Before I wrote the Season 1 lookback for The Walking Dead, I watched all six episodes back to back. As I sit here contemplating Season 2, I am struck by how much the show has changed. The zombies, who are no longer called “geeks,” have ceased to be characters in their own right. They’ve been downgraded to mere monsters. Then there’s the drama and I don’t mean on-camera. Even before Season 2 aired, the rumor mill had been buzzing about creative differences between the suits and the show runner, Frank Darabont. Later, after Darabont was unceremoniously given the boot by AMC executives, there were whispers that his cadre of loyal actors was now deeply unhappy.
What else changed during Season 2? Pacing, character development, the heavyhanded use of allegory and a sudden burning desire in the hearts of the audience to buy a Hyundai.
A conniving Lori channeled her inner Lady Macbeth and never stopped being someone I’d like to beat to death with a stick. Glenn embraced his inner hotness and almost immediately got laid as a result. After several setbacks, blunders and some Hyundai Tuscon sex with Shane, Andrea became self sufficient as a survivor. Daryl broke through his stereotype and became a fully realized forty year old redneck virgin. We welcomed the addition of beloved character actor Scott Wilson as Hershel, as well as Lauren Cohan, who plays his daughter Maggie. Both characters provided a welcome counterpoint to the frayed and exhausted emotional extremes portrayed by the survivors out of Atlanta.
I’m 99.999% sure that Hershel had another daughter and at least four other people living with them; it’s hard to say. It felt like people were just wandering around in the background, maybe even speaking a line every two or three episodes. How much dialogue has to be cut before you are officially relegated to a walk-on role? I bet IronE Singleton could tell us.
Sad, overpaid extras aside; the real poetry here was in the disintegration of Rick and Shane’s passionate bromance. I’m not even being sarcastic (although why they didn’t just get rid of Lori and then hug it out, I’ll never know). Andrew Lincoln (Rick) and Jon Bernthal (Shane) were absolutely, ridiculously, gloriously, brilliant. They dragged the inevitable out for thirteen teeth grinding episodes, yet managed to keep the pacing spot on. Nicholas Sparks only wishes he could attain this level of tragic romance! Imagine being locked in a mortal struggle with your bestie. Seriously; try to imagine it. What kind of irreparable psychological damage would it do to have to kill the man you called brother so that you could survive?
There would be no mending fences or amicable parting of ways. If it did nothing else, Season 2 hurtled toward the inevitable. Poor Shane. All he wanted was to sex up Rick’s wife and steal his family, is that so wrong? For everything TWD got wrong in Season 2, new show runner Glen Mazzara got this particular plot point spot on.
Unfortunately two character arcs cannot an entire story make. The fans complained (albeit while making the show one of the highest viewed in television history). The loudest complaints were about the setting: most of the action took place on a farm. There wasn’t enough hot zombie action. The characters talked too much.
Calm down. Now, you know my feelings concerning the decline in zombie management, as for the dialog, there’s nothing wrong with cultivating a little character development. In regards to the farm, rumor had it that AMC and Darabont parted ways when the network failed to pony up enough dough to make Season 2 another wall to wall zombie gore fest. Filming on a farm is cheap, right? I’m not entirely sold on this rumor.
I will admit I am completely sold on another rumor; that Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale) talked himself out of a job after expressing his distress about the Darabont situation. The gossip sites kept bringing it up and since Shane was already destined for the grist mill, everyone seems to think Dale’s wholly unexpected (and not a little ironic) demise confirmed the story. I have absolutely no proof to back this up with, except the manner of Dale’s death which, in comparison to Sophia and Shane, seemed excessively hokey. He gets done in by a rogue cow killing zombie immediately after his speech about how the group had lost its collective humanity? That has upper management written all over it.
Back to the farm; the setting didn’t bother me. Sure, they were recycling a plot point which had been covered to better effect in Season 1, i.e. the CDC compound. Remember a drunken Rick falling into bed with Lori, gently telling her that they don’t have to be afraid anymore? Damn you shelter and your false sense of security! But Gerri, you ask, how are these the same? The farm is hardly a napalm loaded fortress set to self destruct! This is true. Instead, the farm is quite literally a symbolic representation of man’s dominion over nature. I’m serious! It’s thanks to agriculture that we don’t live in caves and tents, following our herd of goats around on their migratory grazing route.
The farm is unspoiled by post-apocalyptic destruction and appears idyllic. The characters fight to control the property believing that by doing so they can control the situation.
Yeah, good luck with that, Rick.
At first Herschel’s farm seemed like the perfect sanctuary; a place where Carl could recover from his gunshot wound, a base of operations for finding Sophia. And to be fair, they did find her. In Season 1 the zombies were characters in their own right; to a certain extent the same could be said of the farm during Season 2. The barn full of walkers was nothing less than a festering zombie bite and, much like Rick and Shane’s relationship, the end was inevitable. At least the characters remembered their Romero and didn’t try to barricade (and therefore trap) themselves into successively smaller areas of the farmhouse when the zombie hoard arrived.
