February 13, 2012

No Clean Hands in "Nebraska" - The Walking Dead's Mid-season Premiere

Spoiler-Free Thoughts on The Walking Dead's  Mid-season Return

Last night, The Walking Dead returned to AMC with its first new episode since November's mid-season cliffhanger. In this zombie blogger's opinion, things haven't been looking good for season two of the popular zombie television drama, but last night's episode, "Nebraska," was a solid approximation of the first season's meaningful drama, even if last night's episode was very light on horror.

Back in November, I wrote in my mid-season checkup (SPOILERS!) that the show had slowed to a virtual halt with little to no meaningful progress in the drama or the character conflicts. The characters and the plot seemed to be spinning their wheels with nowhere to go as the Search for Sophia dragged on and on and on. Now that the series has resumed after the mid-season cliffhanger, there are hopeful signs that the series is getting back on track.

A talented cast with nowhere to go
For one, the characters feel slightly less static. Hershel and Carol- and to a lesser extent Glenn and Maggie - are allowed to finally step beyond their repetitive characterizations and show a bit more depth within the context of the ensemble cast. On the other hand, The Walking Dead is still fixated on rehashing what's come before. People still argue about who should go to town. Rick and Shane bark at each other and substitute volume for complexity. Shane, in particular, remains an abrasive and increasingly despicable foil for Rick, but the depth just isn't there. In fact, there's an exchange between Shane and Dale that rehashes a similar encounter they had prior to the mid-season hiatus.

There's no Happy Hour during the Zombie Apocalypse
In more hopeful news, for the first time in what feels like ages, the cast is finally allowed to venture away from the narrative dead zone of Hershel's farm and into town, where Rick, Glenn, and Hershel encounter two new characters. The interaction is the high-point of the episode and brought some much needed tension, suspense, and freshness to a series in danger of growing repetitive and stale. Unfortunately, there's little zombie horror in this episode, a trend that's becoming increasingly worrisome. Not every episode needs to be a zombie extravaganza, but it's clear that The Walking Dead is starting to become less of a horror drama as AMC keeps the zombies in such pitiful numbers.

Overall, "Nebraska" is nowhere as good as the most mediocre episodes from season one, but for a season that's been flagging and becoming repetitive, this was a solid start to the second half of the season.

Seeing as how hope was such an important theme in last night's episode, let's hope it's all uphill from here.