I spent the entire second season of 'The Walking Dead' covering every episode in-depth for The Bonus View. I took in all 13 episodes and, at the end found it lacking in numerous areas, first and foremost being the wishy-washy group of characters we were left with. Chief among them Rick (Andrew Lincoln) who is the supposed leader, but can never really make up his own mind on what must be done in order to survive.
The biggest drawback to season two was the noticeable cutback in zombie carnage to footage of a bunch of dirty people bickering about societal dos and don'ts. It didn't help matters that our band of not-so-merry zombie killers ended up finding a farm, which they then camped out at for the rest of the season. Scaling back the action scenes (presumably because the per-episode budget was downsized) meant that the characters really needed to take center stage. If we weren't going to have numerous scenes of people capping walkers with shotguns, at least give us some intricate character drama. Season two failed there too.
Too much of season two was taken up by either watching Rick and Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) sulk in the farmhouse as little Carl (Chandler Riggs) finally recovered from the bullet that was put in his gut in the first episode, or watching Dale traipse around camp spouting his "We still need to be a society here," propaganda.
In my mind Shane (Jon Bernthal) was the only rational person in the entire gang. He was the one that had figured out that holding hands and pretending that the world wasn't being devoured by flesh-eaters was ludicrous. That the only way they'd survive is if they armed themselves to the teeth and started treating their camp like a military state rather than an easy-breezy democracy. The camp was so lax that Carl never even had supervision for much of the season (leading to one or two errant zombie mishaps). It was like Lori and Rick chose to be oblivious to the outside threat of the walking dead who could literally chew their son's pudgy, freckly face down to the bone. Shane was the lone person in the group who saw the need for putting the world that had once been, behind them. He was the one who really got it. So, what did they do with Shane in season two? They turned him into a rage-monster who constantly walked around camp rubbing his newly shaved head. He came this close to muttering incoherent babble to himself while wearing a tinfoil hat. It was almost like the show put up a neon sign above him with actor Brian George waving his finger saying, "Bad man. This is a very, very bad man."
This season made it evident that not too many of the characters in 'The Walking Dead' have many layers to work with (I'm talking emotional layers, not skin layers, of which they have many delicious ones). They're practically all one-note wonders. Rick is the consummate good guy who is just protecting his family; Lori is the scared wife who looks up to her husband and routinely makes bad decisions; Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) is the self-righteous grandpa figure who just wants everyone to get along; Glenn (Steven Yeun) is the group buddy who everyone is comfortable with; Daryl (Norman Reedus) admittedly is more layered than most, but was almost written entirely out of any important moments that happened in the second half of the season; T-Dog (IronE Singleton) might as well be a cardboard cutout, because the amount of lines he has in season two could probably be counted on two hands; Andrea (Laurie Holden) is a perpetual sourpuss because of her sister's demise in the first season; and Carl just happens to be really, really annoying. As you can see the field of main characters is dreadfully lacking any sort of interesting emotionality. This season made it feel like they were all just there in case some zombies decided to attack.
That's not to say I didn't like some parts of season two, and truthfully it is slightly more attention-grabbing than some other shows on television. It's also fun to watch, regardless of the anemic characterizations, simply because there's promise of zombie carnage around every corner.
It's just when the group finally found the farm, and stayed there they stayed. The farm, at times, seemed like an excuse for the show to take a breath. Only this is the zombie apocalypse, emphasis on "apocalypse." Since when do you get to sit back and relax on an idyllic farm when the end of the world is nigh? Their time on the farm felt forced and overlong. If season one was a sprint, season two was a slightly obese kid out for a mild jog. However, all that jogging might have shed a few pounds. The end of season two comes with a few promises of new characters being introduced and new locations to stay at. I'm excited for season three, because even though season two kind of bummed me out, there's always that promise of zombie killin' that keeps bringing me back.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is an Anchor Bay release. There are 13 episodes in the season and they've been spread out on four 50GB Blu-ray Discs. They come in a slightly oversized Blu-ray keepcase that contains two swinging arms that house the discs back to back. They missed an opportunity to provide a nice pamphlet with a detailed episode list and instead opted for a booklet of useless advertisements. That was a real disappointment.
Like the first season, this second season was filmed with 16mm film, which gives the film a very gritty, grain-swimming picture. The aim is to make the show look dirty and unkempt, much in the same way Danny Boyle filmed '28 Days Later.' It doesn't make for a spotless, uber-clear image, but it does add to the overall feel of the show.
Colors are tempered and kept to the earth-tone spectrum. Lots of grays, dim yellows, and browns. About the only bright color you get in 'The Walking Dead' are the sprays of blood that coat a person's face after they take down a zombie from close range. The crimson shows up well in the show and adds in much needed, rich color in an otherwise grungy, dimly-colored world.
