Friday, 31 July 2015

Review: The Walking Dead: Season Two

Written between 19th March and 31st July 2015. Spoilers. 

Ask a Walking Dead fan about Season Two and there's likely to be some grumbling about "that damn farm," and "they should just kill Sophia already." After the relatively brief first season, the show's sophomore outing got a double-length season of 13 episodes, split in half (of course, this is US TV). While Season One had been an interest to critics, Season Two is where the show began courting some mainstream popularity. Which is confusing, given this is a season full of frustrating character decisions, a long-winded and dry storyline and, true to what I mentioned earlier, that damn farm. Season Two does have a few cracking episodes and it gives us some fairly interesting and long-lived characters, but at the same time it takes a certain amount of commitment to keep coming back each week.
     One thing to bear in mind about these infrequent Walking Dead reviews: I haven't seen these seasons in about two or three years. And I really don't know if I can set aside the time to go back and watch 10-12 hours of television. I'm not entirely sure why this show's season length increases so dramatically from the initial mini-season to 13 and then 16 episodes, but it doesn't actually help the show that much. We do get some more character beats for that extra time, but in Season Two those beats are focussed on one or two characters - which, for an ensemble piece, means that most of the cast has to deal with obnoxious filler. Examples of which include: Andrea shooting Daryl because she thought he was a walker; Lori crashing her car on an empty highway; Daryl being taunted by a hallucination of his brother, and Carl having a teenage strop which inevitably leads to Dale's death.
     Maybe the filler isn't the best place to start. This season's main developing storyline sees our survivors, having escaped from the CDC, attempt to travel to Fort Benning. Along the way they are forced to stop by a traffic build-up on the highway, and a sequence of events leads to them staying on the Greene Family Farm and the disappearance of Carol's daughter, Sophia. While Hershel Greene and his daughters are initially quite friendly and helpful in the search for Sophia, the survivors soon discover that he refuses to see the Walkers as anything less than human, and so has been keeping a herd of them (including, unfortunately, Sophia) in his barn. After the group slaughters the zombies kept in the barn, the group is forced to deal with infighting and the threat of another, unknown group of survivors. Eventually, the Atlanta Herd from the pilot episode works its way over to the farm, and the survivors (+ the Greene family) are forced to escape. Shane and Rick confront each other, and Shane is killed.
     The thing that Season Two does get right is the development of Shane and his decent into pure hatred and villainy. Robert Kirkman used the series to keep the character alive longer and flesh him out, and Jon Bernthal more than rises to the challenge. Shane is a pragmatist; he genuinely believes that he can lead the group and keep them safe more than Rick can, and he's prepared to kill/threaten anyone who gets in the way of that vision. On a moral level Shane lost me the moment he tried to rape Lori at the end of last season, but that doesn't really get brought up this season - probably so that the more sympathetic moments he gets this season actually ring true.
     The nature of the season means that there's lots of weird filler in almost all episodes. Even my favourite episode of this season, the stand-out 18 Miles Out, is 60% a brilliant two-hander character piece between Shane and Rick and 40% weird sub-plot where Lori argues that women should stay in the kitchen and Andrea tries to help new character Beth Greene commit suicide. Season Two stands out as a sort of teething stage as the show developed from its original miniseries format into its eventual style, and the two forms really do clash, leading to a season with good storytelling and characters in some areas and pointless filler and stupid decisions in others. It's an uneven, wandering season, but it certainly points the show in the right direction.


P.S. This isn't my best work. But it'll be better when I look at Season 3A some time in the future. :D

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