WOW. How an episode can manage to make you feel utterly horrified and completely uplifted in the same hour is beyond me, but that's what happens here.
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Emotions run high in this one...I got choked up a bit during Rick's impassioned comments to Lori about their son's optimistic view of their plight, and got a horrible chill watching as Officer Nutball continued his ugly fall into insanity by murdering a man in the worst possible way to save himself (and...technically...Carl...but that doesn't really help). You have to feel for Lori - no mother wants to see her child suffer the way that Carl is here (and the way that he might if he continues to go on living in this ravaged world). Everything she says to Rick about her honest thoughts regarding what a blessing it might be if Carl simply didn't survive this gunshot is morally dubious but absolutely heart-breaking in its humanity and goodly motivations. It has to be nearly impossible at this point to imagine any kind of real life for the surviving children, and there are mothers out there who've watched their children fight cancer for years or battle an eventually terminal illness like cystic fibrosis and who've had thoughts identical to Lori's. But leave it to a child to show you the good in the world when all seems lost.
CARL: Mom? Where am I? What happened?In the middle of a hellish scramble to find his best friend among the survivors - Sophia - Carl encounters a sign that the world was not all turned to ruin and that is the thing he mentions as he fights for life. And later, as Rick and Lori are escorted out of the room where Doc Greene is preparing to do surgery, Rick points out how wonderful that little moment of consciousness was.
LORI: You had a little accident, Carl. We're taking care of you.
CARL: It really hurts, Mom...
LORI: I know son...I'm sorry...
CARL: You should have seen it, Mom. I was so close to him...he was beautiful!
LORI: What do you mean?
CARL: The deer...we saw a deer!
RICK: Before this happened, I asked God for a sign that I was doing the right thing, and as we were walking back to the road we heard some noise in the brush nearby so we went real quiet and waited. But it wasn't a walker. It was this big beautiful young buck who came out right in front of us. I'm serious...it just planted itself right in front of us and it looked right at Carl...and Carl look right into its eyes. You should have seen it, honey. That's what Carl was talking about before. Not about getting shot or what happened at the church. He talked about something beautiful - something living. We all just stopped and watched - like we were frozen in some perfect moment and it just slipped away...just slipped away. Lori, this is why I can't accept that there's nothing left for Carl. There's still a life for us, Lori...still a place out there. We just have to be strong enough to have faith that it exists. It may not be what we wanted, but it can't all be like this...not like this. Why is it better that Carl live on - even in this world? He talked about the deer! In all of this, he talked about the deer. Remember that.On the other side of the coin, Officer Nutball and poor Otis - the man who'd been unlucky enough to shoot right through a dear and hit an innocent child - go through a truly HERCULEAN struggle to get medical supplies that Hershel needs to safely remove bullet fragments from Carl under anesthesia. They both manage to get injured as they lead the gigantic pack of walkers swarming the emergency mobile clinic vehicles outside the local high school on a seemingly futile chase around the grounds. It makes it impossible for them to escape, even once they manage to reach the road and Shane once again manages to take the coward's way out. He surely justifies shooting Otis in the leg as a desperate attempt to get the medical supplies back and save Carl, but...Otis had the supplies. Why should he be the one sacrificed to the walkers? A hero would have shot himself, not his comrade - especially since he was already talking about wanting to leave the group - making it easier on everyone and Otis was an integral part of a family. Disaster brings out the best and the worst in us...it's up to us to decide which way we'll go.
I loved that the episode started with Officer Nutball shaving and washing away signs of a fight - but without the foreboding music - and then ended with the same scene, this time filled with a horror having seen how he came to this condition. I also loved that we heard an even more persuasive argument in favor of choosing life, even in a horrible world, over death.
A few of the ranch man's family were a little flat, but Pruitt Taylor Vince breathes a lot of sympathetic qualities into his bit part as Otis and the mainstays - especially Rick - were outstanding.
The contrast between two characters - one who is tied to his morality by true love for his family, the other left to drift and survive and thus dragged into evil deeds - is stunningly well executed.