The best moment of "Bloodletting" comes early, when Rick, having carried his gun-shot son Carl over hill and dale to the farmhouse where Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson), an elderly veterinarian, has managed to stabilize Carl. In the briefest of moments, Rick stands on the porch and has a quick talk with his friend Shane, who wipes Carl's blood from Rick's face. Rick, who's been the picture of action and nerve countless times, is at his most desperate and devastated, and actor Andrew Lincoln's raw agony is almost unbearable. It's over before you know it, but it sets the tone for the rest of the episode -- confused, anxious, and weary.
Scott Wilson's Hershel is almost unnervingly calm and confident; the excellent Pruitt Taylor Vince lends a strange gravitas to the farmhand Otis, who accidentally shoots Carl and later volunteers to make a run for medical supplies; a seriously de-glammed Lauren Cohan as daughter Maggie Green (and a horse) completely steal a scene in the forest as she is sent to bring Lori back to the farmhouse to be with her family. There's much ground to cover here, but show-runner Glen Mazzara's script and Ernest Dickerson's direction never seem hurried.
Most of the RV Gang reconvenes at the traffic jam on the highway, and a decision is made to travel to Hershel's farm, despite the circumstance of Carol's daughter Sophia is still lost in the woods. Everyone's favorite redneck Daryl Dixon -- winner of Zombie Kill of the Week -- is demonstrating ever increasing degrees of cool and resourcefulness. He delivers the funniest line of the week ("Am I the only Zen one around here?"), gives the injured T-Dog painkillers and antibiotics, and quickly devises a plan to both take care of Sophia and get everyone back to the farmhouse. Dale and T-Dog have a couple of conversations, both of which seem to be a little bit of treading water: Dale is reassuring but a little condescending; T-Dog is paranoid about his being the only black guy. Andrea continues to be pissed at Dale -- and generally pissed at feeling like a victim. No doubt she wants her gun and needs to start practicing with it -- and damn quick.
This week's rolling plot-ball revolves around Carl's gunshot wound, which Hershel can treat, but only if he can get the proper equipment, and said equipment is (of course) in a place where there are A Lot of Zombies. Shane, who manages to do the right thing by Rick -- above and beyond, really -- agrees to travel with good old Otis in the old Ford pickup to an emergency medical station to get everything needed to save Carl's life. Night is falling, Carl is fading, Rick's running out of blood to transfuse, and while Otis and Shane make it to the supply room just fine, getting back home is another matter, and we end the episode with Otis and Shane trapped inside a building, a horde of hungry zombies banging at the gate.
All in all, despite the perfunctory scenes with Dale -- who, old man or not, needs an ass-kicking from somebody and soon -- this episode moved along nicely, although it was probably short on walkers for real fans of the undead. Still, there was a clear "oh crap" moment when a shambling mass of walkers was discovered milling around the medical supply station. For me, it never gets old, and I think one of the secrets of The Walking Dead is how the producers manage, in some episodes, to keep the zombie-quotient relatively low.
The setting of Hershel's farm is a particularly noteworthy development, in addition to the new characters and new possibilities in the plot. It is, for reasons yet fully explained, zombie-free, and almost ideally clean and untouched by the collapse of civilization. And Hershel's uncanny sense of calm in the face of everything has to be more than a little curious. There's a hint of what's ticking inside Hershel Greene in a conversation he has about the nature of the apocalypse, saying that, in his view, it was very little different from AIDS or any of the other diseases and catastrophes humanity has faced. Humanity prevails, he insists, but he doesn't necessarily seem all that hopeful.
Zombie Kill of the Week: Daryl Dixon, crossbow at close range, delivered with the line, "Oh, shut up!"
Zombie-Quotient - on a scale of 1 (none) to 10 (major herd): 3