So, I know that folks are getting wound up for the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead S03 – parenthetically, the most successful cable series ever – and here I am still playing catch up with S01 and S02, but please bear with me. My review and critique of S03 will be just that much more interesting with S01 and S02 so flesh, I mean fresh, in my mind. Is zombie humor off limits for a post about the zombie apocalypse? Hmm, gotta think about that a bit. In any case, I am pretty glad I stuck it out with the show. But, let’s look a little deeper, shall we? WARNING: Since this Season is long gone and many are already deep into Season 3, there will be spoilers here about S02 for those that haven’t watched it yet – you can skip to the end for just my conclusions if you like.
Season 2 starts off with the flight of Rick Grimes Clan from the CDC in Atlanta (by the way, who else agrees that the Grimes gang arriving to the CDC (the only visits poor Jenner had after the “catastrophe” and the subsequent self-destruction 24h later was not a coincidence of the “jump the shark” variety?), strands them on a zombie-ridden highway, loses another character or two, and then spends the rest of the episodes on new character Herschel’s farm. I nearly gave up (again) on Walking Dead because the first few episodes dragged on, but things picked up about episode 4 or so. There were loads of flashbacks that attempted to fill in some backstory and draw the major characters a little clearer – particularly Rick, Lori, and the ill-fated Shane. Over at the farm, Rick basically blows everything due to a domino effect: going after Herschel which ends up in the murder of two humans, the capture of sleaze-ball Randall, the abortive abandonment of the same, the debate back at the farm as to his fate, and ultimately, Shane’s betrayal and fateful, unsuccessful attempt on Rick’s life. There were moments of high suspense for sure – the zombie herds were really cool (how much do the extras get paid for those stints or are they just so thrilled with the awesome makeup that they do it for free?) because they were so huge – there must have been 100s of day actors and a whole army of makeup artists. Also, it doesn’t seem that any two walkers (to use the term from Rick’s group as opposed to Randall’s “lame brains” – actually, isn’t it funny that no one on the show actually uses the word “zombie”, are they afraid of self-parody or perhaps the writers have a running bet on how many episodes they can go without using that word?) ever look the same which is also impressive. There is loads of gore: I think the most grotesque and at the same time realistic one was the death of Dale with his guts all over the place. I think the writing actually improved over the length of the season as did the editing. The last few episodes were technically (and theatrically) superior to anything I have seen in the show so far. The music also improved towards the end where they used some good indy cuts to end the episodes. There was still the annoying brooding music giving away some forthcoming dramatic scene, but perhaps I zoned it out. I think the overhead shots of the funeral of Dale were very good and worthy of some of my other favorite shows. And then, the zombie attack on the farm to end the season was fun and apocalyptic.
As for the characters, I am sorry to see Shane leave the cast, but then having read the first comic book, he overstayed his welcome according to the original story where the Rick-Shane conflict happened in the woods near the S01 campsite. I think Jon Bernthal did an excellent acting job as Shane. Actually, it was nice hearing a real southern accent in this show from nearly all the characters (it kinda warmed the ex-pat heart of this Miami boy). I have a hard time with the Rick character because he is so all over the map and such a lunatic in his own way. Now that he has declared a dictatorship around the final campfire in S02E13, I wonder how far the group will follow him now – knowing the secrets he kept from him and how he premeditated the killing of Shane (albeit in self-defence). The Lori character is pretty one-dimensional as the estranged wife. Actually, that is the one beef I have with the show – besides Rick, Shaun, and to a lesser degree Glenn and Herschel, they all rest underdeveloped and one dimensional as well. They did do the Chupacabra episode which helped us understand Daryl better (and it was fun seeing his total racist, ass-kicker brother Merle back ever so briefly) but even his character seemed to be in contradiction with itself. His relationship with Carol (completely and utterly one-dimensional unfortunately because I sense some lost potential there) doesn’t seem very realistic, too hot and cold I think. OK, one sappy love story between Glenn and Maggie is probably enough for a zombie show, but poor Carol needs a break. The biggest disappointment character-wise is T-Dog. It almost feels racist that we see nothing of him at all other then running chores and occasionally shooting zombies. There has got to be something they can do to fill him out a bit more. Then, there were the Patricia and Jimmy characters on the farm that should really may have just worn the famous red shirts from Star Trek because it was SO obvious that they were gonna be zombie food before it was all over. Let me at least throw the writers one bone with my one “catch” – the “don’t come back in this house” that Maggie throws at Angela after Beth’s unsuccessful suicide attempt becomes prophetic of her ultimate separation from the group after the zombie attack. Great job on that one. I also loved the hooded mystery figure with the two walkers on chains that helps Angela, but am pretty sure that it will lead to some horrors in S03 for her and others.
Overall, the show succeeds in special effects and in building unbearable suspense. How the show works without the Rick-Shane dynamic and with the internal dissention will be interesting to watch. It missed on character development and the occasional shark-jumping. My next goal is to catch the 7 episodes of S03 I have missed so far and hopefully be caught up by E08.