Spoiler Alert: If you don’t want to know anything about The Walking Dead – Season 2 (including last night’s season finale), you might want to skip this post.
I have a conflicted relationship with AMC’s The Walking Dead. Most of that ambivalence derives from the fact that I am a fan of the graphic novels on which the show is based. I’m not a huge comics girl, but I do dabble in them from time to time. And with such excellent source material, the execution of the TV show has been disappointing to me.
When I first heard that they were making a TV show based on the graphic novels, I was curious as to how they were going to pull it off. The books, to put it mildly, are very dark. They spend a lot of time looking at human nature after the zombie apocalypse and how people adjust to what appears to be the dissolution of society. The absence of law and order allows some people to give into impulses that were previously restrained and the books do not shy away from that – there is torture, sexual assault and other unthinkable acts. Though I enjoyed the story, I did have to take occasional breaks because it was just so bleak. I assumed that they were going to have to soften some of the tone for TV and I worried that they may lose some of the essence of the books. While it is probably too soon to tell on that point as most of the really depressing stuff happens later in the story, I did not predict that my real problem with the show would be its pacing and derivation from the original story.
Season 2 blew all the momentum that the show had after the first season. Staying on Herschel’s farm for almost the entire season sucked the life right out of it. For a show that is about zombies, we saw very few of them over the course of this season. Instead, the focus of the first part of the season was the search for Sophia, which was of little interest since the audience didn’t know much about Sophia. I really didn’t care if they found her or not — I was just ready for the story to resolve itself one way or another so we could move on.
The Sophia incident represents what I see as the larger issue with the show: character development. There really isn’t any. We’ve now spent 19 episodes with these people and the majority of them are still two dimensional. Two people died last night and I would be hard pressed to tell you their names or their relationship to the other characters. T-dog has been on almost every episode and I know nothing about him; if he wasn’t the only African American in this band of survivors, I don’t know that I would even know his name. Carol got to cry a lot when her daughter was missing, but that’s about it. This wouldn’t be as big of a problem if there was more going on with the show this season. But with the long detour on the farm, the action slowed down and it became clear that the writers had just not done their job in making us care about a lot of these characters.
Even worse, one of the characters that we have spent the most time with (Lori) is so incredibly stupid and annoying that I probably care about her less than I would have if they didn’t try to flesh her character out at all. She is constantly doing things that make no sense, like taking off by herself in a car to try and find her husband, and which ultimately mean that someone has to go rescue her. She also does a terrible job of keeping an eye on her son, as there have been several instances when he has taken off and she doesn’t notice that he’s gone for a long period of time. You would think having just witnessed what happened to the only other child in the group that she would be a little more aware of her own child’s whereabouts. I honestly don’t know why Shane and Rick were even fighting over her. She so isn’t worth the trouble. I’m actually rooting for the zombies to get her.
The one character that I think that they have done the best job with is Daryl, which is kind of ironic since he is one of the characters that exists solely in the TV show. While in the first season he came across as just a racist redneck, they have actually fleshed out his character in the second season and made him more complex and interesting. It’s probably no coincidence that he has also become a fan favorite.
During the sojourn at the farm, we also got a lot of rehashing of the same arguments about life and death. On at least three separate occasions, there were philosophical discussions about whether this was a world for a child (when Carl was injured and then the very NEXT episode when Lori discovers she is pregnant) or a world worth living in (one of the Herschel’s daughters contemplates suicide). These are discussions that are bound to happen given the circumstances in which the characters find themselves, but they were too repetitious and frequent in the season. Hearing Lori and Rick have them in back to back episodes was a case of diminishing returns.
Part of these problems could be attributed to growing pains – the first season of the show was only six episodes, so season 2 was the first full season arc. So they may have had trouble with the pacing. There was also a lot of backstage drama on the show this season, as showrunner Frank Darabont abruptly left the show, apparently not by his choice. This may have contributed to some of the show’s problems as it’s never easy to change horses in midstream. Perhaps with one full season under their belt and some consistency in leadership, the show will regain its footing in season 3.
The finale did give some additional reason for hope, at least for fans of the comic book. I’ve been waiting to see when they would introduce the hooded character that saves Andrea, so I was relieved that it was sooner rather than later. This person will be epic, if portrayed anything close to the books. Based on the actor cast, I’m very optimistic. Additional casting news has also been a source of relief, though more so because I’m glad that this character will be featured than for the person they selected. The preview of the prison in the closing shots was also a good sign. I’m hoping that this means we will be moving back to the source material and by extension back to the action.
I’m not giving up on The Walking Dead. The books have way too much potential and I think if they go back to the souse material it will improve. I’m hoping that season 2 was just a momentary blip and that in season 3 they will regain their footing. Bring back the zombies!