Warning: This review contains mountains of spoilery spoilers for seasons 1 and 2 of The Walking Dead, as well as the graphic novels that serve as source material for the series.
[Comic from rockpapercynic.com]
Before I begin, I just want to note how exhausting it was writing this extremely long review. Having reviewed the entire first season of The Walking Dead on an episode-by-episode basis, I wanted to make sure that my look back on season two of the series gave my full thoughts on things, and that no stone was left unturned when it came to my opinions of where the show has gone since its inception. It wasn’t easy. The Walking Dead’s second season actually reminded me of the second season of Heroes. After setting things up amazingly in a killer first season, both shows fell flat when they tried to deliver similar magic with their second seasons. There were the odd fun moments, but the majority of the episodes felt a bit…tedious. Let’s get right into it…
I’m a very, very big fan of Robert Kirkman’s series of graphic novels titled The Walking Dead. I discovered the series about five years ago and made my way through most of them in short time. To me, The Walking Dead comics are some of the best zombie fiction ever written, paying homage to the tropes of the zombie genre that fans love while simultaneously putting a new spin on things. I frequently liken the graphic novels to the book Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, but with zombies added in for extra flavor. These books are meditations on the nature of humanity, great zombie stories packed with guts and gore, and character studies where we get to see normal people pushed to the brink in an apocalyptic near future where the dead walk the earth. When a television adaptation of the series was announced, I was thrilled – the casting seemed perfect, the makeup effects were awesome, Kirkman was involved in a big way, and the whole endeavor was being helmed by Frank Darabont, who, according to IMDb, directed the best movie of all time. There was no way the series could lose, and even though the show strayed pretty far from its source material sometimes, the first season of The Walking Dead was terrific fun. I enjoyed it so much that I even gave the later episodes involving the Center for Disease Control (a plotline that was nowhere to be seen in the graphic novels) 5 out of 5, despite the fact that they just weren’t as strong as the first few. Things were very promising for this show indeed.
But then, following the conclusion of The Walking Dead’s all-too-short first season, things started to go awry behind the scenes, to the point where fans like myself became skeptical that the series would be able to maintain its high quality of entertainment in the face of large budget cuts and showrunner Frank Darabont’s dismissal. The promotional clips for the second season were promising, but I had this bad feeling in my gut that we were going to see the show stumble, and maybe even fall. Sadly, I think that was the case. Over the course of season 2, I found myself with a myriad of complaints, to the point where I didn’t feel like I even had that much to say about the show. I stopped reviewing the show on an episode-by-episode basis because there were a large number of episodes where nothing important or consequential happened! The Walking Dead stopped being Heart of Darkness with zombies and instead changed into Melrose Place with zombies.
I’m going to do a brief review of each episode in season 2 of The Walking Dead here, but first I’d like to tackle some of the more general problems that the series has developed, the biggest of which is the characters.
Now, I don’t have a problem with all of the characters, nor do I have a problem with the fact that the show has a different group of survivors than the comic books (with a number of exceptions, of course). It’s the way some of the characters are being written and developed that bothers me. In the first season of the show, we got glimpses into the lives of the characters, but since that season was only six episodes long and was mostly focused on the characters just trying to survive the undead onslaught, we didn’t get too much insight into the characters’ personalities or back stories.It wasn’t a problem at the time because TV shows usually take several seasons to allow the viewer to get to know all the characters, and the zombie action was so thrilling that it didn’t matter. Second season slowed everything down by having the characters find a farm and then spend 13 episodes there, away from the zombies, away from the rest of the world, completely isolated and with very little threat to their lives.To me, setting the show primarily on the farm was an obvious way that the new showrunner Glen Mazzara was cutting corners to meet AMC’s enforced budget slashes. While we’re on the subject – that farm was apparently within walking distance of a freeway, where our heroes had last encountered an enormous horde of zombies. How is this place safe and largely unaffected by the apocalypse that is happening all around it?
Anyway, by setting the show in a place that’s safe and isolated, away from the threat of the zombies, the focus of the series was put directly on the characters within the group of survivors. This would have been a good thing had they not turned out to all be completely one-note! Shane (who had died long before this point in the comic series) was turned into a mouth-breathing asshole whose only purpose was to serve as the show’s primary antagonist (instead of the zombies). Dale (who had an unusual and nuanced relationship with the character of Andrea in the comics) was just there to serve as the show’s moral compass, and basically all he did all season was berate the group every time they had to make a tough decision, pleading to what was left of their humanity. Note that these two characters were killed off by the end of the season.
