Is “The Walking Dead” losing its way?

I went into season two of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” thinking it would be a slam dunk. How could it be anything but? The first season, at just six episodes, was one of the most intriguing pieces of television I’ve seen in years. Most of its allure was the pacing. Every episode had moments of pure calm that were invariably interrupted by drooling hordes of zombies. But the zombies didn’t carry the show. The characters did most of the work, which is exactly what a good zombie show needs. We need to care about the characters so that the inevitable losses have some consequence, a task the writers of the show met head-on. All of this is to say that my expectations, high as they were, were based on the merit of the first season.

Season two started well. The survivors from last season had decided to leave Atlanta and head for Fort Benning. They hit a roadblock on the way out of town, which included a brush with a shuffling horde of zombies. We saw a pair of walkers dispatched, the first with a screwdriver through the eye, the second with a quick stab to the brainstem. It was a perfect re-introduction to the gruesome, post-apocalyptic world I loved in season one.

While creative zombie-killing is great, it isn’t enough to carry the show. There has to be some sort of plot. For season one, it was getting into Atlanta and the CDC with the hope of finding more survivors. In season two we have Fort Benning, again with the hope of finding survivors. It’s a fine plot, though it does get quickly derailed when Sophia, one of the children in the group, is chased into the woods and later disappears. Sophia’s disappearance would have been fine had it been contained to just an episode or two, but it has utterly consumed the show.

I think Shane said it best in episode 5 when he said, “…you got 72 hours and then you’re looking for a body, and that was before.” Even if Sophia was a primary character, spending this kind of time looking for her without any indication she may be alive would be maddening. I’m sorry, but no amount of Rick grimacing or Carol staring into the distance will make me care about Sophia’s whereabouts. She just isn’t an interesting character. Leaving the group to stagnate on the farm has made several of them less interesting as well.

Consider Andrea. She was one of the least consistent characters in the first season, but she also lost the most, so her wild character swings at least had some basis. In season two she’s flat-out crazy. She’s become obsessed with carrying a gun, despite the fact that she doesn’t know how to handle one. It’s not even clear why she wants one, other than just to have it, which should raise some questions for the rest of the group.

How have I not yet mentioned that she shot Daryl in the head? In case I haven’t made it clear, she’s untrained with a gun. Regardless, she thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to take a shot at a target that is mere feet from three other human beings and obscured by the sun. Would you want her anywhere near a firearm? I wouldn’t, but apparently the two state sheriffs felt otherwise. In the very next episode she has a gun back in her hand. She even makes jokes with Daryl about shooting him in the head. I’m sorry, AMC, but what the hell are you thinking?

The one good thing to come of Andrea’s utter insanity is that she’s pushing Shane further along his own descent into madness. Shane is the one interesting thing about this season, but his volatility has been wasted on the benign location and the scarcity of drooling undead so far.

I think the general lack of zombies remains my biggest issue with season two. In season one, zombies were everywhere, all the time. The world felt dangerous and unmanageable, and yet, the characters were surviving. At its core, this is what a zombie story is about. It’s about a world we all know and love becoming foreign and dangerous and the efforts we take to make the world knowable and lovable again. Once that world is knowable and lovable, the story ends. The Georgia of “The Walking Dead” is much too comfortable, much too familiar. It’s a feeling I would be fine with for an early episode but not six. It’s time to shake things up. It’s time to leave the farm and try to make the rest of the world a livable place.

  

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9 responses to “Is “The Walking Dead” losing its way?”

  • moose with a j says:

    That’s like asking does a bear … in the woods, the pope catholic, sheep nervous in scotland! The answer is a scary yes! The show started going downhill at the ending of last season. You can tell the original director and writer are gone. Its like an hour long episode of twilight but with zombies. All dialog and maybe if we are lucky 1 percent action gorefest.

  • Wes says:

    Good points, especially about dragging out the search for Sophia. I still love the show regardless.

  • Brian says:

    I feel the same way. Last night’s episode was better. It was very emotional. It was sad to see sophia turned into a zombie and killed, but they have dragged this out. I hope that the second part of the season will be more like the first season. The story was faster paced. Just because there are more episodes in season 2 doesn’t mean the story should be dragged out longer. It means there should be more story. I really could care less about Glen and Maggie, seeing how emotionally up and down Maggie is. She gets mad, does something to him, he says something, she kisses him, yadda yadda yadda, who cares? The whole Lori being pregnant thing…at least everything’s out in the open now, but even though Rick said that they thought he was dead, he shouldn’t be putting up with Shane’s madness. Shane has completely lost his mind. Andrea, omg I hate her. Just kill her already, someone.

  • Staff says:

    It’s dragged on a bit, but now we see they built the entire story around the climax for last night. It took too long but it makes sense. With Shane getting more crazy, we’re seeing some big areas of conflict for the series going forward.

    Frankly, I can do without all the zombies all the time. You can’t keep that pace up through the entire series.

  • Tony Payne says:

    I skipped the comments and end of the review because I didn’t want any spoilers. We are just watching Series 2 in the UK, and hoping it doesn’t just fizzle and leave us wondering.

    They have so many unended stories already – the black guy and his son, where are they – the redneck brother who cut off his hand – the little girl missing…

    I doubt they can stay on the remote farm forever, and it’s weird isn’t it how at the point where the human race is about to fizzle out, people still fight and don’t try to pull together for the future of mankind, let alone to save themselves.

    Got an episode recorded to watch yet…

  • Jamey says:

    Great timing, Jeff! I agree that the Sophia storyline dragged on too long but as a previous poster wrote, it’s clear now why it dragged on. I will say that, while this season has been a bit of a disappointment thus far, the scene at the barn last week was intense and well worth the wait. Also very telling that Rick was the only one who had the stones to shoot Sophia. Gripping TV.

  • Jason Zingale says:

    Personally, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Sure, the Sophia subplot may have seemed like it dragged on a bit, but that was the point. If it only lasted a few episodes, there would be no conflict.

    And as far as the drought of zombies goes, I thought there were a ton in the first seven episodes – more than I expected, to be honest. You have to remember, this isn’t a show about zombies. It’s about people living in a world populated by them.

  • SThompson says:

    As a fan of the comic, I am personally not too fond of how Andrea is being written. As for her wanting to have a gun, in a world with zombies walking around, would anyone want to be unarmed? Even Carl wants a gun! That said, she isn’t as natural a shot as she is in the comic, and it’s kinda sad. Personally, her shooting Daryl in the head is a decent indicator that she is a pretty good shot.

    Personally, because he is my favorite character on the show, I think Daryl would have put Sophia down, if he wasn’t holding back Carol. He is the best change between the show and the comic. I think part of the reason the first season was paced so well, is that each episode was almost a one to one comparison to the comic up until episode 4. If the story was following the comic up to this point, they would be at the prison by now. They spend half the time at the farm in the comic that they do in the show.

    I am still optimistic about the show. I think it isn’t as good as the first season, but not horrible. I will keep watching when it comes back. Of course, I also enjoyed the entire series of Lost, including the finale for the most part, so maybe I just have low standards!

  • EdCash says:

    Expecting this to be a zombie story is like expecting Walt in Breaking Bad to come out a good guy, that’s just not the story they pitched.

    This isn’t a zombie story, it’s a story about people with zombies in the backdrop. The worst things they run into in the comics are not zombies at all, so expect more writing character arcs and less repetitive zombie slaughter. Zombies get old very fast.

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