“You just can’t be the good guy and expect to live. You can’t, not anymore.” — Shane
It’s clear that with “18 Miles Out” writers Scott M. Gimple and Glenn Mazzara set out knowing what they needed to do to rein in a show frequently undone by a glacial pace and a lack of focus: They draw us in with an edge-of-your-seat cold open, and then hone in on just two plot lines. Unfortunately, however, the B story is a mess, and the A story, while engaging, hinges on one of those leaps of logic for which The Walking Dead is so well known.
The action picks up a week after the events of “Triggerfinger,” so we’re spared young Randall’s convalescence after his impalement — between Carl, Daryl and Beth, we’ve had enough of that, thank you — and are instead treated to him being hauled, hooded and bound with an iPod blaring in his ears, 18 miles from the Greene farm by Rick and Shane. Why 18 (not 20, not 15) is never explained, but it’s thought to be far enough that Randall won’t be able to lead his friends back.
On the way, Rick finally lays everything on the table, confronting Shane about Otis’ death (Shane confirms everything), the affair, and his obsession with Lori, Carl and the unborn baby. “You don’t love her,” he says. “You think you do, but you don’t.” Giving Shane at ultimatum — either to take to heart everything he’s said, or leave — Rick moves on to more mundane matters like conserving ammunition and stockpiling winter supplies as his longtime friend gazes out the car window, catching sight of a lone walker as it staggers through a field (it’s an existential moment, repeated at the end of the episode, that reminds me of the wolf scene from The Fantastic Mr. Fox).
Determined to give Randall a fighting chance, Rick passes the 18-mile mark and finally settles on the county public works department, where they’re greeted by two undead security who have been trapped inside the fenced compound. Using the scent of blood to draw them to the gate, Rick and Shane quickly dispatch the two, before Shane notes that neither appears to have been bitten (an observation Rick too-quickly shrugs off, meaning it’s almost certain to be important later).
As Randall pleads with his captors not to be abandoned, he blurts out that he went to school with Maggie (although she probably never knew him), which Rick and Shane immediately realize means he knows where the farm is. It seems implausible that Hershel could operate on his leg and then spend the next week checking bandages and injecting antibiotics without Randall bringing up that he knew his daughter. It’s also highly unlikely that Maggie didn’t bring him at least one of his meals, giving him the opening to say, “Remember me? My locker was just down the hall from yours.” But this being The Walking Dead, that nugget is held back until this very moment, wrecking the best-laid plans and sparking a knock-down, drag-out fight between Rick and Shane over whether to take Randall back to the farm or kill him (you can guess who’s advocating which plan).
Their ruckus awakens a group of slumbering walkers, leading to a mad scramble as Shane holes up in an abandoned school bus as Randall seemingly convinces Rick to just walk away. He doesn’t, of course, but instead returns in a hail of gunfire, yelling for Shane to leap out of the emergency exit onto the roof of the car. There’s an ABC Afterschool Special element to the sequence in which Shane experiences some of the terror poor Otis might’ve felt when he was shot in the leg and left as walker food, but it’s doubtful that there are any lessons learned. Despite the road trip and the brush with death, nothing has really changed: They still have to decide what to do with Randall.
Back at the farm, Beth is up and alert but suicidal, sneaking a steak knife from the lunch plate before being caught by Lori. While Maggie alternately screams at and tries to reason with her stepsister, Andrea inserts herself into the drama by insisting to Lori that Beth should be able to decide for herself whether to live or die. It’s an unconvincing return to a topic that the writers have relied on a little too much (just this season alone). With better writing and characters we actually care about, these scenes might’ve worked, but until last week most viewers would’ve been hard pressed to come up with Beth’s name; before this episode, she probably hadn’t spoken a half-dozen words the entire season. And using Andrea as the proponent of choice only reminds us of how much we wish she’d shot herself months ago. (On that note, just how conspicuous is the absence in this episode of Hershel, Glenn and Jimmy, in particular? I appreciate the desire to focus on a handful of characters, but we didn’t even catch a glimpse of the others in the background.)
But an even bigger problem than the wooden suicide debate is the show’s lapse back into traditional gender roles, with Lori telling Maggie that “Men have to do certain things” before later chastising Andrea for taking her turn at watch — doing “men’s work,” essentially — instead of helping the other women cook and wash laundry. Part of me hopes that it was merely laziness on the part of the writers, who couldn’t come up with a better premise for friction between Lori and Andrea. They’re virtually indistinguishable, personality-wise, so I suppose they have to have something to fight about.