TV Review: The Walking Dead Season 2 Wrap-Up

Well, it was only a matter of time before we got here, wasn’t it? Strange enough, the end of season 2 of The Walking Dead feels like it came upon us faster than the finale of the first season; in part, I attribute this to the fact that watching the second half of S2 wasn’t half as punishing as watching the whole of S1, though I admit that I’m being slightly unfair to the show’s first six episodes and perhaps being overly flattering to these last half dozen (that said, I’m not going to revert my opinion on them overall, because they’re still damn good). But like the herd of zombies that laid waste to the one-time haven known as the Greene farm, the second season’s climax has risen, fallen, devoured some tender human flesh, and passed on in a hail of gunfire and furious, melodramatic declarations– which leaves us to think about where showrunner Glen Mazzara and his team have left us.

By my estimation, we’re a hair’s breadth away from being back at square one. In a way, that’s actually a good thing; it means there’s potential to rebuild the show from the ground up, and start fresh while avoiding the pitfalls the writers stumbled into in the first half of the season. During the mid-season break, it seems like the writing staff learned a lot of valuable lessons about plotting and storytelling, and while that didn’t add up to pitch-perfect scripting, it did yield a massive improvement over the first seven episodes, which by and large lacked anything resembling forward momentum. With an abundance of action being pushed on viewers, the show’s now wound up in a place where the cast is back on the road again; that means opportunity to start anew with both character and story direction.

We’ll see where The Walking Dead’s third season takes us in the fall, though. What matters most is where we’re at right now. As per usual, that means spoilers, so avert your gaze if you want to avoid having anything given away (although if you haven’t seen Better Angels and Beside the Dying Fire yet, well, come on).

I’m inclined to see Better Angels as Beside the Dying Fire: Part 1, which suits the format of this series well enough since I always handle reviewing the show two episodes at a time. But it’s easy to look at Better Angels as one half of the finale– it directly leads into the last episode and directly informs its events in a really tangible way, and the bigger plot threads aren’t addressed until the final few minutes of Beside the Dying Fire anyhow. With all of that in mind it makes sense to start where Better Angels leaves us: with Shane’s zombified corpse. I’ll say it right now, killing Shane was a mistake. If he had to die in season 2, he should have died in the last episode. If he has to die at all, and let’s face it, he does, then I really think saving that until at least the midpoint of season 3 made the most sense.

There are a few reasons for this. I understand very much that Shane and Rick’s conflict had to end in one of their demises eventually– we’ve already seen them come to blows in 18 Miles Out, after all, and since that episode it’s been made clear that Shane hasn’t really changed much at all. And, I guess, if he hasn’t changed, lethal violence between them was only inevitable. But the climactic standoff they find themselves in at the end of Better Angels feels almost perfunctory, and certainly rushed. Rick’s going through some changes, no doubt, yet his solution to the Shane problem feels like jumping the shark a bit (though I admit that Rick does seem more likely to stab a person in the front than in the back, so at least he’s being consistent). It doesn’t come out of nowhere; the show’s established that the two former best buddies’ relationship might end in bloodshed, after all, but the pot hasn’t boiled for long enough to make Better Angels‘ big shocker ending totally palatable. But it does lead into the “whoa dude!” reveal sprung on us in the last moments of the finale, so maybe the writers felt there wasn’t any avoiding it.

So, everyone’s already infected? In other words, the living are really just the walking dead? (Rim shot!) There’s been a lot of talk on other blogs and on bigger, more visible publications about this detail being something of a clunker given that it plays into traditional rules of the zombie genre; strictly speaking, I agree, but if every character in every zombie story just referred back to every single one of those narratives to fashion their zombie apocalypse playbook, then things like The Walking Dead would be kind of boring. Maybe learning what Jenner told Rick isn’t a huge surprise to us, but that’s not to say it can’t be something of a chiller for the characters, even if it kinda speaks for itself.

