Television Review – The Walking Dead – Bloodletting

Let’s pause a moment to take stock of The Walking Dead’s second season without speculating on budgetary concerns. I’ll freely admit I gave the first season a lot of slack because a) zombies and b) it improved on the comic book series. But now that it’s finally back, I find myself less patient because a) zombies and b) as a television series, it’s avoiding what makes the comic successful.

To the first point, zombies are everywhere. What was scary when 28 Days Later came out, imaginative when World War Z was published, hilarious in Shaun of the Dead, and just fucking awesome in Dead Rising is now de rigueur in movies, video games, and novels. Zombies have invaded every entertainment medium, and there’s only so much you can do with them. Whether shutter-stop quick or slow and shambling, they’re just dead people (or sick people) and therefore devoid of emotional complexity or unique motivations.

So if you’re going to stand out from the horde, your zombie story has to have a very good hook. Being the first television series set after a zombie outbreak isn’t enough.

The Walking Dead started off on the right foot, keeping Shane around where the comic book had quickly dispatched him, and sending the characters to the CDC, a logical destination given their predicament. Now the CDC is gone[1] and the characters are on the road again, hoping to find assistance at Fort Benning. And that’s the problem.  Even if the characters claim to believe otherwise, there’s still hope for them.

There shouldn’t be. Despite its flaws, Robert Kirkman’s comic is laudable for its promise of inevitable death. As Rick subtly explains in a closing splash page, “DON’T YOU GET IT? WE ARE THE WALKING DEAD!” It’s this acknowledgment, that everyone in the story is merely postponing the end, that makes the comic work.

But on the show, while it’s unlikely there will ever be a cure for the zombie plague, there’s a good chance that Carl will survive being shot. That Shane will make it out of the zombie-infested high school. That T-Bone will live through his infection[2]. And that Lori isn’t going anywhere until Sarah Wayne Callies gets a role on another series.

In order for The Walking Dead to live up to its premise, it needs to display a willingness to kill off characters quickly and unexpectedly. The stakes in every episode have to be as high as they would be in a 90-minute horror movie. It’s not that I’m rooting for anyone to die[3], but without that constant threat, the series is beginning to feel a little bloodless.

On that note, putting money back into the special effects budget couldn’t hurt either.

[1] Not a building I would have rigged with a self-destruct button, but whatever. If this show develops an unflattering reputation, I’ll point to this development as evidence that it was dumb when Frank Darabont was in charge, too.

[2] On this week’s Screened podcast, the hosts speculated that T-Bone might be suffering from more than just blood poisoning. If that’s the case, I’d still bet on his survival, but less one arm.

[3] Lori, Lori, Lori, Lori….


1 Comment

  1. That sums up season 2 pretty well. There’s simply no genuine feeling of urgency or anxiety. A boy gets shot, oh no! But wait, there’s a medical professional just a few’a licks that’a way. We are missing the tools needed to save the boy, oh no! But wait, the tool is just a few’a licks that’a way. Well, at least that one guy is going to die from his infec……..right, antibiotics.

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