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. Read the rest of this entry »

  

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A Chat with Norman Reedus (“The Walking Dead”)

ALSO: Check out our Season Two preview, as well interviews with actor Jon Bernthal and executive producer Robert Kirkman.

Bullz-Eye: I know you won’t remember me, but we met fleetingly at the New York Comic Con, during the press roundtables.

Norman Reedus: Oh, right on. (Laughs) The craziness that is Comic-Con…

BE: Yeah, there’s no way you’d remember me in the middle of all that. But it was a good time nonetheless, so it’s good to talk to you again. And I’ve had a chance to check out the first episode of the new season…

NR: Oh, yeah? What’d you think?

BE: I think I should’ve gone straight on to the second episode.

NR: (Laughs) Awesome!

BE: So when you leapt into Season 2, how enthused were you to get back to work? It seems like it’d be a lot of fun to do.

NR: It’s a blast. I wanted to go a month early and just wait for everybody to show up. It’s such a fun job. It’s by far my favorite job I’ve ever done. The crew and the cast, everyone is so tight there. We’re all just one big family, for real. I just wanted to get back to it. I’ve never really had an acting experience that’s just so…fun. It’s so engaging. I’m really into it.

BE: Do you get used to the humidity down in Atlanta pretty quickly?

NR: You know, you kind of just suffer for the show. The heat and the surroundings are definitely a character on the show, so we’re out there surviving for our lives already. But, you know, I…I’m in Los Angeles right now, getting ready to go back to George to finish the season. But it started getting cold the last night we were there, and I shot ‘til about 4:30 in the morning and took an 8 AM flight to California, so I was exhausted. But it was freezing. It didn’t feel right. I prefer the heat.

BE: I think it was Steven (Yeun) who was telling the story about how he actually passed out his first day of filming.

NR: Yeah, he did. He had a long running scene, and he just sort of fainted. It was pretty crazy. Of course, we all teased him uncontrollably forever after that. (Laughs)

BE: So do you have to get into a Daryl mindset when you go back to work?

NR: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, ‘cause last season, it was all ‘fuck you, I hate you,’ and this season you sort of see Daryl form alliances with certain members you wouldn’t necessarily expect. Damaged people recognize other damaged people, so they have a kindred spirit going on. It’s not just so one-noted this season. He really kind of bounces all over the place, and it’s really interesting. It’s like he needs a hug, but if you tried to hug him, he’d stab you. He’s really fragile, like a little kid in a lot of ways. You see certain members of the group trying to tell him his worth, that he’s worth more than he thinks about himself, and you find a little bit about his back story, his family history, and you see how truly damaged this guy is. It’s interesting to play all those levels. It really makes for an interesting day of work.

BE: Yeah, I mean, I wouldn’t call him a delicate flower or anything, but even in the first episode of Season 2, he feels like a slightly different Daryl than we saw last season.

NR: Yeah, but, you know, even last season, I tried to tear up between squirrel throws and whatnot, just to make him still be, like, he lost his big brother. Even assholes have big brothers. I tried to make him more than just an angry guy. It was, like, show some reasons why he’s so angry and damaged.

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A Chat with Jon Bernthal (“The Walking Dead”)

ALSO: Check out our Season Two preview, as well as interviews with actor Norman Reedus and executive producer Robert Kirkman.

BE: I’ve seen the Season 2 premiere, and from what I can tell, it seems like you guys are still playing at the same level that you were in the first season.

Jon Bernthal: Aw, thanks, man, I appreciate you saying so.

BE: So you guys got to play the love triangle in Season 1, and it’s obviously still ongoing in Season 2. Is it a challenge to play something like that in the middle of a zombie thriller?

JB: I don’t really look at it so much as a love triangle. I look at it more as a family that…these horrible circumstances, this disease that’s turned the world into this apocalyptic state, I look at it more as a family that’s been severely fractured by it. I think that it’s not as simple as two guys in love with the same girl. I think Shane is very much in love with Lori, but I think he loves his best friend, too, as well as their little boy, Carl. I think these are relationships that are immensely important to him, and unfortunately, they’re forever tainted and they’ll never quite be the same. In this world that we’re trying to create, all of these characters have lost so many people. I think what’s very interesting for Shane is that the people in the world who mean the most to him are still alive. It’s just that their relationships will never be the same because of what’s gone down.

BE: Shane is a pretty complex character because of his situation. Do you find it hard to find that balance of personality when you’re playing the part?

JB: No, man, I love it. As an actor, it’s the kind of part you look for. When I first talked with Frank (Darabont) about this, our goal was to not just make him sort of this one-dimensional villain straight out of the comic. We wanted him to be a layered, nuanced character that wasn’t a good guy, wasn’t a bad guy, but was a real guy. I think he’s just operating from a place of being a loyal friend and trying to do what’s best, trying to protect these people that he loves so much. I think he’s always coming from a place of trying to do the right thing, but it’s fractured. It’s just such a different, cold, brutal world now. Also, what’s very interesting about the character is that he’s the first one in the series, I think, to just sort of recognize the lawlessness of this world they’re living in now. He does it when he beats down Ed by the water in Season 1, and also when he trains the gun on Rick in Season 1. I think he recognizes that there are no real circumstances for your actions in this world, and I think Season 2 is very much about Rick and Shane splitting on how they feel the best way to go forward in this world is. I think Shane feels that, to survive, you have to make very brutal, very harsh decisions, and you really have to abandon emotion and morality and just do what’s best for survival, whereas Rick, I think, is kind of plagued by trying to do the right thing. They really become at odds with each other over those philosophies.

