[Spoilers for season two, informed speculation on season three]
Season two of The Walking Dead returned from its mid-season break and quickly got on my goddam nerves. The season’s first half had ended on a high; the barn sequence dispensed with plot points which restricted the show’s motion. No more hunting for Sophia, no more rounding up zombies. The show was free and ready to push forward.
Or so it seemed.
It quickly returned to the Rick/Lori/Shane love-triangle, which ran out of steam eons ago. There’s a baby of unknown origin in the mix now but this was still the same I love you and can protect you, he can’t’ schtick Shane has been spouting since season one. It needed to end. Give the show credit for killing off a major character, even if he was long past his expiry date. Shane had to go, but now the show is missing my favourite player. With no interesting characters to pull for I may have a problem finding interest in season three.
There was no subtlety to Shane’s character. He was always angry and frustrated over Lori’s refusal to accept him, and over Rick’s strategy for protecting the group. And that was all. But Jon Berthnal’s glowering intensity made Shane the most watchable person in the show. I’ll miss the way Shane wouldn’t make eye contact with someone until he finished criticising them. Some intimidation, a verbal pantsing, followed with a smug grin. The rest of the group spent their time trying to escape the world, Shane wanted to punch it. He was a bad-ass, self-sufficient man’s man, and he’ll be sorely missed.
Shane finally deciding to kill Rick was unconvincing because he’d been boiling over for so long. He’d been 99% crazy for ages, so the show struggled to convince us he’d finally taken that extra step. We were supposed to see the drawn-out Randall decision and Dale’s death as the triggers, but I didn’t buy it.
Otherwise, the show finished well. Though the reverse structure of the episode seemed strange (fighting zombies, then some chatting) the show didn’t suffer for it. The farm attack was great fun, giving an open space a horrible sense of chaos and claustrophobia. For all we’ve seen of zombies being gunned down this reminded us how powerful they are in numbers. The immersion level was tainted by how handy everyone suddenly was with a firearm (Glenn pulling off headshots with a shotgun while hanging out the window of a moving car? Please) but besides that there were no problems.
For all the issues I’ve had with the farm, the show uses those surroundings well. Lonely, eerie fields, long shadows and low moons were all used to good effect. From the spinning camerawork and final overhead shot of the barn cull to the isolation of Rick and Shane’s final tete-a-tete, the show has been visually tremendous at times. The visual of Hershel gunning down zombies while silhouetted by a burning barn will be fondly remembered.
If I understood the flashback correctly, the zombies had followed the helicopter (perhaps the same one we saw in season one?); their numbers increasing as others joined the crowd en route. They may have bypassed the farm if not for hearing Carl’s gunshot. I like entertaining the idea that the farm was an island in a tide of zombies; that the whole time the survivors were there hundreds of walkers could have passed by, both parties oblivious to each other. In an alternate Walking Dead universe Rick stabs Shane in the head. No zombie Shane, ergo no bullet to attract the horde. Carl and Rick walk away, clueless to the walkers shuffling by.
There was speculation about changes in the zombies; that they were reasons behind them moving. It would be interesting to find that there’s something drawing them in one particular direction. Imagine if all the walking that the walkers do in the Walking Dead is for a purpose other than munching brains.
A few episodes before the finale I made my prediction of who would die: Hershel, T-Dog, Dale, Carol and one of Herschel’s daughters (I didn’t care which one). When the finale’s opening scene showed Jimmy (whose name I didn’t know until later), I added him too. Glenn was the moral voice in a discussion about Randall, so I expected him to die before the end. I’m surprised that the others on my list are still around. Hershel had been preparing for death since the barn execution. I don’t know if he can take much more trauma. He had to be dragged away from the farm as zombies neared; it certainly looked like he’d accepted his fate. Carol, similarly, has shown little urge to continue since the Sophia reveal and has little to do on the show. T-Dog is the ultimate scenery chewer. Why am I even here? he asks in a fictional existential crisis, and we sadly shrug. Besides Maggie, Hershel’s family are blank slates. During the farm attack I was thinking “One of Hershel’s is going to die”, “Sophia’s mum is going down”. All the time spent with these characters around and I couldn’t even quickly remember their names. I was saddened to see so many of them escape the farm. I hope for a cull in season three.
The reveals for season three both look interesting. Through detailed and painstaking research I’ve discovered that the character with the armless zombie pets is called Michonne. Her intro was great, though I’ve yet to ascertain the point of her zombies. The show hasn’t really explored the type of people that would crop up after the world turns to shit, with the exception of the uninspired ‘group of criminals’. I know nothing of Michonne but I hope she’s more than a killing machine. Her appearance suggests she may take some religious or ceremonial satisfaction from killing zombies. A zombie outbreak may cause many to lose their beliefs in a god, but maybe replacement religions would crop up in their place.
I already knew that a prison would be involved at some point so I’m glad it looks set to come soon. The farm was never really that safe – one person on watch, no way of seeing at night – so a walled-off area would be far better. The problem with being somewhere with only one way in, of course, is that there’s only one way out.
Many Walking Dead fans – including me – want the show to do something dangerously close to dumbing down: give us more zombies, less character scenes. We’re essentially asking for a less intelligent show, but not for anti-intellectual reasons. The show does action so well but generally does character badly. As well as the many forgettable characters, Lori is annoying, Rick hasn’t changed much, Hershel is dull. Maybe this will be remedied in season three. The show has only had 19 episodes and had to deal with showrunner Frank Darabont leaving. But if the character work doesn’t improve – and T-Dog, Carol etc continue to do little but chew scenery – the show would have to ramp up the action to remain entertaining. Walking Dead is pulling in viewers regardless just now (cos, you know, zombies). But to continue as a fun show we need well-rounded characters, or we need more zombie faces getting shot off. The farm bogged down the show, and whether that was due to budget reasons or not, another drawn-out setting could be enough for me to give it up.
Would Walking Dead benefit from showing us a fresh group of survivors? Imagine the show killed off a few of the cast and instead we started to see another, similar group, following roughly behind Rick’s people. Maybe this isolated viewpoint helps develop a sense of Rick’s peeps against the world. But we’re soon to see how Andrea and Michonne get on. I wouldn’t be hugely surprised to see a few groups of survivors in a few season’s time.
And where in the f*ck is Michael Rooker? Every time a gang is mentioned, I expected him to be the leader. Could he be the leader of Randall’s gang?
Lori was aghast (aghast!) when she found out that Rick killed Shane. Even though she practically talked Rick into it. And Rick did it in self-defence. I’d like to entertain the idea that Lori is a crafty schemer, but it’s safe to say that the writing was off there. Or we could just put it down to her being a woman (a pregnant one at that), because all women are crazy (sexist lols).
And the big reveal that everyone is infected and could zombie up when they die? I care not a jot. I can’t see the big deal; if they die, someone has to put a bullet in their brain. So what? Perhaps the ramifications are longer term, and they need a cure to stop them turning into walkers without dying. But until that’s clarified it makes no difference to the immediate plot.
And that’s that. Season two was never really that bad, just disappointing at times. The barn cull was brilliant TV but there were a lot of low points. I’ll watch season three to see how Michonne and the jail play out. But if the show doesn’t give other characters something to do, or get rid of them, I don’t know how much longer I’ll stick around.