Walking Dead Season 2
Director - Ernest Dickerson, Phil Abraham
Cast - Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Wayne Callies, Jon Bernthal
Country of Origin - U.S.
Discs - 4
Distributor - Anchor Bay Entertainment
Reviewer - Bobby Morgan
Date - 9/19/2012
The Film: 4/5
At the end of The Walking Dead’s flawed but terrific first season Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his group of battle-worn survivors - including his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), son Carl (Chandler Riggs), and best friend and former partner on the police force Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal) - are once again set adrift in a world besieged by the flesh-hungry “walkers”. While crossing the country they come across a highway cluttered with abandoned cars and ravenous zombies. During their attempt to pass through without casualties Carol’s (Melissa McBride) daughter Sophia (Madison Lintz) becomes separated from the group and Rick and several others head out to find her. Their search leads to their coming across the farm of another cluster of survivors lead by Herschel Greene (Scott Wilson), a veterinarian who reluctantly welcomes Rick’s group to stay for a while. At first they’re relieved to finally find some peace and tranquility after enduing months of unimaginable horror on the open road, but soon they find themselves wearing out their welcome with Herschel and discovering that the greatest horror yet to be encountered is not in the decayed faces of the armies of the cannibalistic dead, but among their own numbers.
From the moment The Walking Dead first aired on AMC on Halloween night 2010 I was a devoted fan. In my lifetime I had never seen any television series quite like it. For many years I’ve been a serious horror fan and a great admirer of zombie movies. I consider George Romero, the godfather of the zombie movie thanks to his epic Dead series which continues to this day, one of my filmmaking heroes for the sheer vision and ingenuity he brings to a horror subgenre that usually doesn’t get its due respect. Romero’s films opened the door for filmmakers like David Cronenberg, Lucio Fulci, Danny Boyle, and Edgar Wright to enter into the fray and contribute their own interesting stories of what happens when ordinary everyday individuals are completely detached from their humanity and become inhuman monsters. Some went the more comedic route like Wright, but others like Cronenberg and Boyle followed the example of Romero and used the zombie film to explore deeper social and political issues that remain timely many years after their films were released.
There have been many great zombie movies but the problem is that too many wannabe horror directors make their own cheapjack living dead flicks that contribute nothing to the genre in the way of fascinating ideas, memorable characters, or even halfway decent gore effects. Much like any overexposed genre of cinema the zombie film was bound to slip into a moribund state after way too many bombs. Not even George Romero could rise above the sea of bilge that has consumed video stores and online retailers nationwide; in recent years he has made arguably two of the worst films of his career - Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead. Most times these movies expect us to be merely frightened at the mere sight of a horde of zombies coming our way. There is absolutely nothing of substance behind the seas of dead-eyed extras wandering (or running, if you prefer) down lonely post-apocalyptic streets looking to sink their rotten teeth into their next warm, screaming meal. It’s all empty-headed shock in the end, the stuff of amateurish YouTube videos instead of our most terrifying nightmares.
Which is why The Walking Dead came off as a breath of fresh air for horror fans when it first hit the airwaves. Based on a popular independent comic book series by Robert Kirkman, who also serves as an executive producer on the show, the series brought real humanity and emotion back to the zombie genre and introduced us to a well-rounded and diverse cast of characters who wouldn’t be out of place in the works of Romero and Stephen King. Serving as the hero of The Walking Dead is British actor Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, the former lawman who refuses to abandon his devotion to family and justice in the face of the apocalypse. Lincoln is constantly great as Grimes even as the show’s writers offer him very little to explore in his character; being good and honorable are welcome traits for any person to have but it makes for a bland and uninteresting protagonist. I was willing to forgive that flaw in the first season because Rick was just coming to understand the world he had woken from a coma to find himself in and all he wanted to do was find his wife and son and locate a safe haven for their group to settle in. Sadly though the second season gives Rick very little to do in the first half but sweat and be exasperated, but there are moments throughout that manage to redeem the laziness of the storytelling and Lincoln rises to the challenge every time. The final episodes of the season hint at a darker direction for the Grimes character that I hope gets to be fully realized.
Prior to its return The Walking Dead made headlines in the entertainment media when Frank Darabont, the Oscar-nominated director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Mist and the show runner for the first season, was shockingly dismissed by the suits at AMC following a series of protracted behind-the-scenes battles over the direction of the second season and the fact that the network wanted to drastically cut the show’s budget. Darabont was forced to take a hike and executive producer Glen Mazzara took over as show runner. The network’s miserly approach is reflected in the first half of the season; after the riveting season premiere the next six episodes are spent mostly at Herschel’s farm where the characters primarily stand around having innocuous conversations and the occasional zombie attack occurs. It’s a repetitive structure that kills whatever momentum the show had built up to that point and leaves us viewers for something, anything, to happen. Fortunately this is where some of the less interesting characters like Shane and Andrea (Laurie Holden) are given the golden opportunity to develop into full-blooded personalities. Bernthal truly shines as Shane journeys further into the darkness and often seems to make more sense in his actions than anyone else on the show. The events of the first season hinted at an inevitable confrontation between him and Rick for the heart of Lori and the leadership of the group, and when the time comes it makes for electrifying television. Holden makes Andrea’s transition from meek survivor to battle-scarred warrior palpable and believable and never goes overboard with emoting during her big moments.
