bill bodkin looks at the bloody second season…
In the most recent edition of Entertainment Weekly, the magazine’s editor-in-chief Jess Cagle, after extensively praising the show in his weekly letter-from-the-editor, asked a simple question — Is The Walking Dead the best thriller to ever air on television?
As the second season of the zombie drama faded to black, one would be hard pressed to make an argument against a ‘yes’ to Cagle’s question. There have been more white knuckle, sweat-inducing, nerve shredding moments in the 19 episode history of this show than most programs have in their entire run.
What’s been brilliant about the tension and ‘thrills’ on The Walking Dead is quite simple — death is around every corner and it’s not just from zombies — it’s from the elements and it’s from humans too. And that’s how The Walking Dead is going to last as a series — this isn’t just a show about zombies, it’s about survival, about the human drama. And while this was touched upon in the first season of the show, in the second season it was brought to the forefront.
And this amping up of the human element of the zombie apocalypse is where the second season of the show drew its most criticism. People wanted blood, guts and zombies — that’s the big selling point of the series, right? But honestly, could this show really last if there was no element of drama outside of just killing zombies? The answer, to me, is no. The show would get old fast, audiences would become numb to the slaughter, the carnage and gore. What the show did in its first half — developing the drama between zombie attacks was the right move and it was executed solidly, but not perfectly.
The criticism the show drew during the first half of this season was completely justified. There was one too many episodes of ‘drama on the farm.’ And I think if one episode had been trimmed off of this season, one less ‘Let’s look for Sophia and not find her, Carl’s still laid up, people are hanging out on the farm, Herschel’s all worried’ episodes, the show would’ve benefitted from it. The first half of this season, got stuck in one gear, but luckily that all changed when Rick Grimes had to make the ultimate decision — shooting the zombified Sophia.
And this moments, warrants me to complicate Jess Cagle’s question with this statement — The Walking Dead might take the most risks out of any show I’ve ever seen.
Think about it, they pumped the brakes on the show’s main selling point in order to develop the human aspect of the show; a move that could’ve (and might’ve) cost them viewers. They killed not one, but two major characters in the span of two weeks. Either death would’ve been perfect season-enders, but instead they opted to make them dramatic stops on the road. This move is always risky — just look at Boardwalk Empire, they killed major characters in their second season and both critics and audience members are pronouncing the show ‘finished’ already. And then they killed a child not once, but twice (Sofia killed offscreen as a zombie and then killed as a zombie by Rick) then took the risk of nearly killing another child — something, not shown onscreen and usually reserved for procedural crime dramas.
They also tackled broad themes like faith (both in God and man), fidelity, loyalty, democracy and whether a pregnant woman should keep her child during the most extreme of world conditions. All of these issues could’ve been handled with such heavy hands, instead it was handled with the same tense, dramatic strokes the zombie invasions and killings were dealt with.
Then came the second half of the season, where the show’s creative foot was taken off the brake and slammed with all its might on the gas. Everything was given an adrenaline shot to the heart proving that the sometimes frustrating first half of the season was all a set-up for the full tilt adrenaline rush that was the second half of the season.
Blood was spilled by the bucketful, bullets flew with the greatest of ease and a lot of people both living and dead bit the big one. The gory, gun-filled season finale was one of the best episodes of the series in terms of action. Not since Rick rode into Atlanta and was stuck in the tank have we seen so many walkers. It was just really exciting TV to watch the siege on the farm.
The end of the finale, with the reveal of the truth about the walkers and how people can become one, the new hooded sword carrying character, Rick’s rage-fueled final speech and the closing shot of what looks like a prison (and a possible piece of heaven but most likely hell for our heroes), we’re left in a position that we should be in — with more tantalizing questions than answers.
So as Season 2 has concluded, we now begin the wait for the fall return of the series and for the time being, we can now walk by ourselves at night without wondering if a walker is coming for us.
All Photos Credit: AMC