The Center for Disease Control is gone, hope is elusive and zombies are still everywhere.
AMC’s zombie hit The Walking Dead returned on Oct. 16 to an ecstatic 7.3 million viewers and Season Two starts just where Season One left off. The band of survivors headed by Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is still there, although their numbers are thinned out from the final episodes of last season, hoping against hope that things can get better and they find some vestige of safety. Their plan is to leave Atlanta and head for Fort Benning, about 120 miles away.
In their ragtag caravan of vehicles they make it onto a highway jammed with broken down cars. Their path is blocked and just as they begin to weave their way through the junk heap, Dale’s (Jeffrey DeMunn) RV blows its carburetor. And because nothing is ever easy for the characters in this show, a herd of zombies appears on the road just as the band stops to fix the RV.
The Walking Dead is a show that thrives off the minute-to-minute tension of the situation its characters exist within. Zombies are everywhere, society no longer exists and there is literally no hope for these characters.
It’s a one-of-a-kind television horror series and its setup works spectacularly. The gore is effective. One scene in which Rick and Daryl (Norman Reedus) dig through a zombie’s stomach to see what it recently ate is disgusting and horrible in all the right ways. The thrills are genuine. The band of survivors hiding underneath cars, muffling their breath in order not to attract attention plays better than anything most horror movies can muster.
It also delves into the reality of this overwhelming situation. Surviving a zombie apocalypse would probably look similar to how The Walking Dead depicts it. This is a hopeless situation and the show really gets across its grim message. Every time the characters try to take control of things, their plans go awry, leaving them in a worse situation than before. Unfortunately, this realism makes the show’s plot develop too slowly and does not carry over into the character drama.
Some of the characters seem to be toeing the line between archetype and cliché. This is partially due to the writing and partially due to the acting. The dialogue can be a little too on-the-nose, which does reflect Robert Kirkman’s writing in the comic books, but in order to sell this kind of dialogue, actors need to be intense and dedicated. Andrew Lincoln as Rick and Jon Bernthal as Shane are the best at this. Their lines may not be subtle, but their performances sell them.
The horror and the atmosphere of The Walking Dead will always be its main selling point, but the characters need to evolve into individuals. They need to stop being defined purely on how they react to situations. Simply put, they need to be compelling apart from the situation they exist within. Rick, Shane and perhaps Andrea are the only ones who can boast this so far.
However, all of these nitpicks are things the show has to develop over time and not just in one episode. And this was a thrilling episode. There are plenty of tense scenes aside from the herd scene. A confrontation in a church with a zombie bride (it had to happen) and Rick dispatching two zombies in the forest were standouts. As well, the end of the episode was shocking and for those familiar with the comic books, it spells out a good direction the show will take in the near future.
What needs to happen in this second season aside from storytelling consistency is an expansion of the characters. They need to be given a sliver of hope and see the situation as more than just their present circumstances. If this happens, their actions will be more than just reactions. As well, if the writers set up hope, they can promptly knock it down again, causing the characters to morally disintegrate.
Because once our heroes start inching toward becoming villains, that’s when things will get really interesting.