Andrea wanted to become a tough chick who could fend for herself…so she did, and that’s it. Carol spent most of the season crying. Though perhaps the biggest crime the series committed was making Carl Grimes into a similarly one-note character to the others I’ve just listed. In the comics, Carl killed Shane when Shane wasn’t a zombie. It was a pretty big moment for the character, and one that I really wish they had kept in the show. But in the show’s second season, Carl is at first totally absent, since he’s passed out due to a gunshot wound, and when he wakes up (healing alarmingly quickly), he’s just jaded and won’t listen to anything anyone tells him to do, just walking off stupidly every chance he gets without telling anybody where he’s going…or that he’s leaving at all! It got to the point where the phrase “Where’s Carl?” became a joke.
This isn’t to say that all of the characters were poorly handled in season 2. I found Glenn’s relationship with Maggie the farm girl to be cute and a well-executed high note in a show with a decidedly grim setting, providing much-needed levity at many points. Hershel’s denial and eventual acceptance of the hopelessness of a world populated by zombies wasn’t anything new, but at least it had an arc. Daryl – still the best character on the show – was competent, kicked a lot of ass, and seemed to be the only person with any kind of skill or common sense. Then there’s Lori…and, well, I think she deserves her own paragraph.
In season 2 of The Walking Dead, Lori Grimes joined the ranks of AMC’s roster of annoying wife characters. For some reason, all the big AMC shows have a character like this, and it’s always the protagonist’s wife. There’s Betty Draper on Mad Men, Skyler White on Breaking Bad…and now Lori. This annoying wife character template is the same every time: the character is morally righteous but makes terrible decisions, doesn’t care about her kids the way their father does, and tends to have conflicts that involve her getting involved with other men (justifiably or not). This character also loves to strongarm her husband into acting out her bad decisions for her so that she can later hold his actions against him, and one of the biggest “WTF?!!” moments of The Walking Dead season 2 for me was when Rick confesses that he killed Shane to protect his family and Lori brow-beats the hell out of him for it…when, a few episodes prior, she had explicitly said that if Shane was threatening the Grimes family, Rick should kill him.
Other stupid Lori moments from the season include her complete inability to keep an eye on her son, who, as we’ve established, doesn’t listen to anyone and wanders off at a moment’s notice, seemingly oblivious to the perpetual threat of being eaten alive, and her pointless excursion to see why Rick was late in returning from a trip into a nearby town, which she executes with reckless abandon, taking a car and leaving the farm all by herself (I guess this sort of thing runs in the family). Of course, she hits literally the only zombie for miles around, flips the car, and then heads back to the farm. There was no point to any of it, and boy did it piss me off.
Speaking of the zombies (you know, the titular walking dead?), there was a significant dearth of them in season 2. I understand that AMC’s budget cuts to the show made a reduction in the number of zombies necessary, but c’mon, the series is called The Walking Dead not The Standing Around and Arguing Living. Sadly, about half of the episodes of the season only featured a single zombie, and what’s more, many of these zombies were killed before the opening credits began. Thankfully there were a couple of solid zombie-centric episodes (more on them later) to make up for the lack of zombies elsewhere, but to a zombie fan like me, fewer zombies equals less entertainment.Now back to the characters.
Rick Grimes isn’t a bad character, in my opinion, but I feel like the writers have stuck him in a position that never seems to work out: that of the leader character. We’ve seen this kind of responsible leader character in all kinds of properties, and while he’s not a bad character, he never seems to pan out or become a fan favorite. Another example of this character from a popular TV show is Jack from Lost. Their entire schtick is making decisions for the group, then seeing those decisions through. They struggle from time to time with the burden of having to lead a group of misfits, and often the people they lead complain about their leader even though they basically nominated him based on a position of authority that the character held before the inciting incident of the series. They’re soap opera characters – in Jack’s case, the doctor with daddy issues, in Rick’s case, the faithful husband and father who awakens from a coma to find that things have changed with his family in his absence. Thankfully, though, Rick did have some pretty cool moments in season 2, like blowing away two thugs at an abandoned pub (even though he would struggle with killing another one of the thug’s buddies only one episode later, for some reason), the aforementioned slaying of Shane, and a great rant at the end where he throws all the criticisms of the rest of the group in their faces, saying that they nominated him leader, so if that’s what they want then they need to stop fighting him on every call he makes. Much like Jack from Lost, and other leader characters like Cyclops from X-Men or Leonardo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I don’t hate Rick, but he’s not my favorite character either. I guess leader characters just don’t resonate with me…maybe because I’m so irresponsible.
