Sorry, I know, I’m a bad person, but season two of The Walking Dead should have been called The Walking Meh.
There have been a few chilling moments and the zombie herd in the first episode was scary as all get out, for the most part season two has been a sludgy mess. Herschel’s idyllic, safe farm in the Georgia countryside has proven an unsatisfying backdrop for season two. The result was a series of static episodes in which precious little happened. The few high points – Shane shooting Otis in the leg springs to mind – stand out precisely because the rest of the season has seen so little by way of meaningful action. The long drawn out – and obviously pointless – search of Sophia provided little by way of plot save its effect on Daryl; Daryl proved to be one of the most interesting characters in season one and his highlight episode in season two was dark and provocative. Unfortunately, the creative team is clearly unsure what to do with him now.
The mid-season cliff hanger – killing the zombies in the barn – was less than it should have been. Once we knew there were zombies in the barn, we knew our characters were going to kill them. It was only a question of when. I’m not even sure it was a question of how since I doubt anyone seriously thought they were going to set fire to the barn.
I mention all this because last night’s episode – Triggerfinger – was a welcome step toward regaining some of the show’s lost direction. It’s clear Herschel’s farm is rapidly losing its status as safe haven for the characters. The problem isn’t the focus on characters – which can and should drive the story; the problem is that right now team Walking Dead doesn’t seem to know what to do with its characters and they’re sorting it out; the result is that we get smart characterization in fits and starts. For example, Shane shooting Otis in the leg; he had deniability since he didn’t kill Otis. But it was also a coldly rational response – certain death together or a chance to get away and save Carl but since then Shane’s characters has been stuck in neutral. Same for Daryl Dixon, who got a brilliant episode and proceeded to get stuck in neutral since. Lori has followed an inverse plot – it seems the more screen time she gets the less compelling she becomes, save last night’s final scene where she is clearly and in a startlingly calculating manner manipulating Rick so he’ll resolve her Shane problem. I’m not convinced Lori is worth the screen time we’re giving her at the same time, the side of her character she revealed last night suggests that she could become a fascinating villain in future episodes.
So here’s my thing – what made season one compelling TV was the creative team’s ability to balance character insights and action. Season two has unfortunately stumbled badly – it’s as if the oasis that is Herschel’s farm hypnotized both the characters and the creative team and so we’ve spent too much time in stasis – talking about our situation, debating our situation, suffering over our situation but not doing anything about our situation.