The Good: Excellent serialization, Great acting, Decent plot, Wonderful bonus features, Mood, Special Effects
The Bad: Soap opera quality to many of the character interactions and plot progressions.
The Basics: When Rick and his band of survivors end up stalled on the road to Fort Benning, they take refuge at a local farm that brings out some of the worst elements in those among them!
Ever since Lost (reviewed here!) went off the air, I – and many other television viewers – have been looking for “the next Lost.” We’ve been looking for a genre series that captivates us and makes us care, one that makes us want to tune in and buy the DVD sets and talk to others about it. Lately, I’ve been thinking that The Walking Dead might well be that series. However, after watching the complete second season of The Walking Dead, I cannot help but feel that the writers and producers of the show are actually trying to be the next Lost in a very literal way. There are some uncanny structural similarities in the two series’ already and the second season really brings that out.
The second season of Lost was essentially split between time in the hatch and dealing with the fates of the passengers of Oceanic 815 who were in the tail section of the plane when it crashed. In analogous terms, the second season of The Walking Dead is the “hatch” season for the show. The group of survivors spends most of the season holed up on a farm (like the hatch) and the subplot involving Sophia is much like “tailie” section of the second season. The latter half of the season wherein the survivors take in a refugee they are pretty sure is evil is much like the capture of “[Not] Henry Gale” in the second season . . .wow, it is uncanny!
On its own merits, The Walking Dead Season Two is tense, often disturbing and very well-assembled. Its only real flaws come from a sense that the show is taking on more elements of a soap opera in terms of character development. But while that might be true of the Rick/Lori/Shane relationship issues, what makes The Walking Dead so incredible in the second season is how no one is safe. The show is not at all predictable in the long arcs and one of the real treats of rewatching the second season of The Walking Dead is seeing how well-assembled it is. In fact, in order to do a spoiler-free review of the second season of The Walking Dead, one cannot reveal how well-assembled the season is. Sufficed to say, in the last five minutes of the final episode of the second season, there is a revelation that was hinted to pretty completely throughout many of the episodes, without viewers even being entirely aware that that was what was happening!
Picking up where the first season of The Walking Dead (reviewed here!) left off, The Walking Dead Season Two is a highly serialized television series that is focused on the lives of a group of survivors following a zombie apocalypse. In the wake of leaving a doomed Centers For Disease Control facility, a group of survivors continues to migrate away from the roving populations of the undead. And in the second season, The Walking Dead continues to explore the human element working to survive the consequences of the collapse of the world over the course of thirteen episodes.
On the highway out of Atlanta, headed toward Fort Benning, Dale’s RV breaks down amid a traffic jam. While Dale works to fix the RV, a mob of Walkers passes through and the survivors all hide under the abandoned vehicles and, in the case of T-Dog, a dead body. Unfortunately, Sophia comes out from under the car in front of a straggler, who chases her into the woods. Rick follows her and has Sophia hide in order to draw the Walkers away from her. Unfortunately, when they return to where Rick left her, Sophia is gone. As the search for Sophia continues, Rick and Carl are walking in the woods when they come across a deer. The deer, and Carl, are shot by a hunter – Otis – and Otis sends Rick and Carl to the nearby farm he came from.
At the farm, Hershel, a doctor a man of god, works to save Carl’s life. Reluctantly, the rest of the group moves to the farm and continues the search for Sophia from there. They begin to settle in, with Glen drawing the attention of one of Hershel’s daughters, Maggie. While Carl recovers from his wounds, Rick tries to negotiate with Hershel to remain on the farm, even after Sophia is found, though he is resistant. When Glen discovers that Hershel’s barn is being used to store Walkers, Shane and Andrea step up to deal with them.
In the aftermath of the barn incident, tensions run high between Hershel’s people and Rick’s. When Hershel goes off to town to get drunk, Rick and Glen go after him. In town, the trio runs into two travellers, who force Rick to kill them in self-defense, which leads to a shootout with more of their friends and the recovery of a wounded youth, Randall. Saving Randall brings the conflict between Rick and Shane to a head and sparks off a debate on the boundaries the group is willing to go to save humans as opposed to protect themselves. When Dale works to persuade the members of the group not to kill Randall for the potential liability he poses, Carl inadvertently sets off a chain of events that will once again change everything for the survivors!
The second season of The Walking Dead is dark, sweaty and it feels dangerous almost every moment of every episode. The characters seldom cut a break and the fact that any of them survive while traveling together is something of a small miracle. The tension runs high in the second season as Shane and Rick begin to go head-to-head more often and Lori quickly learns that she is pregnant. The Walking Dead Season Two feels very soap operatic, especially in the relationship between Shane and Rick and Rick and Lori. Rick and Lori finally come clean about Lori’s affair in the first season and that drives a wedge between Shane and Rick and Shane and Lori, which makes some sense. Refreshingly, the second season of The Walking Dead deals with the revelation of Lori’s affair with Shane in a surprisingly mature way.
