened.
Daryl, in the meantime, is left leading the search for Sophia and in a couple of small but significant gestures we see just how far the character has developed over the course of the series. Perhaps it's the show's writing improving, or perhaps it's just the time spent away from his older brother. Merle, incidentally, is one character that I'd love to see return to the show, since he was played in Season One by the always-entertaining Michael Rooker.
Oh, and Norman Reedus continues to look good without sleeves.
Damn, that's a fine crossbow.
Since we're examining the idea of the strong leading the weak, the episode also raises the uncomfortable question of what will happen to characters that are a little too weak. T-Dog is crippled and going insane from blood poisoning as the enormous gaping wound from gashing his arm open on rusty metal inexplicably becomes infected, and with he and Dale left out of the search party for a little girl who is more than likely already dead, questions start to get asked about what a group led by Daryl will do with an old man and the guy who left Merle for dead on a rooftop. T-Dog is also understandably nervous about being the only black character left in a horror series.
Some will criticise this episode for being too "talky", even though it features just as many Walkers as What Lies Ahead, as well as a great zombie kill from Maggie, Hershel's daughter. It is somewhat frustrating they're still stuck on the same bit of highway and in the same woods searching for the same little girl, and despite the introduction of Otis, Hershel and the other new characters it didn't feel like the plot moved along very much. All the same, there are some great moments and some significant character development in Bloodletting that make it a very engaging episode, not to mention the added suspense of having Carl getting closer to death by the minute. It also ends on, you guessed it, another cliffhanger!
You can see The Walking Dead: Bloodletting on FX on Friday 29th October at 10pm if you live in the UK, and on AMC on Sunday 23rd October if you live in the US.
Finger-lickin' good television