October 17, 2011

The Walking Dead: Season Two Premiere is Solid but Sagging

Thanks to a lovely friend, I was able to catch the premiere of The Walking Dead's second season when it aired yesterday. As a zombie fanatic and fan of the first season, I have been awaiting season two like a ghoul awaiting a fresh brain.

I am, however, fairly underwhelmed by this second helping of The Walking Dead. Thoughts after the cut


I will try to discuss last night's episode, "What Lies Ahead," with as few spoilers as possible, but be warned that some might slip through.

The second season premiere picks up fairly soon after our band of survivors leaves the CDC. On the highway, a complication arises when the zombie threat against them puts the most vulnerable of the survivors in danger. They have to go out of their element and into the woods where even more unexpected dangers wait.

Not surprisingly, The Walking Dead continues to do what it does best: gore and zombie attack scenes. In this episode, the survivors encounter their first zombie 'herd' (I know they call them 'herds' in the comics too, but I just want to yell at the TV, "It's called a HORDE!"). It's a tense encounter that our heroes have no hope of shooting their way out of, so they resort to hiding and waiting for the danger to pass. The zombies look amazing, as usual, and we are treated to an incredibly gross gutting scene that's sure to be a crowd-pleaser for horror fans.

Amidst the gore and the horror, the survivors struggle with a fracturing group dynamic. Shane is fixing to leave the group, presumably to save himself, Lori, Rick, and Carl the ongoing damage from his affair with Laurie. Also, Andrea -- who Dale guilted out of suicide last season -- is becoming increasingly antisocial and abrasive.

Unfortunately, I felt the drama was often poorly paced and a sagging point in the episode's tension. Halfway through the episode, after a character goes missing and finding him/her becomes the group's priority, there's lots of walking and talking that creates a serious lull in the drama and suspense. The drama is also very repetitive. For example, two different characters have a heart-to-heart with God one after the other. The pacing is a common problem throughout the episode. The first half is incredibly exciting, but as we move toward the conclusion the action winds down, and down, and down. The action suddenly spikes during the episode's cliffhanger conclusion, but there's been too much dead energy before that point.

Overall, I couldn't shake the feeling that "What Lies Ahead" would have worked better as the finale to season one. All the personal drama between Shane and Lori that was so awkwardly handled at the end of the first season is given more respect in the season two debut. Also, the drama comes back down to earth after the embarrassingly overblown CDC subplot at the end of last season. Even the season two premiere ends with a cliffhanger more emotionally resonant than anything that happened at the end of season one. To me, "What Lies Ahead" didn't feel like the start of a new season but the conclusion to the last.

"What Lies Ahead" wasn't a bad episode of The Walking Dead, but it was not the strong comeback I was expecting or hoping. The show needs to keep the drama and horror better balanced or else invest more into these characters to make the drama more compelling when there's a lull in the horror.