The rest of the supporting cast continues to make the most of their fleeing screen time. Norman Reedus’ Daryl Dixon has really come to the forefront of the cast this season as the character attempts to escape the shadow and influence of his cruel missing brother Merle (Michael Rooker, who shows up briefly as a hallucination in one episode and will returning in season three) and show that he can be a better man in the process. I was never a fan of Reedus in the past; although I think he’s a good actor he doesn’t usually appear in good films, Blade II notwithstanding (and don’t get me started on The Boondock Saints - fuck that movie). It’s good to see him get a worthy role that promises a wealth of great character moments in the future. Despite her character’s endless shifting allegiances and questionable moral fiber Sarah Wayne Callies’ Lori Grimes continues to be a sympathetic figure and often a good source of strength for her besieged husband. Having one of my personal favorite actors Scott Wilson in the cast provided a much-needed injection of fatherly warmth early in the season; he underplays the complexities in the character of Herschel and carefully reveals that this friendly vet is hiding a few dark secrets of his own without making it terribly obvious at first. The other actors do what they can with their underwritten parts but they find themselves fighting for screen time as much as they do battling the “walkers”. An exception would be the always welcome Jeffrey DeMunn as the group’s often irritating conscience Dale.
Every other aspect of the series, from the tight direction - Ernest Dickerson, the former cinematographer for Spike Lee turned director of Tales from the Crypt Presents Demon Knight and Surviving the Game to name a few, helmed several of the season’s finest episodes in addition to calling the shots for quality television series like The Wire and Dexter - to the wonderful gruesome special effects supervised by the great Greg Nicotero (no stranger to making zombies for film and television) and the haunting score by Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica) remains superlative and worth every dollar being spent on the show. AMC’s penny-pinching ways and pathetic talent relations almost torpedoed The Walking Dead’s chances of becoming a classic television series, but after a slow start the season picks up the pace in its final episodes with several surprising twists and the introduction of some interesting new characters and the promise of a continued downward spiral into horror and madness in the third season.
Each episode is presented in anamorphic widescreen in their original 1.78:1 broadcast aspect ratio with English Dolby Digital 5.1 and French Dolby Surround 2.0 audio tracks. English and Spanish subtitles are also provided.
There’s enough bonus features spread across this four-disc set to fill Herschel’s barn. Let’s load up the weapons and hunt.
Disc 1 kicks off with upfront previews for The Walking Dead’s third season, a Walking Dead video game, the fifth season of Breaking Bad, and the forthcoming Resident Evil 6 game. There’s also a commentary on the season premiere “What Lies Ahead” with executive producers Glen Mazzara, Gale Anne Hurd, Robert Kirkman, and David Alpert.
On disc 2 the episode “Nebraska” comes with a commentary with Mazzara, co-executive producer Evan Reilly, and actors Scott Wilson and Steven Yuen. Another commentary is available for the mid-season finale “Pretty Much Dead Already” with Mazzara, producer Scott M. Gimple, director Michelle MacLaren, and editor Julius Ramsay.
Disc 3 features a commentary on the episode “Judge, Jury, Executioner” with Mazzara, co-executive producer and special effects make-up artist Greg Nicotero, writer Angela Kang, and actress Laurie Holden.
The bulk of the supplements is contained on disc 4 starting off with a commentary on the episode “Beside the Dying Fire” with Mazzara, director Ernest Dickerson, Nicotero, Kirkman, and actor Norman Reedus.
Eleven mini-featurettes, running a total of 65 minutes, cover many aspects of the show’s production and feature brief interviews with key members of the cast and crew. None of them exceed nine minutes in length. They break down as follows: “All the Guts Inside” (6 minutes) literally dissects the messy effects work that went into a scene involving a zombie autopsy, with Greg Nicotero giving us a little tutorial on how to create realistic-looking innards; “Live or Let Die” (7 minutes) discusses the differences between the comic book and television show as far as which characters die and when their time comes; “The Meat of the Music” (8 minutes) focuses on show composer Bear McCreary as he creates the brooding music that powers the horrific adventures of the Walking Dead universe; “Fire on Set” (6 minutes) gives us a detailed look at how the production burned Herschel’s farm to the ground for a particularly harrowing episode; “The Ink is Alive” (9 minutes) is the longest of the mini-docs and is devoted to Robert Kirkman and the genesis of the Walking Dead comic book series; “The Sound of the Effects” (5 minutes) is a bit of a pretentious title for what is obviously a short doc focusing on the creation of the show’s sound effects; “In the Dead Water” (5 minutes) breaks down a chilling scene where some of the characters have an intense run-in with a zombie in a well; “You Could Make a Killing” (6 minutes) devotes its time to special effects make-up wizard Greg Nicotero and the brilliantly gruesome gore he creates - with the assistance of one talented effects crew - for The Walking Dead; “She Will Fight” (6 minutes) discusses the evolution of the character of Andrea as from traumatized survivor in the first season to badass zombie killer; “The Cast on Season 2” (5 minutes) is exactly what it sounds like, a series of interview snippets with the show’s principal actors discussing their thoughts on making the second season; and last but not least is “Wardrobe of the Walking Dead” (3 minutes), the shortest of the featurettes that takes a quick look at the costuming of the show’s zombie extras.
Prior to the show’s second season premiere AMC aired six “webisodes” on their official Walking Dead website. Running a total of twenty minutes each short documents the origins of the “Bicycle Girl” zombie that Rick Grimes encountered in the very first episode. Greg Nicotero co-wrote and directed these shorts and also provides an optional commentary track for each one.
Closing out the extras are deleted scenes from eight episodes (30 minutes) with optional commentary from executive producer Glen Mazzara.
While The Walking Dead’s second season was at first massively flawed and a major letdown following the terrific first season it redeemed itself nicely in the second half of the season. Anchor Bay has done the show a great service with this terrific DVD set full of great extra features and excellent A/V presentation. Count me in for Season 3.