So those are my lengthy thoughts on the characters of The Walking Dead as of the end of season 2. I realize now that I left out all discussion of characters like T-Dog, Otis, Patricia, Beth, Jimmy or…aw heck – none of them did anything important or significant this season. It’s like they weren’t even present, and in the case of Otis, Patricia, Beth, and Jimmy, they were clearly only included so that the zombies would have people to go after who could be easily killed off if the writers wanted.Time to get into the individual episode reviews!
Episode 201 – What Lies Ahead
Season 1 ended with our heroes on the road, heading to Fort Bening after escaping the CDC and the zombie-infested streets of Atlanta. It was a strong finish to the short first season, and the second season opened with a similarly strong episode, wherein the group suddenly discovers that traveling won’t be easy as they come upon a long stretch of highway flooded with abandoned cars. The RV breaks down, so the survivors spread out to find supplies…and this is where the stupidity of the characters started. One of the big problems I had with the characters in season 2 is that everybody seemed to have forgotten that they’re in an apocalyptic scenario that makes resources like gas, bullets, food, and water scarce. You should use everything sparingly in this kind of situation, but for some reason, nobody is interested in conserving their supplies. As the characters hunt through the abandoned cars, Shane discovers a huge supply of bottled water…and proceeds to dump some all over his head.I forgave this moment of idiocy, even though it should have tipped me off to the abundance of stupidity to come, because it was followed up with an awesome and tense zombie sequence, wherein a horde of zombies shows up and the characters are forced to try and hide from them. It was terrific stuff, and definitely one of the season’s highlights for me. Unfortunately, though, another moment of stupidity was thrown into it when Andrea took apart her gun without knowing how to put it back together, and suddenly was being menaced by zombies. Why would anyone do this? There’s a time and a place to learn about how to assemble a gun, and on the highway in the middle of a zombie apocalypse isn’t it!
In the midst of the zombie sequence, Sophia, Carol’s daughter, ran off and Rick was forced to go find her. Soon the two of them were being chased through the woods by zombies, so Rick hid Sophia and drew the walkers away from her, but when he returned to her hiding spot, she was gone. At the time, I had no idea that the next five episodes would be dedicated to the “let’s find Sophia” story arc, so this only bothered me in that Sophia must have been really, really dumb not to listen to Rick.
Everyone split into search parties to look for Sophia, finding a church full of zombies in the process (cool), but then things took a turn for the worst when Carl was shot through the stomach while admiring a deer! Oh no!
Overall, this episode was a pretty good one, certainly one of the better episodes of the season, but looking back on it, the seeds of annoying plotlines and character problems were clearly already being planted.But that zombie sequence is still loads of fun.
4.5 out of 5
Episode 202 – Bloodletting
This episode starts off with Rick and his recently shot son being led to a farm house by the character of Otis. There, they meet Hershel the country vet who agrees to help stitch up Carl’s wound. Shane agreed to go with Otis to the local high school for medical supplies from a FEMA shelter that had set up there before the shit hit the fan – and they wind up trapped there for most of the rest of the episode. Everyone else was still searching for Sophia at this point, so Maggie, Hershel’s daughter, rode out on horseback to get them and bring them back to the farm house. Meanwhile, Rick and Hershel had a long discussion about zombies, life, the farm, and a bunch of other stuff. And that’s really all there was to this episode. This was definitely when I started questioning the direction that the show was headed in.
3 out of 5
Episode 203 – Save the Last One
Carl is out cold. Rick spends this whole episode by the side of Carl’s bed talking to Lori. Shane and Otis fight off zombies at the high school, only to have Shane shoot Otis in the leg so he could make his escape from the horde. Everyone else spends the episode looking for Sophia out in the forest. And that’s basically it. This episode kicked off a series of existential episodes of The Walking Dead, where most of the action was based around the characters talking to each other about whether or not life is worth living in a world full of the undead. I really didn’t care for this episode or the other episodes similar to it that followed, but it wasn’t without its fun stuff: Shane shooting Otis was hardcore, even though it didn’t necessarily make a ton of sense (why kill off a guy with a gun who’s on your side? Or, if you’re going to kill him, why not do it after he’s helped you some more?), and the zombie that Daryl and Andrea find – of a man who hung himself after being infected – made for a good scene. But the lack of overall plot drive in this episode started to make the show feel a lot more like a soap opera. Not a good thing, in my opinion.
