It is not easy to talk about the second season of AMC’s The Walking Dead. Because I really really want to love this show. Not just “like it”. “Love it”. And I just can’t. This has really nothing to do with “comics vs. adaption”, not the slightest. This has only to do with damn high expectations after a spectacular season 1 and the feeling of being massively let down in season 2.
In season 1, I found many of the characters authentic and interesting and no-one plain boring or annoying. That has changed big time and in a character drama, that poses a real problem. While Rick Grimes, our main hero, drifts more and more to the territory of “ultra annoying asshat” – only rivaled by his whiny, self centered wife Lori – many of the other characters took a turn to oblivion. Best example: T-Dogg. Why is that guy even there? In many episodes, he doesn’t have a single line, and pretty much everyone, not only the viewer, seems to forget he exists. Daryl Dixon is a close second – after being season 1’s anti hero with legit survival skills that made him too valuable to the group to argue with him, he finds the meaning of life in season 2 in searching for a missing child. And nothing else. While still being portrayed as the oddball of the group with whom everyone has a problem. As the viewer, I ask myself two things:
One, why the hell is everyone acting like he’s such an asshole? In season 1, he was quick to drop a politically incorrect line or express that he gives a shit about everyone else. No-one made a big deal of it. In season 2, he cares about the wellbeing of the group, is surprisingly understanding and helpful and even provides emotional support for Carol after she lost her daughter. Yet now the group sees him as unstable?
And two, the even bigger question: Why the hell does Daryl put up with all the bullshit? Rick left his brother for dead. Rick, the newcomer in an established group, who thinks because he used to be a cop, he can call the shots now. Daryl’s reaction? Shrugging and becoming Rick’s deputy. Andrea accidentally shots him when he returns from doing the only thing he does in the entire season; search Carol’s lost child. Daryl’s reaction? Shrugging and being totally okay with that. Carol, the one person he tried to help most, being a bitch to him? Ah, that’s alright; he just risked his life for her kid, probably knowing she’s long dead anyway, to put Carol’s mind at ease and not let her drown in depression; of course it’s cool if she now leashes out on him (and not only him).
For one brief moment, one episode, hope gets restored. While foolishly roaming the zombie infested woods in search of Carol’s daughter, Daryl hits his head a bit and hallucinates – a conversation with his redneck meth head racist brother. He seems to be a bit nuts, returning to the camp with a necklace made from zombie ears. It looks like he’s found his way back to season 1 status. And quickly disappears from any remotely interesting scene, to compete with T-Dogg for the title of “most underused character”.
Glenn, who also rarely does anything smart this season, is a bit luckier with screen time. Though he certainly does many many stupid things, – in a crowning moment, he plays human bait for a trapped zombie – he at least gets character development. Frankly, I don’t give a damn about his awkward romance with Maggie; it’s angsty and all and I don’t like that. But Glenn also gets caught in a moral crossfire; the keeper of a million secrets that are all rather explosive in the group dynamics. This makes him the last stand of sanity and does the character a lot good.
Surprisingly, I also find myself very fond of Andrea. At first, I wasn’t much of a fan. Her suicidal tendencies and depressions after having to kill her sister were somewhat annoying, but she left that behind. In fact, she turns out to be mostly sane. Mostly, because her affair with Shane is in the way of true sanity, but even with this aspect, she’s nowhere near “annoying” territory. Unlike Glenn and Maggie, this isn’t angsty and awkward. It’s authentic; the two outsiders of the group hooking up in a male-female bromance; no plushy-mushy love affair.
And in comes super-antagonist Lori; wife of Mr. Guild Trip Rick Grimes, mother of Mr. Oh So Grown Up, 10 years old Carl Grimes, and PMS-raging ex-lover of Shane. While Lori herself is mainly concerned with making ridicolous requests to Shane – “don’t ever talk to me or my son again” and then freak because he ignores her – and being pregnant in a freaking zombie apocalypse, she calls out Andrea for the being the biggest burden possible for any survivor group. Andrea has committed the ultimate crime; done the most irrational and illogical thing one can do when trying to survive: She has devoted her time to learn to handle weapons and neglected her first and most holy duty: doing laundry.
Now, it is very doubtful that anyone really cares about that. Lori’s own husband wears the same dirty clothes for most of the season. As do most others. Andrea’s lover Shane has a lot more variety in his outfits. Coincidence? His rival for “most diverse wardrobe” is Daryl, who appears to do his own laundry in his hunting camp, and has not once complained that no-one does his housework. Nor has anyone else, ever. Just Lori, who sits around and does nothing but whine, complain and train for dictatorship. Oh, and plot to make her husband kill her ex-lover. Psycho bitch much?
