Since The Walking Dead employs such a large ensemble cast, it’s difficult to touch on every character. Yet “Nebraska” manages to do just that, and as a result, this one feels a little colder and broader in scale than other episodes. Nearly every cast member is given something to work with. We see that Daryl is angry, Shane is psychotic, Dale is mistrusting, Maggie is in love, Carl is turning cold, Hershel is driven back to alcoholism… the list goes on and on. It’s all pretty bleak; even one girl goes into shock. The direction acknowledges this, too, with several wide angles, huge and cold in scope.
While all this uncertain sentiment makes for good drama, The Walking Dead unfortunately falls into several cliches. Hershel turning to alcohol, for example, felt a little forced. And the realization (finding a flask on his dresser) didn’t feel organic or realistic. Why would that be the one thing in the room you focus on, especially before Maggie even mentioned his prior alcoholism?
Furthermore, Lori’s car crash was handled poorly. Sure, a car crash is fine structurally, but to have her looking at a map and accidentally hit a walker just felt weak. It was a frustrating and cliched scene that made Lori come across foolish rather than ambitious. Likewise, Glenn’s “Maggie told me she loved me and I said nothing” has been done to death on every television show, ever.
These are just a few examples, but don’t think that this is a poor episode. In fact, “Nebraska” does a lot of things right. I especially liked some of the dialogue in the bar between Hershel and Rick. Hershel’s monologue was well-delivered and was a nice rationale for why we didn’t see his facial reactions in the previous episode. There was a lot going on internally.
Meanwhile, the two strangers that enter the bar brought about an unexpected element that created some good tension. The acting was dynamic enough that we could believe they would be new characters on the series, and The Walking Dead used that to play with our expectations. The eventual shootout was quick, gritty, and surprisingly effective. In addition, the lighting and cinematography at the bar was gorgeous, with a bleak and distinct style.
Overall, this is a good return for The Walking Dead, but it doesn’t quite change things structurally. The ensemble has not left the farm, and the events of “Nebraska” only prolong their stay. Whether that’s good or bad will be determined in the coming weeks, but the show is certainly at risk of stagnating.
I’m looking forward to next week, but the search for Lori better not last us the next eight episodes.