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A Chat with Robert Kirkman (“The Walking Dead”)

ALSO: Check out our Season Two preview, as well as interviews with actors Jon Bernthal and Norman Reedus.

Bullz-Eye: I know you don’t remember me, but you and I met briefly when you were doing the press roundtables at the New York Comic-Con.

Robert Kirkman: Oh, good! I hope I did okay.

BE: Oh, yeah, you did great. It was a lot of fun. I just got the Season 2 press kit, and I’m 95% of the way through the first episode, so it killed me to have to get on the phone with you.

RK: (Laughs) Awesome!

BE: So how excited are you about the premiere of the show’s second season?

RK: I’m extremely excited. I mean, you know, there’s a lot of pressure to follow up our first season. It was a big success, and, you know, knowing what I know of the second season and seeing what I’ve seen, I’m fairly confident that we’re still going to come out of the gate and impress people, so I’m really anxious to see what people think of it. A lot of hard work has been going into this season, and it’s great that it’s going to finally be enjoyed by some people. So I’m really excited.

BE: When it comes to adapting the original source material, you’ve obviously got an advantage, given that it’s yours… (Laughs) …but I’m sure it’s hard to pick and choose which bits actually make it onto television.

RK: It’s a process. There’s not really a way to nail down exactly what goes into it. But everyone in the room is familiar with the comic, and we all sit down knowing what happened in the book, and we look at where the show’s going and what the characters are doing, and we just kind of figure it all out. Sometimes we take things directly from the comic, and there are a lot of times when we’re talking about things from the comic, and things will go to different characters in the show, or it’ll spin off into something entirely new that wasn’t in the comic, but the starting point was something that did appear in the comic. So it’s an evolving process, and it’s neat to be sitting down to adapt something that I wrote awhile ago. The earlier material in “The Walking Dead” is something I wrote some time ago, so it’s good to be able to revisit that stuff.

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The Walking Dead: Season Two Preview

ALSO: Check out our interviews with actors Jon Bernthal and Norman Reedus and executive producer Robert Kirkman.

It’s no secret that AMC has endured a difficult year filled with one PR nightmare after the next – including public contract disputes that suspended production on Season Five of “Mad Men” and threatened the future of “Breaking Bad,” as well as audience backlash over the season finale of “The Killing” – but it suddenly felt very personal when Frank Darabont, creator and executive producer of “The Walking Dead,” was unexpectedly relieved of his duties only a few days after promoting the show at San Diego Comic-Con. Though the network never gave a clear reason for his dismissal, it’s believed to have something to do with forced budget cuts for the second season, which came as a surprise to Darabont after the show set a new cable ratings record in its debut season.

But despite all the backroom drama and concerns that Darabont’s absence would spell trouble for the hit zombie series, AMC was insistent that “The Walking Dead” was in the capable hands of his replacement, Glen Mazzara. Then again, Darabont was already hard at work on the show for months before getting the axe, and mapped out the entire season prior to his departure, so audiences may not notice many differences (if any at all) until the show’s third season. It should be noted, however, that Mazzara is no slouch when it comes to making great TV (having previously spent five years behind the scenes on “The Shield”), and he’s still working with the same team that Darabont put together, including zombie experts Robert Kirkman and Greg Nicotero. In fact, based on the first two episodes alone, it’s pretty clear that fans have nothing to worry about.

When we last left Rick Grimes and the rest of the survivors, they had just escaped the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta by the skin of their teeth and hit the road once again in search of a new refuge. Though they don’t actually arrive at Hershel’s Farm – the provisional sanctuary featured in Kirkman’s comics – until the second episode, the season premiere has more than enough going on to keep them busy, including a tension-packed opening sequence where the survivors must hide from a herd of zombies after Dale’s RV breaks down on the highway. There’s plenty of action and gore as well, with one survivor wounded pretty badly in the aforementioned attack, another one shot in what is likely the first of many “holy shit” moments of the season, and a truly disgusting zombie moment that some people might not be able to stomach. Oh yeah, and fan favorite Daryl kicks a lot of zombie ass, but I’m guessing you already knew that.

Of course, the series is first and foremost about the relationships between its large cast of characters, and although some viewers might bemoan the slower pace of these early episodes, it allows for a lot of great interactions – particularly involving the Rick, Lori and Shane love triangle – that will only make you even more invested in their survival. And if there’s one thing that AMC can never take away from Darabont, it’s the amazing job he did with laying down a strong foundation on which those characters could grow. Because while he may no longer be around to captain the ship, Darabont’s fingerprints are all over “The Walking Dead,” and it’s the main reason why the show will continue to operate at such a high level of excellence. It may not have gone down exactly the way we would have liked, but the audience still comes out the winner in the end.

“The Walking Dead” returns to AMC on October 16th at 9/8c with a special 90-minute premiere. Can’t wait that long? Check out a sneak peek of the new season below.

  

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