Season Two of The Walking Dead aired its mid-season finale this week, bringing to a close the first half of its sophomore season (with the second half of Season Two set to begin dropping new episodes in February 2012).  Now that we’re in a mid-season hiatus, we here at ScreenCrave decided to take advantage of the lull and look back at what’s happened so far in zombie apocalypse world of The Walking Dead to see what the program has done right, what it’s done wrong (honestly, this hasn’t been the most even or coherent of seasons), and where it is going.

Individual Episode Recaps

Episode 1: What Lies Ahead (Rating: 7/10)

Episode 2: Bloodletting (Rating: 5/10)

Episode 3: Save The Last One (Rating: 7.5/10)

Episode 4: Cherokee Rose (Rating: 7/10)

Episode 5: Chupacabra (Rating: 6.5/10)

Episode 6: Secrets (Rating: 5/10)

Episode 7: Pretty Much Dead Already (Rating: 9/10)

Season Two Primary Characters

[Spoilers ahead!]

  • Rick Grimes: A former King County, Georgia deputy sheriff, Rick Grimes is leading a small group of zombie plague survivors from Atlanta to U.S. army base Fort Benning.
  • Lori: Rick’s pregnant wife.
  •  Carl: Rick and Lori’s young son.
  • Shane Walsh: Rick’s former partner and friend (and who, in Season One, engaged in an affair with Lori after telling her that Rick had died during the plague’s initial phase).
  • Andrea: A former lawyer whose sister has died.
  • Dale: An older man who owns an RV.
  • Glenn:  Former pizza delivery boy and comedic relief of the group.
  • Daryl:  A redneck hunter.
  • Carol:  A timid mother.
  • Sophia:  Carol’s quiet daughter.
  • T-Dog: A clumsy but good-hearted man.

The Walking Dead: Season Two Plot Summary

On the way to Fort Benning, the group comes across a former traffic jam on I-85.  While looting the vehicles, the survivors are attacked by “walkers” (zombies), and a frightened Sophia runs away into the nearby woods.  Later, the group begins a search of the woods, wherein Carl is accidentally shot by Otis, a deer hunter.  Otis takes the wounded Carl and others in the group to a secluded farm owned by veterinarian Hershel Greene, who saves Carl’s life.  Tension begin to develop between our band of survivors and the Greene family, as Lori discovers that she is pregnant (forcing Rick to all but beg Hershel to allow them to stay on the idyllic farm to deliver the child, which may be Shane’s), Shane’s sanity begins to slip (he sacrifices Otis to a group of walkers in order to escape with a supply of medical equipment for Carl), the survivors continually fail to find Sophia in the woods, and Glenn discovers that Hershel is keeping walkers “alive” and in captivity in his barn, with the hopes that a cure can be found.

Shane snaps at the discovery and, despite Hershel and Rick’s protestations, leads the rest of the survivors in a firing line, putting down the walkers that included Hershel’s wife.  However, even Shane’s rage is quelled and shocked when Sophia stumbles out of the barn, revealing herself to now be a walking corpse.  Only Rick takes action, shooting the young girl in the head as the first half of Season Two draws to a close.

The Good:

  • The Mid-Season Finale:  The climax of Season Two was a powerhouse, allowing several plot threads that had simply been treading water to explode in a series of violent shocks.  After a deeply uneven season which featured lazy plotting, inorganic plot development, clichéd disaster movie characters, and a writer’s room that seemed unsure of how to get the series from the opening of “What Lies Ahead” to the shocking reveals of “Pretty Much Dead Already,” the final episode of the season’s first half was a cohesive, character-driven high-point of the season.  Rick finally stopped moping and became the dark, troubled hero the series has needed, Shane seems to be slipping into a villain role that feels natural and not forced, and the mystery of Sophia (as well as Rick’s resolution for it), was a necessary dark, hopeless moment that this series has needed.  As I wrote in the recap, “too often, The Walking Dead relies on cheap scares and cheats, but this was a disturbingly bleak and necessary reminder of the world the characters now inhabit, and just how desolate it has become.”
  • Glenn:  Dear Walking Dead writers—so far, Glenn is one of the few characters to both avoid disaster movie cliché, and who isn’t spending most of his time pouting (I know, I know, there’s plenty to pout about when rotting corpses walk the Earth and try to eat you)—so please, give us more of him.  Between Lori’s shrill bitterness, Rick’s staring at his shoes, and Andrea’s ongoing “to be or not to be” existential debates, Glenn is  a welcome and necessary blast of fresh air amongst the characters.
  • Lori’s Pregnancy:  While Lori is by no means the best character on the show (and the “is it Shane’s/ is it Rick’s?” thread is more than a little soap opera-y), her pregnancy serves as a reminder of just how dangerous the world of The Walking Dead has become, forcing Rick to realize that neither Lori or the baby are likely to survive if the birth takes place off the farm.
  • Shane/ Hershel:  Both men are pushed into moral compromise by the madness that takes place around them, with Shane wounding Otis to allow walkers to eat him so that Shane had time to make it back to the group with medical supplies for Carl, and Hershel keeps several walkers (including Sophia) captive in his barn, with the hopes that they may someday be saved.  Both men are moving towards villainy, but are doing so in ways that are organic and understandable, which makes their actions all the more chilling.

The Bad:

  • The Writing:  The writing of The Walking Dead has been a hindrance to the show in Season Two, with the characters rarely rising above stock cliché, and the plot constantly dictating their inorganic actions.  It’s as if the writers came up with the final shocking payoffs of the season first (Sophia is a walker!  Rick kills her!  Lori’s pregnant!  Hershel is keeping zombies!) and then tried to work their way backwards to the beginning of the season.  In doing so, the plotting often felt forced, with plot threads clumsily wedged into episodes to ensure the payoffs in “Pretty Much Dead Already” worked.  And those payoffs did work; however, it came with a price—the first six episodes of Season Two are a wildly inconsistent mishmash of forced plot beats and character development.
  • The Hunt For Sophia:  While the discovery of Sophia as a walker was a shocking one, it came with a hefty price tag—in almost every episode, whenever the plot began to drag, seemingly random characters would wander alone in the woods to “search for Sophia,” which essentially became code for “hey, we need some zombie scares and a few characters to foolishly wander around alone in the woods.”  It became a boring and predictable plot device, used whenever the writers seemed to need a few zombie jump scenes wedged into an episode.

Overall:

The Walking Dead’s second season has been by no means perfect thus far—starting fairly strong before slipping into predictable plots and wheel spinning, and then finally climaxing in shocking and disturbing fashion  Too often, it seemed as if the showrunners came up with the payoffs first, and then struggled to cram those payoffs into storylines not designed to support them.

What The Show Needs:

More than anything else, The Walking Dead needs organic plot development, and characters who drive that plot (as opposed to a weak plot that drives the characters).  The show already has a great (if well-worn) premise: normal people trying to survive in a world in which nothing makes sense and society has disappeared as the dead now walk the Earth.  All it needs now is to let the plot naturally flow outward from that.  Some interesting pieces are now in motion on the chessboard: Rick has asserted himself, Lori is pregnant, Shane is crumbling and turning violent, and the group has betrayed the man who owns the oasis of safety that they wish to stay in.  If the writers can naturally develop the show from there, instead of coming up with a “hey, wouldn’t this be badass?” ending to the season and trying to work backwards from there, then the second half of The Walking Dead could equal, or even better, the massive stride forward that was “Pretty Much Dead Already.”  Fingers crossed.

Season Two Rating (So Far):  6.5

The Walking Dead airs on Sunday on AMC

What do you think of The Walking Dead‘s second season?