But the soap opera-type conceit starts to pile up with somewhat forced character conflicts between Dale and Andrea. Dale seems a lot more controlling of her than paternal and that is irksome. As well, the budding relationship between Carol and Daryl seems more a matter of plot convenience than, by comparison, the relationship between Maggie and Glen.
Like all worthwhile shows and movies, The Walking Dead is really about characters. In the second season of The Walking Dead, the principle characters are:
Rick Grimes – A former sheriff and now the leader of a band of survivors that includes his wife and young son, he is fighting hard to retain his humanity following the destruction of the world he knew. The bearer of a great secret from the surviving member of the CDC, Rick feels exceptionally guilty for leaving Sophia and is devastated when Carl gets shot. He tries to maintain order and respect Hershel’s rules, tasks made much more difficult by Shane,
Lori Grimes – Rick’s wife, she is shocked when Carl is shot and takes up residence in the house beside his bed for almost his entire convalescence. She works to put distance between herself and Shane, but that is made difficult when Shane becomes convinced her unborn baby must be his,
Carl Grimes – After being shot, he learns to shoot. With each passing day, he becomes more cold and even mean, following Shane’s example, as opposed to Rick’s. When he steals Darryl’s gun, he goes off into the woods and sets the survivors on a disastrous course,
Dale – The voice of reason and humanity, after saving Andrea from a Walker by only giving her access to a screwdriver, he tries to convince her not to following in Shane’s footsteps. Threatened by Shane, he quickly realizes that Shane’s accounting of how Walkers overran Otis when getting the medical supplies to save Carl is probably not true. He fights to ensure that the survivors keep ethical so if they survive, the society they create is not a cold, mean one. When Randall is captured, he fights to save the boy from being executed,
Hershel – The elderly owner of the farm, he is deeply conservative and very much out of touch with what is happening in the outside world. Believing there will be a cure, he has the Walkers in the barn so when the cure comes, he can save his wife and stepson. But when he witnesses a Walker attacking, he is shaken to his core and cedes his judgment to Rick,
Maggie – The farmer’s daughter, she is instantly attracted to Glen. The two start a relationship and she works to encourage him to be more than what the group uses him for,
Glen – Inspired to think like a leader, he objects to his duties after he is used as Walker bait when a Walker is found in a well on the property. He comes to fall in love with Maggie, but discovers that may be a liability when he freezes during the shootout with Randall’s people,
Carol – Desperate to find her daughter, Sophia, she relies more and more upon Darryl for comfort and protection,
T-Dog – He shows up. After cutting his arm while fleeing Walkers, he does surprisingly little,
Darryl – The resident redneck, he reforms quite a bit, despite being plagued by a vision of his lost brother. Going on tireless searches for Sophia, he finds the most concrete evidence of her continued existence. As Rick and Shane go head to head more, he shows surprising loyalty to Rick and starts to warm up to Carol,
Andrea – Despite being pissed off at Dale, she quickly learns to shoot and in the process forms a relationship with Shane. But troubled by how dark Shane is becoming, she actually stands with Dale during the critical vote on Randall’s fate,
and Shane Walsh – Feeling usurped by Rick in every way, he sees the farm as a potential way to settle down and bunker in. Despite forging ahead with a relationship with Andrea, when he learns Lori is pregnant, he becomes obsessed with her again. He continues to guide Carl as well, much to Rick’s chagrin. In order to save Carl’s life, he makes a tough choice and that puts him at odds with Dale and several other members of the survivor’s camp.
What sells the The Walking Dead Season Two – outside the phenomenal special effects and universally engaging directing (even when it is gross!) – is the acting. In the second season of The Walking Dead, the full cast shows up and makes exceptional use of their time on screen. Norman Reedus plays Darryl with more and more humanity that makes the potentially loathsome character interesting to watch. The fact that he humanizes the outsider in degrees works wonderfully and Reedus deserves a lot of credit for that. At the other end of the spectrum, Jeffrey DeMunn does an excellent job of articulating moral opinions without ever sounding like a jerk or a tool. As Dale, DeMunn is perfectly cast as the soul of the group and that is presented exceptionally well throughout the season.
Steven Yeun and Lauren Cohan, as Glen and Maggie, have exceptionally good chemistry in the second season of The Walking Dead. Cohan and Scott Wilson, who plays Hershel, effortlessly merge with the existing cast to feel like they have been present the whole time. There is never a moment while watching either of them perform that the viewer feels they are not buying into the reality of the The Walking Dead universe.
Most of the second season of The Walking Dead comes down to performances by Jon Bernthal and Andrew Lincoln. Bernthal steals most of the second season simply by being so unsettling as to make his character of Shane entirely unpleasant to watch. Shane is dangerous and mean and Bernthal plays him with an angry core that simmers wonderfully throughout almost every scene he is in!
On DVD and Blu-Ray, The Walking Dead Season Two comes with a plethora of bonus features, including special effects featurettes and commentary tracks. There are plenty of goodies to make it well worth picking up the discs of The Walking Dead Season Two!
For other horror television shows, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
True Blood - Season 4
For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the shows I have reviewed!
© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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