On 'The Walking Dead,' Love in the Time of Zombies

By Scott Meslow

New relationships begin and old relationships come to light in this week's episode

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AMC

Like most of The Walking Dead's second season, last night's episode, "Secrets," spent less time on zombie attacks and more time on the various entanglements between the show's characters. The overarching plot continues to inch forward—we're still stuck at Hershel Greene's farm, and Sophia is still missing. But the lack of forward momentum is softened by sideways momentum in "Secrets," as the survivors confront what it means to love in the time of zombies.

The week's unlikeliest pairing was between Shane and Andrea, who fight over Shane's tough-love gun training before succumbing to their mutual attraction in the front seat of a car. The Walking Dead wisely doesn't have either character make a big deal about it; after all, Andrea knows that Shane still has feelings for Lori. But there's something to be said for the occasional post-apocalyptic tryst, which allows two characters who've experienced almost nothing but misery to have, even for a moment, something that resembles joy. It's a far from perfect but it's certainly a step up from the creepily possessive love that Dale has for Andrea. Dale's concerns about Shane are well-founded, but they're too entrenched in his own jealousy to carry any weight. Earlier this season, Andrea angrily reminded Dale that she's neither his daughter nor his wife. He continues to treat her like she's both.

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On the surface, there's a lot of similarity between Andrea and Shane's hookup and the connection between Glenn and Maggie Greene, which began with an "Oh, what the hell" tryst on the floor of an abandoned pharmacy. Ever since, Glenn has clearly been interested in something more with Maggie—even if the "more" was just "more sex"—but "Secrets" offers evidence that Maggie cares about and understands Glenn more than she lets on. Her anger at Lori isn't just because her own life was in danger; it's because she's tired, perhaps rightly, of the group treating Glenn like he's disposable. It's not yet clear how deeply Maggie cares for Glenn, but she's clearly looking to anchor herself to something real, and he's a better anchor than anything she'll find on the farm.

The farm's biggest anchor, of course, is the secret revealed at the end of last week's episode: the locked barn in which the Greene family is keeping their zombified friends and family alive (or at least as alive as zombies can be). Though there's both heartbreaking naiveté and serious danger inherent in Hershel's attempt to preserve the lives of his stepson and wife, it's undeniably an act of love—the same kind of love that made it impossible for Morgan to shoot his own zombified wife in The Walking Dead's pilot. For Morgan or Hershel, love is a liability; it holds them back and invites danger.

But at its best, love is also a valuable tool for survival. It certainly worked that way for Rick, who spent much of The Walking Dead's first season looking for his family—at times when, without them, he would almost certainly have given up. In "Secrets," his love is put to the test when Lori's two deepest secrets come to light: that she had an affair with Shane, and that she's pregnant. We've been waiting since the series began to see Rick discover the truth about Shane and Lori's relationship, and "Secrets" handles it with as much rawness and honesty as could be hoped for. We're spared Lori's teary explanation because Rick had already guessed the truth, and nearly in the same breath, he offers an explanation so that she doesn't have to: "You thought I was dead."

In a twisted way, the zombie apocalypse was the best thing that could have happened for Rick and Lori's relationship; lest we forget, they were having significant marital problems before Rick fell into a coma. When he awoke to a world in ruins, Rick—who could have gone anywhere and done anything—reaffirmed that his first priority was his wife and child, and Lori responded in kind. As the truth is finally revealed in "Secrets," Rick understands and forgives Lori because he needs to; because, as he's so often explained, Lori and Carl are all he has left.

But the love that has sustained Rick is also his greatest vulnerability. Some hard decisions undoubtedly lie in Rick's future, and they can't be made by love alone—Hershel is ample evidence of that. If it truly came down to it, could Rick shoot Lori? Or Carl? Or the newborn baby that he'll soon be responsible for? Or would he lose his nerve, lower his weapon, and find a barn of his own?

Note: For the sake of those who haven't read The Walking Dead comics series, please avoid revealing spoilers for upcoming episodes in the comments section below.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/11/on-the-walking-dead-love-in-the-time-of-zombies/248801/