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October 2, 2014

Review: 'The Walking Dead' Doesn't Break Its Stride in Season 2

by Maureen Ryan, posted Oct 14th 2011 12:15PM
'The Walking Dead' (9PM ET Sunday, AMC) went through a lot of public controversy over the summer when executive producer Frank Darabont abruptly left and his second-in-command, Glen Mazzara, was appointed showrunner. The good news is, you wouldn't know any of that from watching the show.

In the first two episodes of the drama's second season, scares are efficiently dispensed, the action moves along briskly and there are credible attempts to make the survivors of a zombie apocalypse more than a collection of types.

The bottom line is, if you liked the what the show was dishing out in its first season -- genre storytelling made with admirable restraint and economy, except for those jump-out-of-your-seat scary/gross moments -- you're likely to enjoy what you see in season 2.

The first episode re-introduces lawman Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his wife and son, with whom he was only recently reunited. Rick doesn't know that his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) had an affair with his best friend, Shane (Jon Bernthal), while they were separated by the undead outbreak that turned the world into a nightmare landscape of shuffling brain-munchers.

Will Rick and Lori work it out? That's not entirely clear, but unlike the TNT alien-invasion drama 'Falling Skies,' 'The Walking Dead' knows what to focus on and what to avoid: It doesn't overload the narrative with schmaltz or with soap-opera twists and turns. There's not a lot of filler in the first two hours of 'The Walking Dead'; even though the characters, like 'Lost's' islanders, tend to spend a lot of time walking around in forests, there's always a clear destination in mind

Here's progress: I still don't have much time for the grating Shane, but at least I wasn't rooting for the zombies (who, it emerges, can shuffle pretty darn quickly when they feel like it) to catch up with the former cop and bite him to pieces. Among the other cast members, Laurie Holden continues to do very solid work as unwilling survivor Andrea and Jeffrey DeMunn gives the show a humanistic and even optimistic center as the quiet lynchpin of the group, Dale. Even the cartoonishly reactionary Daryl (Norman Reedus) is less belligerent and more human this season.

Other AMC shows, of course, are really and truly all about the characters; we could spend days talking about the intricacies of Walter White, Don Draper and Peggy Olsen. 'The Walking Dead' isn't like that. What this show is really good at tends to be straight-up horror and intelligent misdirection. Sometimes what happens is scary because it's exactly what you'd expect it to be (how awful would it be to be trapped with a zombie in an RV? Yep, very awful). But the show comes up with interesting and creative ways to subvert expectations about what exactly is going to happen next, and that thrum of suspense and surprise will keep me coming back for more. That, and the show's shameless and effective use of cliffhangers.

After some pulse-pounding scares, not to mention some unsentimental conversations among survivors about why they're even bothering to stay among the living, Rick and his group come across the family of Hershel Greene, who've somehow managed to keep living relatively normal lives despite the total collapse of civilization. There's no doubt that the show will be able to provide all these characters with imaginatively grisly zombie encounters, but I still have some doubts about how much we'll care about who survives and who doesn't.

With even more characters on the scene, will 'The Walking Dead' do a better -- or even adequate -- job of filling in who these people are and why we should care about their fates? That's the question that may be affected most by the creative reshuffling at the top, and we won't know the answer for a few weeks, at least. The second season of 'The Walking Dead' will consist of 13 hours, instead of the six hours we got in season 1. Thirteen could turn out to be too many episodes if we end up not caring very much about who bites the dust. The ideal result is that a 13-episode season feels too short, but we'll have to see how the mid-season transition between Darabont's and Mazzara's leadership goes before we can judge the overall viability of the TV version of Robert Kirkman's tale.

Still, as I said, the first couple of hours of the season don't offer any cause for alarm on the creative front. They're marked with the same sense of efficient propulsion that we experienced in most of season 1, and even though I'm not a horror fan in general, I was hooked. 'The Walking Dead' is still scary all right, and at this point, it still appears to be made with braiiins.

Note: Check back here after Sunday's season premiere for Mike Ryan's review of the episode and some post-premiere intel from the show's producers. Here are some 'Walking Dead' cast interviews from Comic-Con and from a 'Walking Dead' screening in Los Angeles. The trailer for the new season is here.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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Sareeta

I don't consider myself a fan of horror, but I do like a good adventure story and that's what I find in The Walking Dead. I really enjoyed the premier. It was scary (my heart was pounding during much of the episode) and brutal, which is what I expect and enjoy about this show.

I really like where they are with Andrea. She's the most identifiable character for me and I understand where she's coming from in the scene where she snaps at Dale. Daryl continues to be a favorite and he definitely has the most useful weapon in the group. I'm curious how long Rick will remain oblivious to what's going on with Shane, and how he will react when he finds out about the affair last season. I like the inclusion of the kids in this story and I like how the producers have handled them so far. Too many shows include kids for the sole purpose of making the show a family drama; in this show the kids offer a different perspective. They're having to grow up very fast in this world. The twist at the end---Carl getting shot---was a huge surprise. Part of me thinks he ought to stay dead, just to keep things realistic and show that there are real dangers here, but I have a feeling he'll pull through.

October 17 2011 at 7:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
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October 16 2011 at 8:32 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Craig Ranapia

I'm really pleased because the first seasons of 'The Walking Dead' and 'Game of Thrones' were (IMO) good shows that were held back from greatness by clumsy storytelling and too many episodes that didn't really work. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I don't really think the show was done any favours by being fast tracked to hit a Halloween premiere.

October 15 2011 at 4:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jason

I have to say that, after watching the entire first season in one sitting just recently, this show is extremely overrated. It was very...bland and boring.

Almost as much as Mad Men. I really don't see how these two shows get such high praise.

October 15 2011 at 1:34 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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