I believe the original title of this episode was “Nobody Can Keep a Secret (Especially Glenn) and Sex Ruins Everything,” but the producers decided that it was a bit too unwieldy and just shortened it to “Secrets.” At the very least, that’s what the damn thing should have been called.
Following on the heels of last week’s “Chupacabra,” with its tense, Daryl-centric sub-plot and the “what the hell?” cliffhanger reveal of the holding pen of zombies in the barn of the Greene’s farm compound, “Secrets” finds The Walking Dead dragging its heels… again.
With Daryl (Norman Reedus) recovering from last episode’s ordeal (and near accidental killing by a trigger-happy Andrea out to “prove” her worth to the group, rather than just remain off-putting as she always has), he gets to sit out the majority of this week, leaving Glenn, Lori, Shane and Andrea to shoulder the bulk of the story focus this time. Three mostly unlikable characters and one who could be likable… if he wasn’t just past the line into making you feel constantly embarrassed for him.
Rick (Andrew Lincoln) decides to hold another round of shooting range classes to get more of the crew firearms-competent, including (after much dissent from his mother Lori) his son Carl (Chandler Riggs), now on the mend following his near-fatal shooting. Shane (Jon Bernthal), who is still bugshit crazy, focuses on solo-training Andrea (Laurie Holden), who is still chaffingly abrasive, out in the deep woods. This eventually culminates in the blow-off (in more ways than one) of the ongoing build-up of tension between the pair; something that will doubtlessly affect group cohesion in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) continues to flirt with her self-destructive tendencies, following the revelation of her unexpected pregnancy. She sends Glenn (Steven Yeun) off on another errand, which, after dodging a sneak zombie attack in the pharmacy, drives another wedge into his “relationship” with his not-quite-but-sort-of-totally-not-really girlfriend (with benefits), Maggie (Lauren Cohan).
Through all of this, Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) continues to be the emotional heart of the group and is one of the few characters who are truly likable without reservation. While all the rest of the group are falling prey to their own weaknesses and failings (admittedly, the zombie apocalypse does tend to bring out the worst in people), Dale seems to be consistent in his cautious optimism and unconditional caring for the members of his adopted clan. Especially Andrea, who gets a little more unlikable with each episode.
“Secrets” just feels like a batch of missed opportunities. The “Barn o’ Zombies” twist was pretty much accepted and dropped with an “Oh. Huh. Okay, I guess.” reaction from those in Rick’s crew who know, which feels like a huge letdown after last week’s cliffhanger. Similarly, the end scene with Lori and Rick cutting off in what feels like mid-conversation left me apathetic. This episode was bookended with poorly executed anticlimaxes and just dragged itself sadly forward, like so many faceless Walkers.
Don’t misunderstand my intentions when I say that. I’m far from one of the many vocal detractors who consistently call The Walking Dead “slow” or “boring.” I don’t feel every episode needs to be full of near-death crises or constant conflict to be interesting. I’m very much a fan of character building and just watching people do what people do, but this one just felt like substandard filler. Episode 2.04, “Cherokee Rose” was a decent example this season of how you can provide substantial character development without leaving us bored stiff.
Mind you, these criticisms come with the caveat that I have never read the comics the show is based on. I have no idea how much of this pacing is to blame on the source material or perhaps even on executive producer Frank Darabont’s cleaning house of last season’s writing staff and bringing in freelancers for this run. Still, the problems remain. Let’s hope next week’s final episode before the mid-season break leaves us with fewer letdowns. Or at the very least, save them for after February.