The Many Romances of 'The Walking Dead'

Yes, there is love in the time of zombies.



Last week's midseason premiere of The Walking Dead ended on a dual cliffhanger, with Lori suffering a dramatic car accident as Rick and company faced off against their first human adversaries of the season. This week's "Triggerfinger" starts, promisingly, with the aftermath of Lori's car wreck, as she awakens to discover that a hungry zombie is attempting to chew through her windshield. After Lori fulfills the show's obligatory (but always welcome) "gruesome zombie kill of the week," the show shifts to Rick, Glenn, and Hershel, who find themselves cornered by the allies of the two men Rick dispatched in "Nebraska."

The Walking Dead's action scenes continue to be impressive, and director Billy Gierhart does an unusually artful job building the sense of claustrophobia and tension (an early shot of Rick, from the perspective of the man he's just gunned down, is particularly nice—literally taking the POV of one of the series' dead, albeit one who's not yet walking). The plausibility of the action in "Triggerfinger" only falters when Rick and company leave the bar; as our heroes score a string of video game-precise headshots, their human assailants have the same dramatically-convenient aiming problem that plagues James Bond henchmen and the stormtroopers in Star Wars.

But despite the promise of its title, "Triggerfinger" devotes the majority of its runtime not to gunplay, but to wordplay—or at least, what passes for wordplay when it comes to The Walking Dead's below-par dialogue. As it turns out, love abounds in the time of zombies, and "Triggerfinger" focuses on two pairings and a trio: Daryl and Carol, Glenn and Maggie, and the long-running tensions between Rick, Lori, and Shane.

The budding relationship (romance?) between Daryl and Carol is The Walking Dead's most unexpected, and theoretically its most interesting. And it's built on more than their Us Weekly­-friendly rhyming names; Daryl and Carol each have pasts marred by abuse (Darryl's father and Carol's husband, respectively), and the two are each mourning the death of Carol's daughter Sophia. But Daryl's standoffishness and disconsolate rage threaten to keep the two apart before they've begun (and his collection of zombie ears won't help much either). The Walking Dead still hasn't done enough to establish Carol as a three-dimensional character, but it's promising to see the series hinting at a new storyline for one of its least-utilized characters. We'll see if they follow through on that promise in the weeks to come.

The central romance of season two has been between Glenn and Maggie Greene, who told Glenn she loved him in last week's episode. It's a moment that might have had a little more emotional weight if The Walking Dead had actually showed it. The Glenn-Maggie relationship has promise, too; Glenn is consistently one of the series' most interesting and best-acted characters (due in no small part to the talents of Steven Yeun), and Maggie is by far the best character to emerge from Hershel's farm. But the weight of the relationship carries new consequences for the characters; in "Triggerfinger" Glenn freezes in a moment of danger, failing to help Rick and Hershel as they fend off their adversaries—because he carries the additional burden of Maggie's love, and because he's afraid of what his death would do to her. As far as logic goes, the explanation doesn't totally pass the smell test—wouldn't it be just as logical for love to make him fight harder to get back to her?—but as a TV contrivance designed to keep the lovebirds apart, it's serviceable enough.

With the two newer romances on hold, The Walking Dead returns to its old faithful: the Rick-Shane-Lori love triangle, which is easily one of the most lopsided love triangles in television history. The Walking Dead has repeatedly missed opportunities to make Shane a more realistic rival for Lori's affections, and "Triggerfinger" features yet another, when Shane rescues Lori from the car wreck—proving a commitment to protecting that even Rick hasn't offered—before lying, rambling, and generally acting like enough of a crazy person that Lori essentially tells Rick to kill him by the episode's end.

There are, in theory, several dozen more interesting versions of this love triangle, but The Walking Dead has rejected those possibilities by making Lori's choice of Rick over Shane the most obvious one imaginable. Why not have Lori be in love with Shane, but feel obligated to stay with Rick out of a sense of duty? Why not have Carl, in the wake of the outbreak, be more attached to Shane than Rick? Why not make Rick's repeated decision to put the needs of others over the needs of Lori and Carl—a quality that, for all his weaknesses, Shane doesn't have—have an actual consequence for his relationships with his wife and son?

The trouble with the central "love triangle" of The Walking Dead is that there's no choice to be made here: Rick is a flawed-but-noble man who's trying to do the right thing in a terrible situation, and Shane is a violence-prone sociopath. There's no room for sympathy for a man who, lest we forget, drunkenly attempted to rape Lori at the CDC. When Shane tells Lori that their brief affair was "the one good thing" to come out of the outbreak, it's not clear from the writing (or from Sarah Wayne Callies' performance) whether there's any part of Lori that feels the same way. Lori is absolutely right to call Shane "delusional" and "dangerous" at the end of "Triggerfinger," and to suggest that Rick might have to kill him to ensure her safety. But The Walking Dead missed a dramatic opportunity when it made that so obvious to her.