The bigger problem with the burden of knowledge here is that, well, who the hell cares? I get being a little tetchy over Rick keeping information to himself, but frankly that little nugget of truth changes nothing about how the survivors live; it only necessitates extra precaution if they bite it, and one arrow to the head isn’t a huge inconvenience for Daryl. The group’s reaction to Rick’s lie by omission is an example of painful, forced dramatics. They have to be upset because they have to be upset. There has to be division. And lo, there is, only it’s been manufactured inorganically. I don’t think Rick needed the extra impetus to declare his Ricktatorship*– as of the finale’s events, he’s a man on edge who very clearly is no longer the type to let his law be challenged.

I think all of this can be very easily sidestepped when the show picks up again; there should be no trouble in establishing that fear of Rick stems from his newly adopted totalitarian philosophy and his fantastic confession of Shane’s murder. What concerns me more is the introduction of Michonne, the katan-wielding badass fan favorite of the comic book, who shows up in the last few moments of Beside the Dying Fire and saves Andrea’s bacon. I mentioned at times during my coverage of the first season that I liked how the show diverged from the comic; Michonne’s appearance really slams the brakes on that driving influence and could well put things right back in comic book territory. That wouldn’t be a bad thing except for the fact that The Walking Dead has mostly played things “realistic”, and injecting an anime-influenced sword-swinging badass into that dynamic might be a tad disruptive. I’m willing to see how Michonne is handled amidst the show’s milieu of realism, but I’m wary of her arrival at this point**.

Sound like I’m down on the final two installments of the season? I overall enjoyed them, but if I’m being honest a lot of that has to do with the progression of action sequences leading into a finale that’s basically just one extended orgy of zombie violence. That’s not faint praise, I think; the FX work here has, excepting the use of CGI blood, been really, really strong, and we get a ton of it in Beside the Dying Fire. On top of that, a little bit of casting fat has been trimmed, and while I really didn’t feel anything when Jimmy and Patricia met their fates as zombie chow, it’s nice to see extraneous characters getting the axe. (Though I’m surprised T-Dog has lived this long. He must be friends with someone who has sway, or maybe there are big plans for him in the next season. I’d honestly love to see the writers do for him what they did for Glen.) And there are some wonderful little character moments– Glen telling Maggie he loves her, for example, actually did move me, and I really do have to give it to Andrew Lincoln for how much he’s evolved his depiction of Rick per the demands of the script.

But all of that good stuff brings us back to the final images of the season, including that ominous, lingering shot of the prison off in the distance. (Which only means anything to people who, again, have read the comics.) There are a number of directions the show could take once it picks up again in seven months; while season two finishes up more or less right in a middling spot, I think what it best achieves is the possibility of completely reinvigorating the entire overarching narrative of the series. If the lessons of the second half of S2 translate to S3 and the show finds its legs at last, The Walking Dead could end up being genuinely, thoroughly excellent.

*In case anyone hasn’t come across that little gem yet, that’s not mine. I believe Kirkman coined the term himself. It’s probably his best contribution to the entire series.

**Though good on the casting directors for hiring Treme‘s Danai Gurira for the role.

12 thoughts on “TV Review: The Walking Dead Season 2 Wrap-Up

  1. These episodes definitely felt like one big two-parter, but in that case, you should cut them some slack for cutting Shane when they did. Perhaps the confrontation felt a bit forced, and Shane’s complete breakdown (I guess because of Lori’s “confession” of her feelings?) seemed to come out of nowhere. Not that he did a complete 180… more of a 45. Still sharp, but not completely disconcerting. But it seems to me that we’d come to the end of his story. The audience was made aware of his past, his motivations and beliefs, and the arc of his relationship with Rick. While watching him struggle for another half a season would have been entertaining, I’m not sure it would have been completely necessary. Especially now that Rick has begun the Ricktatorship (I don’t think I will ever get tired of saying that), that morality vs. survival conflict will have to come from him and possibly Herschel, although it looks like Herschel is down for whatever. It also opens the stage for the other characters, allowing Daryl, Glen, and I pray, Theo (I’m refusing to call him T-dog anymore) to fill in the space left by Shane.