3 out of 5
Episode 204 – Cherokee Rose
This will seem familiar by now, but the main things that happen in this episode are as follows: lots of interpersonal drama, a zombie encounter that has no consequences, Daryl searches for Sophia some more, and Rick and Hershel have an existential discussion about religion and its place in the world of the undead. Forward momentum has slowed to a crawl in the plot department.
A whole lot of the episode – I’d say the majority, even – is dedicated to a plotline wherein some of the survivors discover a zombie down one of the wells on the farm. They can’t shoot it because it would “contaminate the water” (Hey guys! That water’s probably already contaminated!), so they decide instead to lower Glenn into the well with a rope to hook the zombie around the neck in order to pull it out. What could possibly go wrong? Glenn almost gets bitten, and when they haul the zombie out, it rips in two and the water gets contaminated anyway. Seriously, they spend most of the episode on this exercise in futility. The dumbest part of the whole thing isn’t even that the water was obviously already contaminated from having a zombie splashing around it, but that they had already established that there are multiple wells on the property! There was no point in trying to salvage this one, especially at the risk of killing one of their own.
There were a couple of things of note in this episode, but again, overall I found myself kinda bored. Lori discovered that she was pregnant, Maggie and Glenn hooked up, and Daryl found a flower that bore personal significance to him. But he still didn’t find Sophia.
2 out of 5
Episode 205 – Chupacabra
Another slow and ponderous episode here, but at least this one focused on my favorite character: Daryl Dixon, played by Norman Reedus. As I said before, Daryl kicks all kinds of ass. He uses a crossbow, drives a mean looking bike (albeit a loud one…but oddly, it doesn’t seem to be the zombie magnet that it really ought to be), and appears to be the only character on the show with any useful skills or common sense. He can track, he can hunt – if there’s one character on the show who knows how to survive the zombie apocalypse, it’s him. In this episode, Daryl is still out hunting for Sophia (who has been missing for almost half of the entire series at this point in the run) when he falls off a cliff and lands on one of his arrows, spearing him through the leg. Wounded, far from the farm, and in a zombie-infested forest, Daryl struggles to make his way back to the others, when he suddenly begins to hallucinate that his brother Merle (Michael Rooker – read about my thoughts on the character by clicking here) is everywhere around him and trying to coax him to turn against the group.
Merle was one of the biggest loose ends left in season 1. They kept implying that he was going to come back – he had cut off his hand to escape the zombies, and then he stole a truck…maybe. We didn’t see him do it. But his presence was still felt in the episodes from that season where he didn’t appear. Now the showrunners have brought him back, in a sense, and it’s at least interesting to see how Daryl perceives his brother, as well as to be reminded of Daryl’s dark past.
Meanwhile, Shane gets mad at Rick because he thinks the search for Sophia is futile, and I could at least agree with him on that point. Hershel tells Maggie not to hook up with Glenn, but she decides to anyway. Unfortunately, Glenn wants to meet her in the hayloft of the barn, and discovers that the locked barn is full of zombies! It was a fun note to end the episode on, and while this was still a slow, ponderous “Search for Sophia” episode of The Walking Dead, the characters I enjoyed were at the center of it, so it wasn’t all bad.
3.5 out of 5
Episode 206 – Secrets
Ugh. This was one of the most soap-operatic episodes of the season. The bulk of the episode is spent on more interpersonal drama among the characters, who continue to be stupid in a way that I found not only unrealistic, but downright irritating.
Maggie begs Glenn not to tell anybody about the barn full of zombies. Glenn, having discovered Lori’s pregnancy when she asked him to bring her a pregnancy test from one of his many trips to a nearby town, is just about ready to burst because he can’t keep a secret to save his life, so he tells Dale about everything. Dale confronts both Hershel and Lori about their secrets, doing his casual-yet-pointed conversation thing, and both times he’s told to mind his own business. With the exception of the first sentence, this paragraph could easily be the plot synopsis for As the World Turns.
