Season 2 of The Walking Dead tried to go out with a bang. True, there were lots and lots of BANG!s going off in the first half hour, but this attempt at action only underscores that the show is trying—and failing—to recapture the tension of Season One.
We need Frank Darabont back!
This will be a spoiler-free review for those who haven’t read the comic and a reasonably spoiler-free for the episode. However, I will talk about previous episodes. Still, I will put in green anything that might be spoiler-ish, so just skip to the black text to stay truly spoiler-free.
This Demi-Season (aka, second half of Season Two)
This demi-season abandoned focused on the Rick-Shane conflict now that the search for Sophia is over. But like Sophia, this conflict created fodder for internal divisions within the group while never seeming to get anywhere. Randall sat in the barn, people argued. While there seemed to be more zombie encounters, I never felt any danger or true conflict for our characters.
The confusing teaser
The show opens trying to describe where the herd from the season opener came from and linking it to the group about to descend on Hershel’s farm. This is not so much a spoiler as unnecessary exposition. If anything, it creates more questions than is solves. Why would the walkers follow what they follow, then keep moving when they lose sight of it? In the past, we have seen walkers virtually idle until someone comes near. From a caloric standpoint, this makes sense—no need to expend energy. So why do some walkers shamble aimlessly but this group keeps moving…
The obligatory action sequence
As the season finale, it’s no surprise this episode concludes the season-long “On Hershel’s Farm” arc. We pick up right where the last episode left off and jump into an action sequence. Almost like they’re acknowledging the slow pace and giving us some action.
But here’s the flaw. Hershel’s farm is sprawling, so as the many characters leap into action, I didn’t know where anyone was in relation to anyone else. People run, cars drive back and forth, characters scream “We can’t make it that way! There’s too many Walkers! Go THIS way!” Yet rather than amplifying tension, a confusing mess of motion reduces it since I didn’t know what was going on. (To say nothing of people yelling they’re low on ammo but never seem to need to reload.)
And, during all this, we find one character sitting all alone, seeming to just watch what is happening. I won’t say who, but it’s a character we’ve come to expect to be someone of action.
While some characters die, taken by the just-have-camera-Walker cheat, others are thrown together and flee. I won’t say who dies, but it’s not surprising and they won’t be missed.
The obligatory talking sequence
Now, I had hope here. The Walking Dead is best when its characters are under pressure. Think escaping from the department store in Season One or the walker herd in the season opener. While panicked and looking for safety, I’d hoped for conflicts, different groups making different decisions. Practical matters conflicting with passionate ones—do we make a run for it and save ourselves or try to find the others?
Instead, we get a few lines about going back before everyone miraculously finds each other. Almost like a 90-minute episode got cut to 60. No really: one group is talking about what to do next when all the other groups suddenly all show up at once.
The episode’s budget largely blown by that point, the characters hunker down for the night to talk about what to do next. It’s as exciting as you and your friends getting out of a movie at 10PM and having the same conversation.
I’d hoped for thrills when Rick tells the group what he learned from Dr. Jenner at the end of Season One. It’s a moment I remember from the comics. But everyone reacts to this news in a way that made no sense to me. The news is a game-changer, but doesn’t justify talk of rebellion and betrayal.
[Spoiler] Rick also confesses to Lori that he killed Shane and she reacts with revulsion. Yet not too many episodes ago she had been telling Rick that Shane was crazy and Rick had to do something. So, why the horror? Did the writers forget this? Is no one talking in the writers’ room?[/End Spoiler]
Two reveals at the end
The episode concludes with two reveals, both of which comic fans will understand but those who haven’t will be scratching their heads.
The first is a character reveal, which is horribly flawed. It goes for bad-ass, but The Walking Dead is not a bad-ass show. It’s realism—very real, flawed, scared people trying to survive. You can see the dirt, almost smell the body odour. This reveal is straight out of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. First, the way it’s shot would make this character’s weapon of choice about 12′ feet long. Second, we’re just expected to believe the character just happens to be in that spot with nothing better to do? Too much of a coincidence.
The second reveal is the location for next season. Judging by how long we were on the farm in the show compared to the comic, we will be in this location for 5-7 seasons.
What The Walking Deadis missing is Darabont.
The confined space/slow burn he does so well. Re-watch The Mist—men and women, trapped in a horrible situation, slowing turning on each other since they can’t fight the enemy outside. That’s what The Walking Dead used to be. Now we just have characters thrown at each other for no good reason and nothing gets resolved.
I had high hopes at the end of this demi-season’s opener in the bar when the two men appeared. The circling, the distrust—the tension was just awesome and made me jump when it was resolved. It’s been down hill from there.
I will be back for Season 3, but mostly for the hopes of something better. Unlike Lost, Battlestar Galactic and Heroes (which I bailed on after a few Season 3 episodes), there is an impressive body of work to draw from. Without the Rick-Shane story, where do we turn to challenge Rick? Some characters from the comic come to mind. And given we’re headed for a prison and don’t necessarily have to follow the comic’s story faithfully, there’s all kinds of possibilities.
And it’s not too late for AMC to realize their error and #BringBackDarabont.