    For me, Beside the Dying Fire did not need Shane’s demise to lend a sense of unity or closure. Surviving the herd was enough stress for me for one episode. I still have this theory that only zombie aficionados found Season 1 and part of 2 a drag. Perhaps it was too slow and expository, but I think that’s making a comparison to zombie movies or other TV shows where the events of the previous episode don’t inform the content of the next. For those of us not accustomed, simply the threat of zombies was plenty. Example, no, I didn’t give a crap about Jimmy, but seeing him eaten like that probably traumatized me for at least the next few months.

    As an aside, I do have a lot more respect for Andrea now. I didn’t realize how much I liked her until she got left behind. She’s now at a Daryllian level of BAMF.

    One thing I did not like about the episode was Lori and Carl (surprise, surprise). After what Lori told Rick at the end Triggerfinger, I thought her reaction to Shane’s death was a bit ridiculous. (Read: I wanted to kick her in her stupid face.) And Carl? Come on, man, you’ve been in a zombie apocalypse for months now, do you still not understand how it works? You cannot “not leave without mom,” unless you are seriously and utterly prepared to die. It’s fine if you are, but don’t act like it’s a reasonable thing to ask to wait on a highway no doubt riddled with roaming herds of monsters for your mother who didn’t have the good sense to check on you during an apocalypse. Come on.

    I agree that the divisiveness at the end was forced and unnecessary. I’m not sure what, if anything, that plot device was for, since fear or distrust of Rick at this point can only be harmful. In that sense, I love Herschel’s attitude. And I was unaware that “we’re all infected” was so common in the genre. I just thought it was a quick and dirty way to explain how the virus turned into an epidemic.

    I loved seeing how the herd formed and I’m excited for the introduction of Michonne. I think it will be fun for the comic book fans and exciting for fans of the series. It may be difficult to pull off the realism of it, but with all the emotional nonsense we’ve been asked to believe, physical nonsense shouldn’t hurt too much. Also, with the possibility of Merle turning up and cranking up Daryl’s already beloved badass, I think there’s enough to be going on with for season 3. I will miss Shane, but maybe the writer’s will find a clever way to make his absence part of the show… or just throw him into a couple flashbacks.

    • Also, sorry about the length. Didn’t realize it was that long when I was typing it… maybe from now on, I’ll just email you. 🙂

      • Don’t worry about the length, Kami. You’re not taking up that much space in the grand scheme of things, and debate should be out in the open!

        Like you I see a lot of opportunity with Shane being gone for good, but it really just feels premature. Maybe the writers could have used that confrontation in the field between Shane and Rick to spark the former’s departure from the group, but not the program; he’s talked about pulling a Fleetwood Mac more than once this season, after all, and if he’s not in the group physically then that eliminates his control issues with Rick and gives other cast members more room to do good things in that particular plot line. (Like T-Dog. I swear I thought that the “T” was going to stand for “Tyrese”,one of the characters from the comic. But still, I’d like to see him become more of a character.)

        You know, I didn’t even think about the incongruity between Triggerfinger and Beside the Dying Fire in regards to Lori’s behavior. Nice call. I guess you COULD explain it away by arguing that enough time has passed between both that she’s come to terms with her feelings toward Shane and reconciled enough to feel outrage over his death, but seeing her go all Lady MacBeth in Triggerfinger and then slap Rick and act afraid of him in Fire does seem a bit like BS.

        As for Carl I really have no clue what the hell they’re doing with him. First he’s creepy and psychopathic and weird, and now he’s a scared kid again crying for his mom and dad and weeping over Shane. The hell of it is that he shouldn’t really be mourning Shane that much, unless the writers want us to believe that Carl actually came to see Shane as more of a father figure than his own father. (Which would actually be kinda interesting.)

