The Pacing Dead

As ravenous as some sort of humanoid corpse beast that feeds on the flesh of the living, I recently marathoned the second season of AMC’s The Walking Dead and thereby decreased the number of shows I gave up on last year by one.

My history with the property: I’ve never read the comic, though I’ve been interested. It’s just that there are over a hundred issues and it shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. Quite an investment. I watched the first season as it aired, because why wouldn’t I? A cable series following a group of survivors in a zombie apocalypse? Yes, please.

But while the pilot was solid, the rest of the (very short) season left a lot to be desired. The characters were at times embarrassingly stereotypical and the story didn’t really go anywhere until the CDC stuff at the end.

So when the second season started, though I wanted to keep going if only because zombies are cool, it certainly wasn’t must watch television, and before long I was a few episodes behind and that was that.

Or at least it was until I learned that the end of the second season really ramped up the quality, while confirming that the third would introduce the most celebrated characters and storylines from the books. I resolved to catch up with the show so I could enjoy the third season as it airs, and lo and behold here I am.

Season two impressions? The quickest way I can sum up the series is to give them a 7/10 for the human elements, but a 10/10 where the undead are concerned. The characters still aren’t great. Only Daryl attains true likability, and really makes us root for him, while everyone else is more or less okay. Rick is too much of a good guy to be really interesting yet. The more he has to compromise any sense of morality to survive, the better. Shane, notably, was a useful source of conflict (and Joe Bernthal was excellent in the role) but it was pretty obvious that he was not long for this world.

The plot wasn’t exactly inspired. A little girl gets lost. They find a farm. They stay there. At least they had the bravery end the search for Sophia with brutal tragedy, but a lot of the season felt like needless wheel spinning that barely filled its thirteen episodes. The encounter with the guys in the bar was probably a highlight, which bodes well for the show’s future. In a post apocalyptic world, it’s the living—not the dead—that you really need to worry about.

Yet the zombie stuff, like I said, is always spectacular. Every creature looks distinct, and there are a ton of wonderful little moments that are more inventive than the majority of the character beats (the walker cutting its face open on the car window to get to Lori, a pinned Rick shooting through a slain walker’s head to kill the one behind it). Whenever I’m watching an episode and thinking it really isn’t that great and there are better things I could be doing, a zombie or fifty show up and all is forgiven.

On a more valuable level, I like to think it excels at putting us in the characters’ place and asking what we would do. Everyone has at least a vague zombie survival plan, so clearly the genre lends itself well to viewers who think they’re smarter than the characters. If that was us, would we stay on the farm? Keep looking for Sophia? Kill Randall? Kill Shane?

It can be as involving as we make it. And while it’s not quite brilliant, the incredible production design and third season promises of both Michonne and the Governor make it worth watching, at least for the year to come. At the very least, there’s no denying that this show is crazy popular. It’s not hard to understand why, and always useful to step back and realize that there’s a violent, somber series on TV about a zombie apocalypse. Despite its shortcomings, its very existence is reassuring.

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