I’d like to pause here for a second and talk about the good and the bad of this section of the episode. As I mentioned before, I like Maggie and Glenn’s relationship well enough – it’s hard not to like Glenn’s wide-eyed enthusiasm and desire to appear tough, and it’s endearing to know that he can’t keep a secret. The barn full of zombies is a good ticking clock in the plot, because you know that it’s going to be opened eventually, and even Hershel’s justification for it – he thinks the zombies are just sick people who can be cured, and his wife and son are among the ones in the barn – is reasonable if a bit deluded. The bad stuff, though, is all the gossip and secrets, particularly surrounding Lori’s pregnancy! She doesn’t want to tell Rick, she doesn’t know who the father is…it’s the very stuff that daytime soaps are made of! Dale’s busy-bodying throughout this episode didn’t help things either, considering that Lori’s pregnancy has nothing to do with Dale at all. Unless it turns out he’s the father, which would at least be an unexpected twist.
Carl is up and about after his recovery from the gunshot wound that had him in a bed for the past four episodes. That’s right, after four episodes at death’s door, now he’s doing so well that he’s just walking around like nothing’s wrong. WTF?!! It makes absolutely no sense that he would recover so quickly, and since it feels like The Walking Dead TV series is going for a very realistic tone, this little piece of unrealistic healing sticks out like a sore thumb. Is Carl related to Wolverine?! The soap opera stuff with Lori’s pregnancy is annoying, but it didn’t break the laws that the world of the show established. This business with Carl healing incredibly fast not only breaks them, but breaks them so badly that it took me out of the show completely.
Things get dumber. Carl wants to learn how to shoot (not unreasonable, considering the state of the world), so Rick and Shane decide to teach everyone how to use a gun. The problem? They use bullets. Remember what I said about conserving resources? This episode is a prime example of how none of the characters care about their supplies. Not only do a bunch of people fire off useful ammunition at cans, but then Shane and Andrea go off together for an “advanced lesson” and waste even more ammo. Then Shane takes Andrea into a zombie-infested suburban home and they waste MORE ammo! Then Shane and Andrea have sex, Dale takes it upon himself to shake a finger at Shane, and again, no progress is made whatsoever.
Lori decides she wants to abort the pregnancy – which would be the smart thing to do, except she instantly decides against it after wolfing down a bunch of “abortion pills” which she had sent Glenn into town for yet again. She barfs up all the pills and instead tells Rick that she’s knocked up and that the baby might be Shane’s. Rick is his stoic self and accepts her decision to keep the kid. It’s yet another soap opera moment.
2 out of 5
Episode 207 – Pretty Much Dead Already
You might be starting to notice a pattern with this season of The Walking Dead as I describe the stuff that takes up most of this episode. Glenn tells the group about the barn full of zombies and everyone argues over what to do about it. Rick tells Shane about Lori’s pregnancy and they argue about it. Shane tells Rick that he thinks they should give up trying to find Sophia, and they argue about it. Rick tries to convince Hershel of the dangers inherent in keeping zombies in the barn, and they argue about it. It’s all a bunch of bad decisions and arguments! Keeping zombies in a barn next to the place where you live? Bad idea! Telling Shane that Lori is pregnant, therefore clueing him in to the possibility that the baby is his? Bad idea! It doesn’t take a genius to figure this stuff out.
Besides bad decisions and arguments, this episode did answer a question that had been bothering me since episode 2 of the season (albeit in an unsatisfying way):why weren’t there any zombies on the farm except the one in the well? It didn’t make any sense, given that the farm was in walking distance of a freeway that is apparently roamed by entire hordes of zombies, and also within driving distance of a small town full of zombies as well. The answer offered? There’s a swamp that borders part of the farm, and the zombies get stuck in it. Now, that would make sense if not for the fact that the farm obviously isn’t bordered by the swamp on all sides, and there’s a road that leads right up to it. Why no other zombies besides the ones caught in the swamp have turned up on the farm is never explained. Furthermore, how did that zombie get in the well anyway? It’s never touched upon.
