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TV Testimony: The Walking Dead Season 2 – Mid-Season Finale

November 30, 2011

SPOILER ALERT:  Do not read if you have not seen up through Nov. 27th’s show – “Pretty Much Dead Already”.

Raise your hand if you are secretly joyous that something bad-arse finally went down on the Farm Where Reality Stands Still.   I thought so.   The second season of The Walking Dead has had its ups and downs in both purpose and narrative, suffering from what most sophomore seasons of dramatic shows tend to contract: “Mythos-itis” – a need to build a strong mythology while fleshing out characters, usually at the expense of suspense and action.  Some truly great shows (BSG, LOST and especially True Blood) all had sophomore slumps that contained episodes that were brilliant alongside dead-weight clunkers.

season 2 cast photo

Overall, I haven’t been as disenchanted with the second season of The Walking Dead as some folks I’ve talked to in my world.  I’m generally a little more patient with episodes that serve no purpose other than character development, and this first half of the season was chock full of those.

I do think that this season has set up some dynamics and personality clashes that are essential for The Walking Dead to move forward and keep growing in both scope and awesomeness.

In the first few seasons of LOST, we had the” Man of Faith” (Locke) vs. the  “Man of Reason” (Jack).   Inevitably, those roles were reversed and re-defined by the end of the series.  The characters in The Walking Dead are more difficult to analyze; they also exist in a world that is somehow completely outside of normal parameters, but it is a world that is still very similar to our own.  Whereas in LOST, the island represented a whole new construct, the post-apocalyptic universe of The Walking Dead functions closer to our own reality – still bound by the laws of physics and with no indications (as of yet) of anything supernatural.

So, in The Walking Dead, we have two very different versions of leadership, rather than philosophy.  Rick represents the “Old Order”,  a man still bound by loyalty to protect and serve, who thinks of guarding his family but is still following a strong moral compass.  He is constantly bringing the tribe together, declaring, “There’s us and the dead. We survive this by pulling together, not apart.”

Shane is very much the “New Order”, a man who sees the changing pace of the world and is adapting to fit , shedding old ideas about morality and even loyalty in the face of a world no longer adhering to the its former code of ethics.  As Andrea so aptly stated, “He’s not a victim”.

There are quite a few “Shane-Haters” out there, and I can understand why.  He’s a loose cannon and he’s shockingly brutal.  That’s exactly why he needs to stick around to give The Walking Deadthe jolt in its posterior that it needs so badly.

the search for Sophia

Shane and Rick’s banter throughout the season has led us to some interesting insights.  That conversation they had about their high school days was deceptively poignant.  Rick was trying to get Shane to connect by hashing through the Good ‘Ol Days, trying to pry out the Shane of Old.  Shane wasn’t having any of it.  Those chicks and that time are both dead.  Time to move on.

Much as I love Rick and all he stands for, he’s like King Priam watching Troy burn.  Shane, like wily Odysseus, knows that stealth and subterfuge have their merits.  If the world doesn’t open itself to you, you have to crack it open with blunt force.

The ties that bind our tribe of misfits together are starting to fray, and you can see the obvious camps developing.  It’s not as simple as “Good vs. Evil”.  It’s more a matter of “Survivalist vs. Moralist”.

On one hand, we have Rick, Glenn and Dale, good guys to the core who in their maddeningly stubborn adherence to the code of What is Right and Good, often put everyone else in mortal danger (Rick’s trip to save Merle, Dale’s hiding of the guns, Glenn’s visit down the well, to name just a few).

Daryl "Crossbow Arms" Dixon

Glenn is finally asserting himself, however, thanks to some nudges from Maggie, who made Glenn realize he’s far too often the willing patsy of some of the gang’s most ridiculous plans.     Dale, bless his heart, is willing to constantly remind us that he’s not long for this world (writers, you better live up to all this foreshadowing).  His confrontation with Shane about the missing guns was tense, but fruitless.  Dale knows he’s no match for the New World Order, but darn if he doesn’t try to get in a zinger anyway, snarling,  “At least I can say, when the world goes to s—, I didn’t let it take me down with it.”  Shane could care less, casually replying, “Fair enough”, which might as well translate to “You’re a dead man, Pops”.

