Review: The Walking Dead – Season 2

Update March 19, 2011: I’ve posted a review of the second half of Season 2

AMC’s The Walking Dead wrapped up the first half of its second season, leaving me wanting more. Not just more episodes, but more oomph. When did the air go out of this show?

[Minor spoilers follow, but nothing major.]

Hershel’s farm lacks Atlanta’s dangers

When word of budget cuts broke this summer, I worried how that would affect the story.

The result: endless days on Hershel’s farm. The narrative McGuffin—finding Sophia—didn’t hold my attention the way zombies-at-the-gate did. The characters never seemed in danger and Sophia was never developed enough for me to care.

By the second or third episode, it was apparent the search for her was just a way to put characters in conflict. While the conflicts—Shane vs. Rick, Rick vs. Hershel, Andrea vs. everybody—have been top-notch in both writing and acting, it lacked the oh-my-god tension of Atlanta.

Walking Dead – Zombies = Little House on the Post-Apocalytic Prairie

Don’t get me wrong—a good show should have different arcs and feels for each season. But there’s been too much character conflict with only a token zombie scene each episode. (The exception, of course, is the beginning of the first episode. It’s one of the most tense scenes on television since the Galactica jumped into New Caprica’s atmosphere to launch vipers. (Better, in fact, because there were no zombies on New Caprica.)) This happened to Lost when they left the island and when Sylar went soft on Heroes.

Zombies don't come cheap

Lower budget means fewer zombies

Not that we need wall-to-wall zombies. This is drama, not action. But zombies’ unique threat is what drives the show.

So where are they? Budget cuts.

Each day of shooting zombies means more extras, more make-up, more make-up artists. Which leads to Hershel’s farm—a less costly practical set, a fixed number of cast members and none of the grandeur of the first season.

But there certainly some things to love about this season

Norman Reedus’ Daryl is a complex, brilliant character. One of two characters not from the comic (the often-absent T-Dog (IroneE Singleton) being the other), Daryl strikes me as someone like Lost‘s Sawyer—a man who never had a chance to be a hero. Now that he is, he’s finally found himself while fighting inner demons.

And we are departing even more from the comics.

The comic’s Andrea is well-adjusted; the show’s is bad-ass.

Carol is completely different.

And it’s no secret the Shane vs. Rick conflict is something different on the show.

Cliffhanger? Not really…

My biggest disappointment was how this half-season ended. We needed one more scene to wrap it up as a complete story. Hershel telling Rick to leave. Or Hershel eating a bullet. Or opening fire.

The resolution of this episode was too easy, like the writers thought forcing characters to choose sides was more thrilling than life-or-death danger. OK, a minor spoiler: there are zombies on the farm, but they never stand a chance against our (well-armed) heroes. (Just how many bullets do they have?)

So what’s next?

AMC has given The Walking Dead a third season, but without Frank Darabont what’s the point? Like ABC’s failed FlashForward, the creative team running The Walking Dead need to make up their mind what this show is.  Horror? Drama? Life-or-death or existential struggle?

I will be back for the second half of the season, but fair warning to AMC: as a horror fan in the plum demographic of viewers you want, my interest is waning. Get Darabont back and give him the budget he deserves.

Agree? Disagree?

What do you think The Walking Dead fans? Leave me a comment.


11 Responses to “Review: The Walking Dead – Season 2”

  1. 1 Beverly December 4, 2011 at 11:10 am

    I completely agree, which is a very boring answer. They nearly lost me even for the second half of this season, but I’m hoping the very final scene is an awakening for Rick. He’s been asleep at Herschel’s, you know?

    Note – I have never read the comic so I can’t compare and have no idea what’s coming.

  2. 3 James Bambury (@JamesBambury) December 4, 2011 at 11:37 am

    I have to agree with most everything you’ve written, Matt. The show has replaced grandiose zombie spectacle with layers of distrust, lies and secrets between the characters. Take out 2-3 episodes and the half-season would work better.

    Daryl has emerged as one of the better characters and I like the Sawyer comparison. That said, every time this show reminds me of Lost (and there were quite a few times that happened) it is not doing itself any favours with me. I’m into Andrea’s existential angst or new found trigger happy nature. I understand what the writers are trying to with her but it all comes out flat in her performance.

    ***spoilers ahead***

    The ending of the show did work for me (although I see your point about the stakes) just in terms of the characters being very cavalier about clearing the walkers and then having the tables turned on them emotionally. For all of Shane’s bluster and apparent willingness to make difficult choices he isn’t able to it when he’s out in the open and being watched. So, it falls on Rick to do the deed at the end, to show his group what he’s willing to do and to take on the guilt for [**** REDACTED ****]. It’s also a message to Hershel, a kind of an emphatic moment for the loss he’s just had as well as setting an example of the kind of emotional detachment that the post-zombie world demands.

    Another scene would have been nice to give some indication of where the characters were going with Herschel and staying on the farm. I’m assuming that ambiguity is supposed to pass for the “cliffhanger” this time.

    • 4 Matt Moore December 4, 2011 at 11:51 am

      Good thinking about Shane. It felt forced to me that Rick did what he did. Almost like the writers saying “Hey, Rick needs to do something this episode.”

      But you’re right — Shane is Iago. He wants all the power, but none of the visibility.

      Honestly, I thought it would be Daryl. I thought this would be another turning point for him where all his hope and effort turns out to be futile, so he gives up and slides back into being what he had been under his brother’s influence.

      • 5 James Bambury (@JamesBambury) December 5, 2011 at 10:39 pm

        That would have made for a really interesting development had it been Daryl. It would have made for an interesting breaking point between him and the rest of the group and rather tragic since he’d been proving himself as being one of the more useful people to have around in the zombie-pocalypse.

        Apologies for the spoilers in the earlier post.

      • 6 Matt Moore December 6, 2011 at 10:26 am

        No worries about the spoilers, James! Everyone has their own level of spoiler tolerance, so I thought what you said just barely tip-toed over the line. And using something so sarcastic might make people a but more curious. 🙂

  3. 7 olddarth December 6, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    Another boring, agreeing post. Sad to say.

    Zombies as a long form drama is something I have always had difficulty believing could be sustainable. The genre is perfectly suited for movie/ mini-series vehicles.

    Had my issues with the characters post the premiere and they have carried onto into this season.

    Daryl is the only interesting character and if the intent was for all the time being spent on the farm was to build character empathy then the first half of this season has to be termed a failure.

    While the final moments of the last episode were powerful, and predictable, the time spent getting there was not used wisely.

    Yet zombies are popular so it will be interesting to see if viewership at the current levels continues or if there will be an ongoing erosion.

  4. 8 Natalie December 13, 2011 at 6:36 am

    Hey if you haven’t seen The Walking Dead feature on Zlango’s messaging app for Android you gotta check it out! Seriously loving this!

  1. 1 Podcast #17: The Airing of Grievances Trackback on December 23, 2011 at 5:11 pm
  2. 2 Review: The Walking Dead, Season 2 Finale (and Season 2 in general) « Matt Moore Writes Trackback on March 19, 2012 at 7:09 pm
  3. 3 #SixSeasonsAndAMovie « Matt Moore Writes Trackback on May 21, 2012 at 8:07 pm

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