"Walking Dead" Rises Once More Review

It's hard to think of a television season in recent memory that had more to prove than the second season of The Walking Dead. After a dynamite pilot that lead many to wonder if it might become the best show on television, Dead waffled, producing a few electric moments but many more that felt limp, tired, or just plain dumb (the climax of the season's fourth episode, "Vatos", stands out in that way). If it was going to have anything in the way of longevity, it was going to have to shape up quickly, and it's actually kind of surprising just how much it has. Compared to its predecessor, this sophomore turn is scarier, more violent, and far more open to the bleak possibilities of its already bleak premise. It still has yet to fulfill its initial promise, or shake off the growing pains of its narrative adolescence, but it has emphatically expressed a willingness to simply kill off as many characters as it takes to get it right.

Having abandoned Atlanta and the CDC to the "walkers", the group, being ostensible leader Rick (Andrew Lincoln), wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), son Carl (Chandler Riggs), Shane (Joe Bernthal), Glenn (Steven Yeun), Daryl (Norman Reedus), Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn), Andrea (Laurie Holden), T-Dog (IronE Singleton), and Carol (Melissa McBride), set out in search of Fort Benning. As is wont to happen when the very fabric of society itself has been torn asunder, they are thwarted en route, and in the melee, separated from Carol's daughter Sophia (Madison Lintz). While looking for her, they stumble upon the Greene farm, led by patriarch Herschel (Scott Wilson), the only place they've yet seen untouched by the virtual apocalypse. Herschel allows them to stay conditionally while they look for Sophia, but all of them know, deep down, that the sanctuary is very fragile, and could easily be destroyed by walkers, outside gangs, or members of their own party.

The biggest problem with the first season was its unwillingness to question Rick's heroism, or the soundness of his judgment. Calamity after calamity befell the group, but there were never any negative consequences to his actions, nor were his instincts ever wrong. The creative staff seemed to have recognized what a liability this was, and takes a few pages out of the Battlestar Galactica playbook with the Sophia storyline. Like the human population after the Cylon attack, the survivors holed up at the farm are forced to address the fact that their traditionally moral choices might doom the future of humanity itself. These doubts largely find their voice in Shane, who frequently seems eager to abandon more high-minded ventures if it means unnecessarily risking any lives. Like Admiral Adama and President Laura Roslin, he plays a number game, and any day the number on the board doesn't go any lower is a good day. The thing is, Shane is not wrong, and for the first time here, the show finally admits it. While Rick maintains a vision of himself as the man in the white hat, his notions of "what's right" add up to little more than a security blanket that allow him to think of himself as a good person. Almost inconceivably from only a few episodes back, the show allows you to think that Rick might be wrong, and would allow people to get killed just to hang on to that precious idea.

The second biggest problem from the first season, however, remains largely unsolved, being the lethargic dynamic of its ensemble. While none of the actors stand out as especially poor (though some doubtlessly have longer futures than others), the odds placed between them are never sharp enough to produce much friction. That hasn't changed much here, though it's worth noting that given this season's static location, it must have improved some, as the show previously could hardly stand to stay in one location for an entire episode before completely losing interest. In truth, the cast here better resembles that of a Spielberg film than that of a Romero, which is probably why they occasionally feel poorly suited to the material. They band together in the name of civilization rather than that of survival, so their differences rarely feel as if they'll have lethal consequences. That's probably why, for all its predilections towards graphic violence, for its willingness to kill children, for it finding space for the 'n-word' in its vocabulary (extremely rare for a show set in the modern day), Walking Dead still just doesn't feel dangerous. It would qualify as an r-rated film, but it never once feels like one. Its transgressions, to a large degree, still feel calculated.

With that said, there's hope here, or at least the promise that said hope will be crushed for all involved. Given the time and space to adequately imagine the zombie apocalypse, Dead comes up with some surprising details (that one of the walkers, strung up from a tree, has had his feet devoured to the bone by passersby, was appreciated). Now that it's finally free from hitting all of the bases from Romero's original Dead trilogy, it's nuances like these that make Walking Dead's contribution to the genre somewhat greater than just that it's the first television show to attempt this. Whether it will continue to improve in its third season remains to be seen, but the show has demonstrated a good will here to show that it's worth sticking with, if not yet one to advocate for.

SPECIAL FEATURES

There are a number of featurettes, including "All The Guts Inside", "Live Or Let Die", "The Meat of the Music", "Fire-On Set", "The Ink Is Alive", "The Sound Of The Effects", "In The Dead Water", "You Could Make A Killing", "She Will Fight", "The Cast On Season 2", and "Extras Wardrobe". There are six webisodes, a number of deleted scenes, and audio commentaries for the episodes "What Lies Ahead", "Pretty Much Dead Already", "Nebraska", "Judge, Jury, Executioner", and "Beside The Dying Fire".

"The Walking Dead: Season 2" is on sale August 28, 2012 and is not rated. Horror. Directed by Billy Gierhart, Clark Johnson, David Boyd, Ernest Dickerson, Greg Nicotero, Guy Ferland, Gwyneth Horder Payton, Michelle Maclaren, Phil Abraham. Written by Ardeth Bey, Robert Kirkman, Glen Mazzara, Scott M. Gimple, Evan Reilly, David Leslie Johnson, Angela Kang. Starring Andrew Lincoln, Chandler Riggs, Jeffrey DeMunn, Joe Bernthal, Lauren Cohan, Laurie Holden, Melissa Mcbride, Norman Reedus, Sarah Wayne Callies, Scott Wilson, Steven Yuen.

Aug
27
2012
Anders Nelson • Associate Editor

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