Fits her husband perfectly. Early in the season, the group happens to find the farm of Hershel, an elderly veterinarian who lives there with the remains of his family. From the very beginning, he has made it clear that he’ll provide medical aid and be a good host – for a limited time. Then he expects the group to move on and leave him and his family alone. Rick does not accept this, no matter how clear Hershel makes it; no matter how many times he spells it out to everyone. Now, Hershel isn’t exactly on the sane side either – he pulls the “Dead Next Door” storyline by secretly holding zombies in his barn and hoping to find a cure. But really, it’s his farm, so he can do whatever the hell he wants.
Speaking of elderly maniacs. Dale, who was a voice of reason in season 1, develops semi-telepathic abilities and suddenly has insights that come out of nowhere. It is debatable that shaving your head is a clear sign of insanity, but when Shane does this after killing Otis, no-one suspects a thing. And besides being bald now, Shane doesn’t really act too insane – he still provides for the group and puts up with Lori’s PMS episodes. However, Dale soon decides that he knows, beyond a doubt, that Shane killed Otis. Note that this happened far away from the farm, and the only people around were Shane, Otis and a horde of zombies. Dale’s mindreading abilities also let him scan Glenn’s mind and extract the information about Lori’s pregnancy and the zombies in the barn. For that reason, and likely also the newfound ability to predict the future, Dale sets out to do the only responsible thing in a zombie apocalypse: throw all weapons into a swamp. Who stops him? The complete nutjob Shane, who – if nothing else – at least still realizes that it’s better to be armed than not with hordes of flesh eating monsters around.
In a way, we can certainly be thankful to Carl, the child that acts all grown up, for getting Dale killed. While his mother plots the assassination of her ex-lover, the unsupervised brat steals a gun and goes zombie hunting like a big boy, except he doesn’t manage to get any zombies killed. Instead, he lures a zombie to the farm where it feasts on Dale.
Yes, the characters are a big problem and frankly, I can’t wait for the announced return of Merle Dixon in season 3. If nothing else, he’ll at least give T-Dogg some screen time due to the unfinished business from season 1. Though his brother Daryl didn’t do a whole lot to live up to the expectations from season 1 (or anything else, for that matter), I doubt Merle is the type to easily forgive and forget being left behind on a roof top, handcuffed and forced to amputate his hand with a saw. A part of me sure hopes he has a chainsaw or shotgun in the place of said hand upon his return.
Another real problem with season 2 is the story. Half of the season, the entire group does nothing except for searching Sophia, Carol’s daughter. Sadly, I was not one bit surprised to see her among the zombies in the barn. Actually, I jokingly suspected exactly that as soon as it became evident that Hershel did hide zombies in the barn. Which i also jokingly suspected when he mentioned to stay away from the barn. Yes, I did watch “Dead Next Door” shortly before season 2. Anyway, the entire group is searching for Sophia, while Carol gets more and more bitchy and annoying – as if no-one tried to help her. Frankly, that is boring as hell, if you have suspicions about the barn or not. It’s clear that Sophia is dead or a zombie; no-one expects to find her alive. Especially not the viewer.
And when this finally turns out to be correct, the new big story is… boring. Because it circles around Lori being a bitch, deep shit between her, Rick and Shane and puts everyone else on the waiting list. There are long, long scenes where either two of them discuss the value of friendship, hope and life – and all other characters basically roam around in the background and do nothing of interest. It just makes you want to scream and bang your head on the desk. It’s a freaking zombie apocalypse, shouldn’t these people have bigger problems than Lori’s pregnancy? Why oh why does really no-one call her out on that selfish bullshit? Not enough that she can’t handle her son – who simply walks off, stealing guns, putting everyone at risk – no, now she also wants everyone to deal with her unborn child. Isn’t one child out of control enough of a burden? And how will she do all the laundry after giving birth?
By the end of the season, all the extras and a few main characters are dead. Sadly, that includes Shane, who may have been quite insane and on a power trip, but also brought neccessary conflict. The good side is that the damn farm burned down and the group finally had to move on. All doors are open for better story arcs, new characters and the return of others. I still believe that Walking Dead can and will be one of the best TV series made in the last 10 years, and I’m absolutely willing to forgive this season. But only if the next one lives up to at least some expectations.