The final scene of the episode is the only one worth watching. Shane, furious that Rick has decided to honor Hershel’s wishes in a bid to get him to allow the group to stay on the farm, opens the doors to the barn, and our heroes massacre every last zombie inside…the last one being Sophia!This made for an awesome ending to the episode, sure, but talk about annoying. By not having the group find Sophia, alive or dead, out in the forest, all the time spent on finding her (and we’re talking the majority of the series up until this point) was pointless. Rick being forced to shoot this season’s MacGuffin right in the head was a terrific moment of character drama, but again, looking back over the season up until this point, I feel like you could skip two if not three or four episodes and still get the same satisfaction. There are few things worse than a TV show that wastes the viewer’s time.
3.25 out of 5
Episode 208 – Nebraska
The second season of The Walking Dead had been a bit of a slog up until the zombie massacre that ended the last episode, and I had hoped that the fact that Sophia had not only been found, but shot right in the noggin, would mark the end of the down time for the season. This could have been the turning point for the season, after which everything was non-stop zombie action a bit more in keeping with the first season. But…that wasn’t the case.
This episode opened right where the last one left off. The last few zombies from the barn were killed, Hershel was stunned, Shane was still raging, Carol was weeping. It was sadly predictable, and everything went downhill from there. Hershel, pissed off at Shane and the rest of the group, moped off to the local bar to take up his drinking habit once again. Rick and Glenn went after him to try to persuade him to come back. One of Hershel’s kids – Beth – who basically didn’t have a name up until this episode, went into shock after the zombie massacre, causing Lori to want Rick and Glenn to hurry up. During this stretch (the bulk of the episode), most of the dialogue was centered on the subject of Sophia. Yep, even after she died, she still took up a lot of the show’s running time.
Something I found amusing here was that the writers decided to have Daryl Dixon act just as annoyed as the viewers. Lori asks him to go to town to get Rick, Glenn, and Hershel, to which Daryl replies “I was out there looking for that little girl every single day. I took an arrow and a bullet in the process. […] I’m done looking for people.” I feel your pain, Daryl. Unfortunately, this leads to Lori stealing one of the cars, driving to town by herself, hitting the only obstacle in a long and empty stretch of road (a single zombie), flipping the car and being knocked unconscious. Boy, did I want her to die in the process.
Again, the only part of the episode worth watching was the final moments. Rick and Glenn track Hershel to the bar where he’s drinking himself silly, and the trio are immediately set upon by a pair of goons who seem quite intent on killing Rick and company. Rick guns them both down like a badass, which might have been a great moment for the character if it hadn’t seemed to me to be rather out of character for Rick. We’ll come back to this, since the next few episodes prove my point.
At this point in the season, I really feel as though there’s no point to watching anything but the cold opening and the final scene of each episode. So much of the show’s running time is dedicated to fraught arguments and bickering, and frankly, I’ve come to wish that every character except Glenn and Daryl winds up getting eaten by the undead.
2 out of 5
Episode 209 – Triggerfinger
Darren Franich over at tvrecaps.ew.com makes an interesting point about the structure of The Walking Dead’s second season: “In the first seven episodes, there four major “events,” in : The loss of Sophia, the shooting of Carl, Shane’s sacrifice of Otis, and the barnyard massacre. Each of these events was followed, in turn, by a lengthy period of stasis, with the characters all suffering various levels of Post-Event Stress Syndrome, talking at length about what the event meant for them and for their perspective on the world. After Carl was shot, Rick and Lori debated the meaning of living in a world of zombies. Shane’s decision to shoot Otis sent him on a slow-burn descent into militarism. The loss of Sophia instigated an entire half-season of searching for Sophia; her death in the last episode led all the characters to debate the meaning of her death.”
See? I’m not the only person who sees the stupid up-and-down pattern of the show. I’m not saying that every episode has to be non-stop zombie killing, but at least have the characters talk about something new every once in a while. This season honestly feels to me like one long conversation about death, and if I wanted that, I’d visit my in-laws.
Lori wakes up in her car with a few zombies trying to break in and devour her. I really, really wish they had succeeded. Anyway, she kills the zombies, escapes the wrecked vehicle and….then Shane comes along, picks her up, and drives her back to the farm. That’s right, folks, there was no point to any of it, once again.
Meanwhile, zombies had started swarming the town, trapping Rick, Glenn, and Hershel in the bar. One of the recently-deceased goons’ allies falls off a roof and impales his leg on a wrought-iron fence post, and for some reason, Rick decides that they should take this random character back to the farm with them instead of letting him get eaten by zombies, so they wrench his leg free in a horribly painful-looking way and bring him along home.
