Does The Walking Dead want to be a drama or a thriller? And—perhaps more importantly—can it be both?
Last week's action-packed, character-light episode of The Walking Dead threatened to tip the show too far onto the action side at the expense of its overarching story. Fortunately, this week's episode slows things down a bit. Though the show sacrifices a little action to develop its characters at a more leisurely pace, it's a wise decision; the complexity and depth of the plot development gives this week's episode of The Walking Dead the dramatic heft that last week's episode was lacking.
The crux of this week's episode is the love triangle between Rick, Lori, and Shane. Up to this point, Rick's motivation has been finding his wife and son. Other than the missing clothing and photo albums, he's had no indication that they're alive, and when he arrives at the camp, he has no idea that he's going to find them there. Seeing Rick's shock and joy when he unexpectedly reunites with Lori and Carl at the camp is extremely moving.
However, it's also almost unbearably tense, because we know something Rick doesn't: Lori has been having an affair with Shane, his former partner and best friend (and the series doesn't hesitate to twist that particular knife, with several scenes of Rick profusely thanking Shane for "selflessly" taking care of Lori and Carl). Up to this point we've spent much more time with Rick than Lori, so her affair with Shane has offered a lot of unanswered questions: were Shane and Lori having an affair even before Rick went into a coma, or did it begin sometime after? Were they forced to leave the comatose Rick after the walking dead first emerged, or did they make a conscious decision to leave him behind, to start a new life together? The ambiguity of the affair has made it almost impossible to get a coherent read on Lori's character—vulnerable or vindictive, pragmatist or opportunist, tragic or heartless.
At the end of this episode, we receive the unexpected, devastating explanation for Lori's decision: Shane told Lori that Rick was dead. It's a revelation that redeems Lori and damns Shane (unless there's an unknown reason he legitimately believed that Rick was dead). Either way, it's clear that things will change; with Rick at the camp, Shane has lost both the woman he loves and his de facto position as leader. Rick is someone Shane can't control, and it's already clear that some people would rather follow him. When Shane angrily beats Ed to a pulp at the episode's end, it's about much more than Ed's spousal abuse; it's a release of all his rage—at Rick, for being alive, at Lori, for leaving him, and most of all, at himself, for everything he's done.