The second season of The Walking Dead picks up immediately after the events of the first, with Rick Grimes and his band of followers searching for shelter from the zombie hordes that plague the post-apocalyptic Georgia landscape. After the fast-paced, high concept events of the first season, the more dramatic, character-driven second season unsurprisingly stigmatized viewers, becoming something of a “love it or hate it” experience for viewers. It didn’t help, of course, that this tonal shift in the series occurred just as controversy erupted behind the scenes as struggles between AMC and the series’ producers led to the dismissal of showrunner Frank Darabont and significant budget cuts.
The comparative lack of zombies in the second season easily accounts for the #1 complaint I heard voiced by fans. Yet I would describe this season as nothing short of brilliant. Its brilliance arises in part out of its tightly-woven narrative, something that only really becomes apparent upon reflection, and in part precisely out its relative lack of zombies throughout. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t dislike zombies by any means. In fact, I am an enormous proponent of horror in general, and the zombie subgenre in particular. As such, I recognize that the key to the success of any zombie-related narrative is not the zombie itself, but the survivor. Some people watch zombie movies specifically for the gore, sure. That’s how Lucio Fulci got by all those years. But zombie narratives only truly effect the viewer when we have developed affections for the characters and therefore give a shit whether they live or die. This becomes all the more important when dealing with an ongoing series such as this. Hence, the writers provide us with character development in spades throughout the thirteen-episode second season, something which the rushed first season, at a mere six episodes, notably lacked.
This allows the series to focus on greater themes of humanity in the second season rather than simply trying to find new and gory ways to kill people each episode. In this, we find the series exploring what it really means to be human at the end of the world. These episodes more significantly focus on Rick’s son Carl than the previous six had, a character who, growing up in a world overrun by zombies, seems to lack the human virtues of compassion and sympathy. And all his parents can do is watch in horror as his little heart deadens. Unfortunately for humanity, he’s not the only one growing cold. Each time the characters are forced to make “the hard decisions,” they lose a bit of themselves and their civility. In this, the season forces us to consider whether a person bereft of their capacity for compassion is really any different from the titular walking dead in their cold selflessness.
The Complete Second Season is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment. Now, Blu-ray would seem to be the optimal format in which to view the program, and indeed that it is the case with the majority of series released on home video. However, that isn’t really the case here. In fact, I’d say it depends on how committed you are to the format. You see, The Walking Dead relies heavily on CG, especially for its many, many zombie kills. And as anyone who paid attention to the trades should know, AMC all but abandoned The Walking Dead, one of its top three shows mind you, when they idiotically sacked Darabont and reportedly cut each episode’s budget by over half a million dollars. Unsurprisingly, the CG here looks exceedingly cheap, cheaper perhaps than it had looked in the first season. As you might imagine, then, the full HD treatment of the Blu-ray release doesn’t exactly do the already janky-looking effects any favors! Often you’ll find yourself taken out of a moment by some sloppy CG effect or another and it’s really unfortunate since the series is otherwise so solid throughout.
This release features a wealth of special features which include eleven featurettes, audio commentaries on five episodes, eight deleted scenes, and the Walking Dead web series, Torn Apart. The six-part Torn Apart runs just under twenty minutes. It offers a wholly unnecessary origin story for a key first season zombie, with its superfluous narrative augmented by a stilted performance or two and, by far the worst offense of all, piss-poor audio.