Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Walking Dead Season 2 - review


Contains spoilers.

Hot from the explosive finale of season 1, season 2 sees us rejoin Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and the reduced number of survivors on the road leaving the CDC and all hopes of salvation in ruins.

Leaving Atlanta behind the group set off in convoy towards rumours of some semblance of resistance a hundred odd miles away at Fort Benning. With the roads strewn with debris and low on supplies the weary survivors make slow progress and when Dale's (Jeffrey DeMunn) RV finally splutters to a halt while manoeuvring through a car park of abandoned vehicles  the group decides to stop and scavenge for supplies.

After the commercial and critical success of the first season, AMC saw fit to reward The Walking Dead with a significantly increased number of episodes for season 2. This allowed a new writing staff the opportunity for a slower deeper narrative and, whereas season 1 could be seen as a sequence of events moving Rick from the hospital through to his reunion with Lori(Sarah Wayne Callies) and Carl (Chandler Riggs) and eventually the CDC, season 2 seizes the opportunity not only tell several interconnected stories but to weave all this within an over-arching narrative structure exploring moral ambiguity under extreme conditions.

A central story for much of the film is the search for Sophia (Madison Lintz), the daughter of Carol (Melissa McBride) who becomes separated from the group after the convoy is attacked. It is during one of the subsequent searches that Carl, out with Rick and Shane (Jon Bernthal), accidently gets shot by Otis (Pruitt Taylor Vince) out hunting and the group and story move to the location that becomes the main focus for the season, Hershel's farm.

Contrasted with the rest of the world, Hershel Greene's (Scott Wilson) farm is an oasis of calm. Life continues, crops are tended, cows graze and grace is still uttered before dinner. Hershel is a trained veterinarian and takes care of Carl.  Many of the survivors take to the respite and start thinking that the place could become a permanent home. Hershel see's the situation quite differently though and is firm in his stance that the arrangement should only last while the lad is recovering and Sophia's search continues.

A theme through season 2 is Shane's disintegrating relation with Rick and his inner struggle justifying the morality of decisions he feels he alone is clear in having to make. Constantly at odds, and constantly rebuked by Rick the situation flares after Glenn (Steven Yeun) discovers that the source of Hershel's reticence in letting the group stay is a refusal to acknowledge that his friends and family, now undead and in the barn, aren't beyond a cure. With Rick's apparent refusal 'to do what must be done' he openly defies his leadership and the massacre that results splinters their friendship, the group and its relationship with the residents of the farm.

The battle between Rick and Shane can be seen, as well a struggle for the affections of Lori, as a clash between utilitarianism; a quantitative and reductionist approach to ethics embodied by Shane constantly arguing that he is the only one capable of making the hard decisions necessary for the groups survival, versus Rick's deontological position that good doesn't need qualifying, it simply is, and the group should strive to follow a doctrine of good at all times despite the consequences. This all leads to some fantastic existential wrangling as the viewer is at once sympathetic to both courses despite misgivings.

With their relationship beyond repair, Shane does ultimately, and for those readers of the comic belatedly, overstep the mark leading to a tense and traumatic end to their friendship. A central theme for The Walking Dead is sacrifice; that attempting at all times do the right thing and abiding by a doctrine of good costs, and for Rick, this time, it's his best-friend.

Season 2 of The Walking Dead knows what it's doing and accomplishes it with supreme maturity and confidence. Whilst the story at times is slower paced that the first, the action is tense throughout and constantly moving. A relentless and remorseless ride, the survivors are punished for any moment of complacency and the reality that they're pretty much alone in a bleak unforgiving endless apocalypse is never lost despite the tightness of the key locations. Authentic to its origin and immaculately acted, written, directed and produced, The Walking Dead spoils the fan of zombie survival fiction and is a must see, 9/10.

Steven@WTD.

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