If you’re watching it, The Walking Dead is probably the most intense hour of your week. It’s sixty minutes of the bloodiest and emotionally trying horror soap opera on television. The first season (S1) of TWD had us in its grip from the first head-shot all the way through the end of its all too short six-episode run.
And then a full torturous year of waiting passed before we picked up again. It had been a painfully long break. I had my worries. The first season was just so intense and cutting edge that the pessimist in me feared S2 wouldn’t be able to live up to the anxiety-causing pace of its predecessor. Happily enough, I can tell my inner pessimist to shut the fuck up. S2 has been as intense and horrifying as I had only dared to dream it would be. And with the close of the mid season finale we have a whole six more episodes before we close out S2 and move into S3… But we have to wait until February 2012.
The Mid Season Finale “Pretty Much Dead Already,” in classic TWD fashion, delivered a healthy helping of emotional traumatization. This season is really hitting home the emotional motivations of the characters and testing the boundaries of humanity and our understanding of ourselves… Daryl’s search for missing Sophia. The downward spiral of Shane. Lori’s ever-growing list of secrets. Rick’s struggle with leadership. And the newest addition of Hershel and his moral high ground. S2 has spent all fall lulling us into a false sense of security only to forcibly remind us that safety is an illusion and only so very temporary.
Highlights for me so far is the character development of Daryl and how he’s truly a “good guy.” I would want Daryl at my back. Infinitely practical without being a sociopath about it. His transition from a trailer park rat to a hero has been one of my favorite developments in S2. And what kind of bad-ass pulls a crossbow bolt from his side to use on the walker in front of him? Daryl is the kind of survivor I would want to be. Ruthless, driven, and yet, still a good person.
My largest complaint is that I honestly don’t like any of the women. Each have glaring flaws that keep me from really feeling for any of them. S2 has finally helped me understand Lori at her falling into the sack with Shane. She still makes these horrible demands of Rick and is completely unreasonable. Andrea makes some of the most gawd-awful decisions and I think she has a distinct lack of character, but at least she’s starting to step up to the surviving plate. The introduction of Maggie was a bit of an improvement. She’s vibrant and forthright, but also demanding and unyielding. What I wouldn’t give for a truly admirable female character to compliment the likes of Glenn, Rick, and Daryl.
S2 is also bringing up some moral questions that are bound to go with the zombie apocalypse. Are these people “sick”? Are they even people anymore? Is killing a zombie killing a person? I don’t think we’re ever going to have a straight black and white answer to this question. There’s an allegory for war in this. That these people are at war. This season is really forcing the audience to address how the loss of civilization and society makes it nay impossible to hold the ideals and beliefs of that structure intact.
This is most clearly exemplified in the Shane ideal versus Hershel ideal. I swing wildly on Shane. I truly loathe him. While he’s a necessary asset to the group, his lack of compunction when dealing with a weak link makes me more than nervous. Shane has proved himself impulsive and morally ambiguous. He can be a very, very bad man. And then there are moments where I feel my heart turn over for him. He’s damaged goods. Shane is a survivor and he’s willing to sacrifice ideals and people to survive. Hershel, on the flip side, is an idealist. He wants to help his infected neighbors and family members to the detriment of the obviously living. I honestly can’t relate to Hershel on a more than superficial level. He’s a good man trying to hold this new world to the ideals and standards of his old one and in this he is willing to cast out his fellow humans (hypocrite much?).
Also, the practical in me wants to shake him senseless. Zombies are rotting man! Wounds that would kill a human don’t make them blink. And they want to eat you. Screw your ideals! Give me a gun, I want to survive! That being said, it was very difficult for me to watch the final scenes driving home how absolutely effective the creative team and the phenomenal actors of TWD really are. They really provided a stellar performance. I will be haunted by that entire final scene for quite some time.
The Walking Dead makes you question yourself. What would you do? What or who would you sacrifice? What kind of person would you be willing to become to survive and protect your family? And THAT is why I think S2 may actually surpass S1. I hope this is just the tip of the iceberg. TWD continues to push boundaries. Sure, there are predictable moments, but I don’t think that takes away from the intensity. In fact, I think the knowledge makes it worse. Knowing isn’t a smug satisfaction for figuring it out, but a deep-seated dread. This is only going to get worse and these people will suffer and lose their humanity (or find it), one fleshy piece at a time.