Shane is the lone survivalist, laying out the truth and not sugar-coating it for anyone.  There are glimpses of this mentality in several others, most notably Andrea and Daryl.   Andrea has had so many ups and downs throughout the two seasons that it is nice to finally see her taking charge of her life, even if it does mean becoming a blind-sighted sharpshooter and hooking up with the wrong guy.   Daryl is one of my favorite characters on the show – a man with so much emotion and talent that has been shaped by a horrific family life and a hostile environment.  I’m hoping the writers flesh out more of a story for him ASAP.

The characters who don’t quite fit into either camp yet are Carol, Carl and Lori. Carol has latched on to the right guy (Daryl, he of the crossbow arms), but can’t seem to find much of a personality other than being the grieving mother.  Carl is caught between the two men who love him more than life itself, and I have no doubt this will lead to repercussions later.  Lori, as we all know, is pregnant and is having trouble dealing with the concept of bringing a helpless infant into a world where it will end up being a zombie snack.  As of now, she appears to be in Rick’s camp, but based on her conversations at Carl’s bedside, she could switch sides at any time.

And then there’s T-Dog, or as my husband said watching this last episode, “Hey, it’s THAT guy – what was his name again”?  Not a promising greeting for an essentially one-dimensional character.

At the heart of this season was one big conceit:  the red herring that was the Search for Sophia.  I’m glad about how things ended.  It’s the only way they could have ended and still kept pace with the show’s internal reality.  It seems bleak – all that symbolism with the Cherokee Rose, for nothing!  Still, it is a testament to what the world has become.

Moralist

Hershel knew it – here was a man who at first seemed naive and cracked, believing that the walkers were just “sick” and needed to be tended until the inevitable cure was found.  One would think a man of science would know that you can’t cure death (preventative vaccine, maybe, “cure”, no).  Yet, you feel sympathy for him at the end, watching the barn walkers put down.  His face registered so many things – contempt, resignation, sadness.  He had a world essentially untouched by the new reality.  Then, Rick and his crew had to blow in and wreck the whole thing.   Did he know Sophia was in the barn?  Does this make Hershel more or less sympathetic?  Was he a benevolent protector or an ignorant fool?   He may be a little of both – and he’s about to lose Maggie, as well.

The last ten minutes of the mid-season finale were by far the best visual sequence since Rick first stumbled upon that half-bodied blonde in the first episode.   Shane’s demonstration of power was ruthless, but game-changing.  It was a point of no return, and the impetus to get our crew away from Ignorance Is Bliss Farm.   Each of the crew fell in line behind Shane and entered the firing squad, united at least in their belief that the walkers were the one enemy they all had in common.

Survivalist

And then out came Sophia, blinking and growling, and even Shane froze.  Who would be the one to do it?  The only choice that made sense stepped forward and did what everyone else couldn’t.  Rick was the diplomatic and sentimental choice.  Did he feel guilty for letting Sophia trek out on her own?  Was he saving someone else from a lifetime of hurt knowing that they felled one of their own?  These are questions that will no doubt be answered next February.

I, for one, am hoping that this caravan of misfits moves on to other territory soon (no doubt taking Maggie with them).

Wish List for Pt. II of Season 2:

* More Daryl, more Daryl back story

* Less Lori, less love triangle nonsense

* Rick reclaiming his inner bad arse

* Moving on to ANYWHERE but the farm

* Carl becoming a mini-Shane

* More of  calm, sharpshooter Andrea, less of whiny, victim Andrea

* more information regarding how the apocalypse started and spread (I somehow doubt I’ll get my wish on this one)

* introduction of a true villain

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