So everyone returns to the farm with this new guy Randall in tow. By this point, Lori and Shane have argued some more over who loves Carl the most, Carl has suggested that Lori name her baby Sophia, Beth is in some kind of fake coma, Dale has run around pleading to everyone’s humanity, and Daryl has told everyone to shove it.
But the final moments of this episode are the lead-in to the biggest pisser of the series so far (for this writer, anyhow). Rick and Lori sit in their tent together, and Lori tells Rick that she thinks Shane killed Otis. “We need to talk about Shane. He thinks the baby’s his. He’s delusional. And he’s dangerous.” She then points out that Rick killed the two goons in the bar to protect his family, and basically says that he’ll have to do the same to Shane if Shane gets hostile. At the time, I thought this was a good set up to Shane’s eventual death, but later, this moment would come to annoy me more than anything else I’ve ranted about here.
2.5 out of 5
Episode 210 – 18 Miles Out
It’s another episode full of arguing and people leaving the farm…only to come back, having accomplished nothing! The bulk of episode 10 of season 2 is dedicated to Rick and Shane deciding that oh, bringing Randall back to the farm wasn’t such a good idea after all, and that in order to protect the group, they’re going to drive Randall far away from the farm and leave him there to fend for himself. Remember that advanced healing the Carl underwent following his gunshot wound? I think Randall must also be related to Wolverine, because he doesn’t seem to be in much pain, considering how badly his leg was injured only one episode ago.
So here’s how this episode plays out: Rick and Shane are driving and arguing. Then they stop, get out of the car, and argue some more. Then they get back in the car, drive to a school, pull Randall out, and decide to leave him there. Except then they argue some more and get into a fist fight, followed by them promptly being beset upon by a horde of zombies. They fight the zombies, Rick saves Shane and Randall (why?), and they go back to the farm! What’s more, on the way back, Shane and Rick agree that they’ll need to kill Randall to keep everybody on the farm safe from marauders. So WHY DID THEY SAVE HIM FROM THE ZOMBIES?! The stupidity is reaching critical mass!
While all of these pointless shenanigans are going on, Beth has come to, but is struggling with contemplating suicide. Andrea, having struggled with suicidal tendencies herself, talks to Beth and Beth decides to live. Yeah, it was an awful lot of time to dedicate to a character that barely existed before two episodes ago and has spent most of her screen time out cold.
2 out of 5
Episode 211 – Judge, Jury, Executioner
At this point, Rick and company have saved Randall and brought him to the farm, then driven him out into the middle of nowhere, then decided to kill him, then saved him and brought him to the farm, and have once again decided to kill him. What a waste of time! I’m not even going to bother doing a point-by-point nitpick of this episode because it is simply too annoying. Most of its running time is dedicated to Dale pleading to everybody, everybody (well, except T-Dog) to choose humanity and not kill their captive. As this is going on, Carl steals a gun from Daryl’s motorbike and then wanders off alone YET AGAIN, this time to taunt a zombie who is stuck in the swamp that apparently traps all the zombies who would overrun the farm. The only consequence to either of these “plotlines” is that we become so irritated by Dale that we don’t care when the walker Carl was poking at frees itself and eats Dale’s guts.
1.5 out of 5
Episode 212 – Better Angels
As the season begins to draw to a close, things finally start to pick up a bit in this episode. After a few meaningful conversations – first Lori foolishly admits to Shane that she doesn’t know if the baby is Rick’s or his, then Rick and Carl wax philosophical about death – the major plotline of Shane’s insane jealousy of Rick at last gets its resolution.
When no one is looking, Shane leads Randall out into the forest and snaps his neck, then returns to the farm and pretends that Randall jumped him and escape. Rick, Shane, Daryl, and Glenn take off after him, splitting into pairs, and of course Rick gets paired up with Shane as they hunt for the escapee. Shane proceeds to lead Rick far away from the others in order to kill him, and there’s a dramatic standoff between the two men that was actually pretty satisfying considering how long the Lori-Shane-Rick love triangle has been going on. Ultimately, Rick kills Shane, but when he gets to his feet he finds that Carl has seen everything…that’s right, he wandered off again. As Gabe from io9 says, “This is also when they reveal to us that the field where Shane complicatedly lured Grimes was, like, 10 feet away from the farmhouse the whole time!!!!” This revelation kinda killed the drama for me.
