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.