Dead Man Walking: “The Walking Dead” Mid-Season 2 Review

words by Nick James
| Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

“The Good, the Bad, and the Sophia”
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. AMC’s “The Walking Dead” ended its first season run as the most watched program in AMC’s history with more than six million viewers tuning in for the finale. This only made it all the more shocking when series show-runner Frank Darabont was quickly fired by the network only three days after promoting the hit show heavily at the Comic Con convention in July.

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The exact reasoning for Darabont’s termination was never explained, but sources close to the matter state that a dispute over AMC’s reluctance to give the show more funding resulted in the separation. AMC has had very public budget disputes with the executive producers of network shows “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men,” so a similar incident doesn’t seem unlikely.

So what happens when the guy that fought for five years to bring Robert Kirkman’s vision of a Zombie-fied civilization to the small screen gets abruptly ousted? The answer appears to be simple: all hell breaks loose, but, unfortunately, not in the way I would have liked.

First, the Good
Character development in season two has been top notch thus far, and the writers should be commended for making me become attached to every character regardless of their episode-to-episode shelf life. In season one, there was some gray area about what made Rick or Shane a better leader for our group of survivors. Season two has created a clear line in the sand dividing their ideologies and placing you firmly on one side or the other. Shane’s character in particular has been a pleasure to watch as he tiptoes the dangerous line between human compassion and full on “Lord of the Flies” survival instinct.

Andrea and Daryl are other prime examples of character development done right. In the season one finale when Andrea decided to let herself get napalmed in the CDC, I honestly couldn’t have cared less either way. It has been interesting to watch her transformation from victim to “Tomb Raider” in the span of so few episodes. Daryl’s character was very one-dimensional in season one, and although he still isn’t as multifaceted as some of the others, it is nice to see other aspects of his personality as the show goes on. It would have been easy for the writers to turn Rick’s discovery of Shane and Lori’s romance into an episode of “Maury,” but they cleverly had him react as his character should, with logic. The only scenario that seems forced is Glen’s budding romance, but even that becomes slightly more believable as the show progresses.

Now, the Bad…The Young and the Zombie Restless
Uh, this show is still about the zombie apocalypse right….right? The excellent character development of season two definitely comes at the sacrifice of any kind of coherent plot line or narrative direction from the writers room.

In the first episode of the new season, the survivors are still in the process of making their way to Fort Benning after the events that transpired at the CDC in the season one finale. One of the group goes missing after the RV breaks down on a highway, and we the viewers have been treated to a “Little House on the Prairie”/“Young and the Restless”/“Jerry Springer” montage ever since. Throughout the six episodes that have aired, there has been no indication that the survivors are any closer to getting off this farm, and if the previews for the episodes to come are to be taken at face value…there are more farm adventures to be had before Fort Benning is ever mentioned again.

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Season one was described by words like exhilarating, suspenseful, and terrifying. None of these would be applicable for season two’s lamentable compilation of zombie lassoing and group drama. Season one also did an excellent job of balancing the weight of character development and plot advancement. Season two is unbalanced in comparison.

And Then There Was Sophia…
Oh Sophia, that sweet, sweet infected angel of mercy. Executed at point-blank range by Rick himself after Shane and company went all ballistic on a barn full of corralled zombies. I’m sure this moment was meant to invoke sadness — or even pity — for the loss of another one of the tribe.

Instead, for me, as well as many fans of the show, the moment was unexpectedly met with a moment of jubilation as one ubiquitous thought cascaded through our minds: Finally, the first sign of being able to move on from this effin’ farm! Six episodes is way too much for any show to devote to a seemingly random plot line. It’s almost like the writers said, “Well, we can’t let them get to Fort Benning too soon, so… uhh… hmm… oh, I know. We will have Sophia get lost in the zombie infested woods for half the friggin’ season and then, uhh…they’ll find her five episodes later in the barn that they have been sleeping right next to.”

Seriously, guys…really?

Wrap Up
Bring back the fear, AMC. You took it from me and I want it back now. Bring back the fight for survival, or at least the fight with some actual purpose. Bring back the claustrophobia-inducing enclosed areas, which gave off the illusion that anyone could die at any moment.

Maybe Darabont was onto something, because nothing in this second season has been remotely suspenseful. Without Shane’s standout episode (where Otis was sacrificed) and the much-needed character development, this season would be a total flop. Never have I seen a show with such a great first season stumble so quickly in its second. Then again, I cant think of another hit show that fired its series show-runner after the first season. Luckily for us, the second season isn’t over yet, and February, when the story is slated to continue, is just around the corner.

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