Carl draws his pistol, and for a moment it seems like he’s threatening Rick, but he’s actually aiming at Zombie Shane, who is stalking up on them! A few shots later, and Zombie Shane is dead again. Rick and Carl head back towards the farmhouse (not a long walk, from the look of things), but as they leave, we see a veritable army of the undead shamble out of the forest following the sound of the gun. I’ll admit, when I saw this it seemed a bit random to have a horde of zombies just walk out of the forest as though they had been there the whole time, especially considering how few zombies we’ve seen near the farm over the course of the season. Luckily, the following episode turns this little twist into one of my favourite moments of the season, so the episode gets a pass overall, and I’d even rank it as one of the better ones of the season, even if it gets a little silly at times.
3.5 out of 5
Episode 213 – Beside the Dying Fire
Oh thank goodness – we’ve finally arrived at the finale, and it’s mercifully full of zombie action. The cold open for this episode may well be my favourite moment of the entire run of The Walking Dead so far, and it’s all because the focus of the show is put entirely on the zombies for a bit. We watch as a pack of them mindlessly follows a helicopter, collecting more zombies as they wander aimlessly. Eventually a horde of walkers has amassed, and when they find their way blocked by a wooden fence, they just pile up more and more until the fence gives way to their numbers. The sequence concludes with a gunshot attracting the attention of the horde, and they all trek out of the woods towards Rick and Carl headed back to the farmhouse, and completely succeeded in reigniting my excitement for the show. Sadly, I don’t feel like the episode completely maintained it, but this moment was almost, almost worth the tedious episodes in the middle of the season. But not quite.
As the zombie horde heads towards the farmhouse, Lori realizes that Carl has wandered off and once again begins calling out “Where’s Carl?!” as everyone scrambles to escape. The ensuing battle with and flight from the undead was pretty thrilling, even if only the obvious fodder characters bite it – Beth the suicide girl, Hershel’s wife, his son (I think)…no one important. Andrea has gotten separated from the group and finds herself running through the woods alone as the others regroup at the spot on the highway where they stopped at the beginning of the season.
The gang, now short Andrea and some red shirts, but with Hershel and Maggie in tow, decide to drive as far as they can before they run out of fuel…which they do. As they sit around a campfire by the side of the road the following evening, Rick finally blows his stack as they bicker about his leadership skills. He essentially tells them that they put him in the leader role, and if they want him in that role, then they need to start trusting in his decisions. It was another satisfying moment, I found, since the group has always given Rick a bit of a hard time, even though he never asked to be made leader.
The episode and the season conclude on a bit tease for fans of the comics, giving us a glimpse of a prison in the near distance (which leads to some awesome plot arcs in the graphics novels), and a look at a fan-favourite character from the comics: Michonne. Being that I love the comics of The Walking Dead, both of these moments made me very happy indeed, but in the back of my brain, I couldn’t help but think that the latter didn’t work. By this point, the TV series had firmly rooted itself in…well, more of a reality than the comics. A character like Michonne, with her sword and zombies-on-leashes, just doesn’t really fit with what has been established. It was still a fun end to the season, and a massive improvement over the dull mid-season episodes, but was it enough to save my interest in the show?
4 out of 5
I guess. It kept me interested enough to give The Walking Dead’s third season a chance, but I can’t say as I have high hopes for it. I feel like the showrunners have taken something that was already perfect (the comic book source material) and somehow bungled it. It’s not terrible – not most of the time, anyway – but it’s far from what I expected given the power of the graphic novels, and I think I know why.
When I reviewed season one of The Walking Dead, I complained that with only six episodes in the season, I didn’t get nearly enough of the show. However, looking at a thirteen-episode season done on a similar budget, I feel as though there were only around six or seven good episodes anyway. You can tell by the way that many episodes didn’t feature zombies and were set entirely on the farm that the show’s creators were trying to save a buck by using what they already had – the cast and the farmhouse. Every episode in season one moved things forward, since one wants to stay moving during the zombie apocalypse. Things in season two slowed to a crawl, but had the season only consisted of maybe episodes 201, 202, 203, 207, 208, 209, 212, and 213, I would still have glowing opinions of it. The season just felt far too padded overall, and as a result, I found myself far less invested by its conclusion. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what season three holds! But I think it’s safe to say at this point that I won’t be reviewing each episode as it comes out.
[“Walking Dead Logic” images from 9gag, io9, and around the web]