Scenic pastoral settings aside, Season 2 was thick with allegories and none gave me more pleasure than watching Carl get shot by a stray bullet after it passed through a deer. Wait. That came out wrong. Let me explain.
In 1655 Rembrandt van Rijin painted The Slaughtered Ox. The canvas lives up to its name and features a skinned and gutted ox carcass hanging from a cross beam in a darkened room. The piece refers to the parable of the prodigal son, about a young man who foolishly squanders his father’s money. Eventually he learns the error of his ways and repents. He is going to be a good son now and will do his father proud. The father, all full of pride, welcomes his wayward son home with a feast and has a fatted calf killed in honor of the occasion. The death of the calf represents the crucifixion of Christ. I promise I won’t get religious here; the point is forgiveness, sacrifice and the end of youthful folly.
Carl should have listened to Bambi’s mother before he ran right out into the meadow. Blam!
Is Carl the prodigal son? Yes, you can read it that way. He got that innocence blasted right out of him, first in the woods and later outside the barn as he watched his father gun down Sophia. Like Andrea, he’s learning what it means to be a survivor in this brave new world. Also like Andrea (who accidently shoots Daryl), he makes some incredibly stupid mistakes along the way (just ask Dale). People who are new to brutality are bound to screw it up in the beginning and it’s these little, understated events that kept me watching in between zombie scares and bromance drama.
We can also read Rick as the prodigal and Shane as his slaughtered ox. Watching his son get shot put Rick on the path to losing his humanity. What pushed him over the edge wasn’t Shane’s death or even Carl’s participation. It was his having to deal with the group’s condemnation after he had already come to realize that they couldn’t afford the folly of compassion any longer.
Oh zombie Shane, you died for Rick’s sins.
Determined to pack as much chutzpah into the Season 2 finale as humanly possible, the last episode closed with the heavily anticipated cameo of badass extraordinaire, Michonne.
I am a serious Michonne fan. I desperately needed her character to live up to my expectations, especially after the abomination that was her six page backstory which Robert Kirkman had recently (and absurdly) penned for Playboy. Playboy?! Abomination is a strong word, but it ain’t strong enough. I’d like to go full Jersey: Kirkman is a muff cabbage.
He took this beautiful, flawed, fierce, character and in the span of six pages ruined her. Long story short, her katana were salvaged from a neighbor’s house when the zombie pandemic first erupted. Yes, because the likelihood that my neighbor happens to have decorative, yet sharpened, quality katana lying around is so very high. On top of which, Michonne is apparently a sword wielding savant who is able to use said weapons effectively, after only just picking them up for the first time, to hack up her newly zombified boyfriend and his buddy. Whatever.
First of all, most katana are mass produced crap. Second, half of what people buy are, I’ll say it again, decorative and therefore not sharp. Third it takes years of training to master them. You know what would have been a thousand times more plausible? That Michonne practiced martial arts like many stressed out, working class stiffs. She didn’t need to be an overnight samurai; she could have had this skill and still been the perfect product of her environment.
The entire mishap left me with a bad taste in my mouth and a mental image of Kirkman shouting “Dollah, dollah bill ya’ll! Daddy gets paid!” before scribbling out the piece while sitting on his toilet. I get serious Grumpy Cat face whenever I think about it.
Here was a woman who hit the ground running when the world fell apart. While everyone around her saw the zombies as something to be avoided at all cost, she saw something she could use. Much like Rick did in Season 1, when he slathered Glenn and himself in zombie guts so they could escape the department store in Atlanta; Michonne is a predator in a world of prey. She accepts this, which is why she’s not nearly as emotionally far gone as Rick.
Sorry buddy, the more you fight the transition, the harder it’s going to be.
There she was, dominating the final shot of the last scene in Season 2; my hero (okay, mine and Andrea’s). In that moment she was untainted by a grossly negligent origin story, written for money and boobs or by one network’s overpowering desire to market Korean cars to an unsuspecting demographic of 25-30 year olds with disposable income.
Oh AMC, I forgive you! You’ve given me something to hold on to until season three when you ruin her with crap dialog, Andrea’s dithering, and overt product placement. In return I will admit that I am a terrible, terrible, hypocrite for complaining about your decline in quality while continuing to contribute to your viewership.
But heed my advice, AMC: no one, and I mean no one, will ever, ever, ever drive a brand new pastel green Hyundai Tuscon during the zombie apocalypse. Don’t get me wrong, Hyundai makes a great car, but I sincerely doubt it can mow down more than half a dozen walkers at a go before a rotted limb gets caught up in the drive shaft. Plus who exactly is keeping that thing so shiny and clean? Hey, tell the zombie hoard to shamble slower, I’ve only just put on my first coat of turtle wax!