When The Walking Dead premièred back in the medieval year of 2010, there was one thing I was impressed by above all other things. They’d managed to somehow expand a Romero-esque zombie experience into a weekly show. Having not read the source material, I was taken in by the strong characterisation, great atmosphere and gory special effects. Thing is, of the original six episodes, I felt things went seriously downhill when the gang travelled to the CDC (Centre for Disease Control). Something about it felt rushed and frankly goofy compared to the tone the previous episodes set.
With the show being a big hit, a second series of 13 episodes was commissioned. Whilst I was pleased, I had some reservations. Firstly, they fired showrunner and developer Frank Darabont, who had been instrumental in not only getting the series on TV, but writing and directing several episodes. Secondly, the budget had been slashed significantly. Thirdly, they couldn’t even manage 6 episodes without the wheels falling off, how were they going to manage just over double the number? I was preparing myself for another Heroes style letdown. I wasn’t sure my heart could take being suckered in by a great first season with vast potential, only to have the show fart in my face during its second series.
I shouldn’t have been concerned. Series 2 of The Walking Dead is really good. Sure, it’s flawed, but it’s a hell of a lot better than I expected. Put simply, it’s a very well made, well acted series. It’s compelling, unnerving and incredibly addictive. I’m going to dodge as many huge spoilers as I can, but from here on out, we’re venturing into mild spoiler territory. You and I may have different ideas about what constitutes a spoiler, so if you want to go in blind and you’ve been saving it for a big boxset marathon (the best way to watch in my opinion) close this review and walk away with the hearty recommendation.
Season 2 is all about character evolution, especially Shane (Jon Bernthal) who goes from reliable cop pal to an American equivalent of a Mitchell brother, shaven head and permanent scowl included. He spends most of his time pissing people off, constantly butting heads with group leader Rick (Andrew Lincoln) about the direct of the group. With his hot-headedness and his ability to turn a simple discussion into a blazing row, he quickly became my favourite character. This all comes to a head in probably the best episode of both series so far, “18 Miles Out”, which contains all the elements The Walking Dead does so well, including moral dilemmas, big arguments and a fuckton of zombies. I also loved episode 5, “Chupacabra” which is focused predominantly on fan-favourite Daryl (Norman Reedus) and gives us a unique insight into his mind. This series also has a cracker of a season finale in the form of “Beside the Dying Fire”which has left me very impatient for the third series. My least favourite episode was “Judge, Jury and Executioner”, which was just 40 minutes of hand-wringing angst that didn’t solve anything.
Of the newcomers, I liked Maggie (Lauren Cohan) the most, especially the realistic way her relationship with Glenn (Stephen Yuen) is handled. I also liked the evolution of farm owner Hershel (Scott Wilson) from an irritating roadblock to an sympathetic character.
This series has a few problems that really need to be ironed out before season 3 hits. For starters, the pacing is all over the place. I’m fine with slower paced, episode long character studies, like the ones seen in fellow AMC show Breaking Bad, but I sometimes got the feeling The Walking Dead was just treading water, both with its characters and their motivations. For instance, a lot of this series is spent in the refuge of Hershel’s farm, but there seems to be nothing driving the characters besides simply surviving. The series takes a while to get going, but soon hits its stride around the midpoint, delivering some of the best moments of the series so far.
Secondly, some of the characters are pretty much ignored and sidelined. Rick’s wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) isn’t really given anything significant to work with and T-Dog (IronE Singleton) is hardly given anything at all to do outside of stacking corpses and driving the more developed characters around. I hope he gets more to do in season 3.
The Walking Dead is one of the best things on TV right now. It’s tense, exciting and heartbreaking in equal measures. Despite my little grievances and niggles, season two actually delivers on the promises made by the first series. Highly recommended.