The second season of AMC’s adaptation of The Walking Dead is taking a break until February 2011 (most likely coinciding with the return of Mad Men) and for the first time since the very first two episodes I’m excited. It only took seven or more episodes for The Walking Dead to actually get decent again, especially after the horribly embarrassing season one finale. I’m willing to suspend my belief and go along for a fantastic ride on most occasions (after all, we’re dealing with corpses rising and eating the living here) but believing the CDC is a time sensitive, thermonuclear device is ludicrous. Please, prove me wrong.
Regardless of the first season and early second season fumbles I’m actually into this show. Ever since Shane shot Otis (I think that’s his name) at the school, leaving his as zombie fodder, I’ve grown fond of this show again. Amazingly, the one character who dies in the first few issues of the comic (Shane) is turning into my favorite character on the series; it’s Rick whose becoming more and more silly and tedious with each passing moment. That church scene early in season two, where Rick is having a little talk with Jesus, was one of the more melodramatic scenes I’ve witnessed in a while. Even ABC’s horribly trashy (yet amazingly addictive) Revenge does a better job of making melodrama digestible. Even though I felt The Walking Dead wasn’t capable of capturing the addictive qualities of its original source material I kept watching season two and over halfway through this first batch of episodes I finally found myself enjoying it and can’t wait until February, the shortest month of the year when it’s coldest and when AMC will bring zombie fun back to cable primetime.
Finding fault with the earlier episodes of The Walking Dead was easy – these episodes were just awful. Finally, the writers have found a decent voice for the characters, even if some of the characters (Rick, Andrea, and Dale) can’t compare to their print counterparts and have become bad television parodies of what they were – and are – in the comic. Amazingly it’s the two characters that aren’t even a part of the story at this point in the comic which are the most captivating: Shane and Daryl.
Starting with the latter, Daryl isn’t even in the comics yet he’s one of the most interesting and dynamic of the protagonists. He’s a backwoods Georgia hick with incredible tracking skills and innate survival acumen and his brother is Michael Rooker from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer who disappeared in the first season and comes back as a ghost/hallucination in the second. How cool is that? Where the other characters like Rick and Dale are relics from a world now obsolete and extinct, Daryl is perfect for this new one and his struggle between conforming to the ideals of the group (who are primarily hanging on to useless values) and embracing his survival instincts makes for an interesting character. Unlike the comic, where people can die off in an instant and aren’t tested on focus groups, characters like Daryl will probably have longevity and hopefully he’ll remain a mainstay on the series for a long time.
Moving to Shane, a character who dies about six issues into the comic (That’s not a spoiler people! He dies in the first trade), I’m amazed he’s still alive. I’m happy he’s around because Jon Bernthal has proven he’s a valuable member of the cast and, aside from Daryl, Shane is the only character showing any real growth. He’s walking a thin line between good and evil, constantly treading back and forth between his former environ and his new one but that’s what makes him interesting. He’s the first character in the series demonstrating what’s so portrayed done in the comic: that he’s a broken person. Kirkman’s comic, which is over 90 issues in at this point, contains characters that are damaged by the zombie apocalypse. How could they not be? Rick, who Kirkman says is the only character he promises won’t die (or so he says), has seen countless people die around him, fought off cannibals and demented dictators, and been through a living hell: how in the world can he not be permanently broken mentally? I know the timeline between the series and the comic are different but I’d think being around walking corpses who are only after your life, seeing a slew of people killed, worrying about food and water, and scared that any moment could be your last would cause irreparable damage, even if the zombies disappeared within only a few months. Aside from Jesus, Lazarus, and a few others the dead don’t come back and it’s not something humans are mentally prepared for – hence why a series like The Walking Dead resonates with people so well: it’s a way of looking at ourselves and our deepest fears.
George A. Romero has had his characters say “we’re them and they’re us” in many of his films (Dawn of the Dead, the Night of the Living Dead remake) and he’s absolutely correct. Zombies are a blank slate, open to the interpretations of the creator and the viewer; the zombies on The Walking Dead aren’t saying anything in particular about consumer idiocy or The War on Terror like Romero’s brain dead antagonists but they say something about the primal nature of humanity, the will to survive, and the horror which feeds our desire to remain among the living. While we haven’t seen post-apocalyptic conditions like the ones in Kirkman’s comic yet (people starving and shuffling around in the cold) I’m sure it’s coming and I believe one of the most terrifying things about AMC’s The Walking Dead is its ability to show us how fragile our little society is. While a zombie apocalypse isn’t forthcoming the series does demonstrate the mindset necessary to survive in a world without the conveniences of modern society.
Maybe the best thing about The Walking Dead – and the zombie genre in general – is its ability to demonstrate the best and worst traits of humanity. After all, Shane is an amalgamation of both. He demonstrates what’s necessary to survive in a world where death lurks around every corner. Rick, on the other hand, is weak and ineffectual at this point, clinging to the ways of the old world. However, at the end of the season two cliffhanger he ends up shooting a zombie adolescent in the head in front of her mother, demonstrating he has the constitution necessary to survive in this new world. However, unlike Shane, which is a more honest representation of the American male living through the end times, Rick is trying to balance himself between both environments; he is walking a very tight line and has traversed into dark territory. Unfortunately, he’s doing it through mediocre acting and horribly melodramatic dialogue.
We still have two months until The Walking Dead occurs, and two issues of the comic book before that. Hopefully Kirkman and AMC won’t step back into the mediocrity of the first season and the early part of season two and the next installment of The Walking Dead will move forward with aplomb. Hopefully the majesty of Mad Men (what I consider AMC’s best contribution to the cable television canon) will rub off on The Walking Dead and the series will continue successfully.