A review of tonight's "The Walking Dead" coming up just as soon as I'm wearing ears...

Some or all of Rick's weary band of travelers have been staying at Hershel's farm for four episodes now, and these installments have been a marked contrast to what came before. The farm is relatively isolated/protected, it has a generator and fresh water and apparently abundant food supplies. Outside of the too-brief respite at the CDC, this is the first time since Rick got out of the hospital that he hasn't had to live in constant fear of zombie attack, nor concern about adequate food and shelter.

This almost idyllic respite has definitely sucked some of the tension out of the show (though two of the Hershel episodes involved Shane and Otis being chased through the high school by dozens of walkers). But it's also given Rick and company some hope for the first time since Jenner told them the CDC was going to self-destruct, and when characters on a show like this get hope, it's only so it can be taken away later. And we begin to see the seeds of that in what Glen discovers in the barn.

I'm not going to speculate on why Hershel's keeping the walkers in there, given that this is presumably the show returning to the source material in the comics - and I'm going to remind everybody (as is spelled out more thoroughly down below) that it is not acceptable to discuss material from the comics that hasn't been presented on the TV show yet. But it does give me an opportunity to talk about the show's storytelling philosophy in general.

This period of relative peace has allowed the show to spend some more time letting us get to know the characters. The problem is, for the most part, we haven't learned anything new about any of them. The characters aren't getting deeper; they're just more familiar. Rick feels burdened by leadership and the difficulty of doing the right thing in this strange new world. Lori is torn between two men. Andrea resents Dale for making her stay alive. Carol is a pushover, Dale wise but also a busybody, etc. Later, rinse, repeat.

The major exception has been Daryl, one of the few characters not from the comics and, perhaps not surprisingly, the character the writers seem to take the most pleasure in crafting and growing. Daryl's solo odyssey didn't amount to a ton story-wise (other than providing another small scrap of evidence that Sophia's still alive and lost in these woods), but his hallucinatory chat with Merle added to our understanding of how Daryl became the man he is (and why he's not exactly the man Merle is). And just as Daryl got softened a bit between seasons, this version of Merle (even if he wasn't the real one) was toned down from   season one to someone who wasn't particularly likable but seemed more complex than the over-the-top redneck caricature yelling at Rick from the roof of the department store.

That the show has been able to make Daryl so compelling is a good sign. That the show has struggled to do the same with most of the regular cast - even factoring in how much you want to credit/blame the source material for that - is troubling.

Before we go to the comments, let me remind you once again about the no spoilers rules for this blog, and specifically how it relates to a show like this adapted from a popular source material:

1)No Spoilers.

2)This includes any discussion of the previews for the next episode.

3)This includes any discussion of storylines from the comic that haven't happened yet in the timeline of the TV show. (And, yes, the show has and will continue to deviate from the comic in some ways, but for the sake of those instances where they're going to be the same, I don't want people talking about something from issue 50 when we're watching episode 11.) 

4)This includes anything you've seen or read elsewhere about anything that has not happened within the context of the episodes that have already aired.

Got that? Good. So what did everybody else think?