        Michonne worries me. She just doesn’t seem to fit into the world that the show’s established thus far. There are no superheroes or uber badasses; even a guy like Shane ends up having to do shitty things like leave a man to die. I don’t feel like Sword Lady fits into that world. But maybe they’ll make her work. And I agree about Andrea– she’s really become a favorite of mine, and Fire really solidified that.

        Merle is definitely going to be back next season, by the way. Michael Rooker’s confirmed it. Pretty cool if you ask me.

        • Yeah, I can see Michonne being an issue, but I’m choosing optimism on this one. The thought of waiting all summer only to come back to a jarring switch to fantasy or a flimsy approximation of her original awesomeness is just too painful. Though I might enjoy a switch to a comic book feel and tone, if only because it would make the zombies less horrifying and more fun… but I might be the only one enjoying it.

          Yeah, Merle! (Well, not really, because he’s an racist psychopath, but he is an interesting character.) We’ll see if your theory is true…

  2. I don’t mind that Shane died because we all knew he had to go at that point and I was really hoping for a change in dynamics in terms of the characters. I think the addition of Michonne could be very interesting, although I do share your concerns because it was certainly very surprising (as a non reader) to see her appear at the end of the last episode. However, most surprising was Rick’s total change of character which I felt was too abrupt and overdone, mainly because it’s done in one big speech/monologue at the end.

    Again, this second episode is confirming that The Walking Dead is a decent TV show but nothing particularly special IMO. The best thing about it is that there is a lot of things that could be explored and haven’t been as of yet.

    • Oh, I don’t mind that he died; it just feels too soon, and I think that there’s more that could have been explored in the Shane/Rick dynamic. As far as Rick, I actually like him turning around as he did. Mostly, I think it’s kind of about time. The guy’s been busting his ass trying to lead for two seasons with very little gratitude to show for it. He’s probably been on edge since the CDC, waiting for the right kind of push to blow up.

  3. I agree a lot with what Castor just said. Michonne is long overdue (although she may be appearing at about the same time as she did in the comics, I’m not sure) and she can be awesome if done right.

    We knew Shane had to go. They got way more mileage than any of us suspected out of him, I’m glad they kept him around so long. But the battle for supremacy had to end at some point.

    It IS the change in Rick that was the best part. I was like Holy Shit! That was more shocking than anything outside of Michonne’s arrival.

    As you point out Andy, the show has been picking up… I hope that continues. So far I agree with Cap. Its been good but not great.

    I take it from your article you havent read the comics? I forget if we talked about that on the podcast we did…

    • Michonne would be overdue in a Walking Dead that played more like a comic book. What Darabont, and now Mazzara, did/is doing doesn’t feel all that comic book-ish. It’s a lot more grounded, even for a world overrun by zombies. I think Michonne works in a zombie property that’s highly stylized to the point where it’s not outside the realm of possibility someone could wander around with a samurai sword Yojimbo-style in zombieland. I don’t think AMC’s show is that property. It’s certainly possible that they give her enough depth that she doesn’t end up sticking out like a sore thumb, but I’m wary right now.

      Like I said to Castor, I agree. I just think it’s too early. If nothing else Shane should have parted ways with the survivors and had his own plotline; Bernthal’s that good and Shane’s that interesting, and it would have let the show keep its best character while extinguishing the power plays between the two.

      And I agree, Rick’s stuff here was really, really good. Nice to see Lincoln get to really flex his muscles as an actor and as a tough guy.

      I have in fact read the comics, but only up to about six as they get truly repulsive and bad after about halfway through 3.

  4. In complete agreement on the manufactured divisiveness of the finale. Here we had Lori acting borderline Lady MacBeth and then when Rick finally kills Shane, she acts offput? WTF?

    • I know. That felt really incongruous to me, too, unless the show’s trying to portray her conflicted feelings about Shane. If that’s the case I think they could have done so in a much less discombobulated way.

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