The review contains spoilers.
After a perfect, scene-by-scene adaptation of the first few issues of The Walking Dead in episode one’s 90-minute premier movie, the first of the hour-long episodes of The Walking Dead offered the first deviation from Robert Kirkman’s graphic novel in the second episode, Guts. Not just a few deviations, either. We’re talking a major new character in the form of Merle Dixon (the always excellent Michael Rooker), entire new scenes, and, of course, entirely new moments of zombie peril for Rick and the rest of the gang.
While the first episode of The Walking Dead merely hinted at the presence of the other survivors, tonight we got to meet a few of them. There’s more about Lori and Carl, a definite answer to the ‘are they are or aren’t they?’ between Shane (Jon Bernthal) and Lori, and the introduction of a metric ton of new people for Rick to interact with, including Glenn (Steven Yeun), T-Dog (IronE Singleton), and Andrea (Laurie Holden). It’s lots of grist for the zombie mill, but it’s also a lot of characters to keep track of. Fortunately, they’re all generally different races/looks, so you can keep track of them by describing them as the black woman, the black guy, the guy in the leather vest, the Asian kid, the husky Hispanic, etc.
After last week’s excellent Darabont-helmed episode, it’s natural that the follow-up would be different. Rather than last week’s expansive Western-style camera angles, this week’s episode from TV veteran Michelle Maxwell MacLaren is a lot more like an action movie, down to the quicker jump cuts and the car chases. There was also quite a bit more reliance on a blue gel filter versus last week’s more sepia-toned, slightly warmer look. Part of that is related to this week’s focus on zombie chases versus last week’s setting up this new universe and Rick’s place therein.
This episode is a step down from the previous pilot, but that’s to be expected. If the whole of the first season of The Walking Dead is as well done as this week’s episode, then this is going to be a damn good television experience. I’m not exactly crazy about how this episode introduced a ton of new characters all at once, but I really enjoyed the part where it completely diverged from the graphic novel and gave me something completely new and unexpected, but went back to the graphic novel for one of my favorite gore scenes in the entire book, the zombie dismemberment/smearing required for the undead disguises.
One of the problems with the big cast was that, compared to last week, the acting was also a bit off. The first episode was an incredible performance from two really good actors working with some really good material. This week, true to its action movie format, the performances weren’t as good (because it’s harder to act while sprinting and shooting and gasping for breath), but, in a way, the chaos worked to cover up some of the problems with the hour-long format.
There’s no time for introductions or character development in the episode, because there’s no time for Rick to meet and get to know the people he’s taken up with. Rick’s thrown into things, we’re thrown into things, and there are more pressing concerns for all involved rather than a big hand-shaking getting to know you scene.
The pilot left a lot to resolve (getting Rick out of the tank, getting everyone out of Atlanta) and there wasn’t a whole lot of time for the kind of character study we got in the first episode, but it’s a big cast. There’s plenty of room for development, and plenty of room for people to die when they become uninteresting or prove to be racist stereotypes the viewer is meant to dislike. However, that’s both a strength and a problem, because what made the first episode so fantastic was the amount of time devoted to emotion and humanity.
On the other hand, there wasn’t a real serious zombie threat in last week’s episode, since they spent most of the time in Morgan’s safe house or with Rick walking through the deserted streets of whatever nameless Georgia town he lived in before the zombie uprising.
The importance isn’t the killing of the survivors, but the menace of the zombies, and we got a lot more menace this week to the humans (since the more disposable characters could die at any moment). Even though no one did die this time, the sense of zombie aggression will make it more effective when the bloated cast starts to get pared down via zombie attack or human aggressiveness.
It wasn’t a perfect episode of TV, by any stretch of the imagination, but it seriously picked up on the action quotient that was missing from last week’s episode. We got to meet some of the survivors shown briefly the first time around, and we’ve gotten the plot moving in a forward direction.
I’m not blown away like I was last week, but last week was the culmination of months of eager awaiting on my part. This week was still interesting television, and I hope next week’s episode keeps things interesting and finds more of a balance between human drama and pure horror.
Read our review of the series premiere, Days Gone Bye, here.
US correspondent Ron Hogan wants more scenes of Michael Rooker and is very excited that he’s our go-to antagonist for The Walking Dead. Find more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness, and daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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