I sat down and compared the first season to the second season and noticed that they're both just as gritty and look relatively identical. I did think I noticed a few more instances in the second season where the grain in the picture seems frozen or stagnant (especially on well-lit surfaces) compared to the grain in the first season, but that could just be me looking a little too hard and scrutinizing the picture a little too much. If you sit back and relax the heavy grain adds a level of uncleanliness that should be expected in a world filled with brain-chomping zombies.
With the grain come a few clarity drawbacks though. Edges are soft and at times pretty hazy. Whenever back light from the sun bleeds into the picture edges are quickly washed away in the light. Close-ups feature a fair amount of detail, but as the camera gets further away that detail soon fades, rather quickly as the heavy grain takes over. Now it may seem like I'm preaching against the grain (pun not intended) but I'm simply saying that like the first season, this isn't the clearest picture that you're going to find on Blu-ray, but it is indeed the way the producers of the show intended it to be seen and it's also approximately 10 times better than AMC's compressed cable broadcast which is full of blocking artifacts.
The first season we were given a lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sound mix, but this time around Anchor Bay has pumped up the volume and decided to grace the television series with an extra two channels. The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix is noticeably more encompassing than the first season. The extra two side channels make for a great listening environment that puts you in the moment.
The scenes where the added channels are felt most are ones where zombies seem to be closing in around every corner. Take the zombie horde scene on the highway in the first episode for example. As the characters lie under cars hoping the walkers don't notice them, the shuffling feet and errant growls can be heard coming from the side speakers. The sound slowly moves from the front, to the side, to the rear as the zombies drag their feet along the highway. You can also constantly here cicadas and chirping birds in the rear and side surrounds.
The shooting gallery in the final episode is another great example of how the 7.1 sound works here. Gunshots can be heard coming from every direction. People are screaming, zombies are chomping, and everything is completely chaotic. Yet the surround channels are able to parse out the sound evenly giving us a very realistic idea of what it would be like to be in the middle of everything.
The show's recognizable, moody soundtrack gets even more pumped this time around, filling the sound stage during the opening credits. At times it can almost be a little too loud. Dialogue is always clear, which is nice because approximately 75-percent of 'The Walking Dead' dialogue is spoken in quick gruff whispers from Rick, Lori, or Shane. If you liked the good audio presentation of the first season then chances are you'll like this one even more.
All of the special features for the show are on the fourth disc (except the commentaries which are spread out amongst all discs). This is a fair warning that you shouldn't watch the special features until you're finished with watching the season. Spoilers galore!
These commentaries are spread throughout the season. There are five commentaries in all. The season premiere features a commentary from executive producer and showrunner Glen Mazzara, executive producer Gale Anne Hurd, executive producer/comic creator Robert Kirkman, and executive producer David Alpert. The next commentary is for episode seven and features Mazzara, along with director Michelle MacLaren, writer Scott M. Gimple, and editor Julius Ramsay. The eighth episode features Mazzara discussing characters and zombies with co-executive producer Evan Reilly, and actors Scott Wilson (Hershel Greene) and Steven Yeun (Glenn). The eleventh episode has a commentary with Mazzara, director/special effects make-up artist/co-producer Greg Nicotero, story editor Angela Kang, and actress Laurie Holden (Andrea). The season finale also has a commentary. Here Mazzara is joined by director Ernest Dickerson, Nicotero, Kirkman, and actor Norman Reedus (Daryl).
Mazzara runs a tight ship on these commentaries. He acts as the moderator and specifically asks people questions about the show's production, filming certain scenes, the difficulties of zombie wrangling, how the story progresses, character motivations, and just about everything else you could imagine to want to know about the show. He's able to ask pointed questions that result in direct, thoughtful answers from his fellow filmmakers. That way the commentaries stray away from rambling territory and end up sharing vital information. Like when Kirkman is asked to describe the opening scene of the season finale and he goes on to explain the certain aspects that would lead to zombie herds and how they are formed.
The second season, at times, seemed like a bloated walker stuck in a well with nowhere to go. Once the group found the farm they didn't want to move even though we desperately wanted them to. Most of the time was spent on an elongated hunt for poor little Sophia. Now I will say this. The second season is much easier to accept, with all its shortcomings, when you watch each episode back-to-back with the Blu-ray set. You don't have to wait as long for the next episode so it's a little (just a little) easier to abide how much time is wasted on the farm bickering about looking for the girl and trying to please everyone. Fans of the show will definitely want to own this set though, especially since the video is identical to the first season (intentionally gritty) and the audio has been upgraded to a lossless 7.1 mix. There are also quite a lot of special features and audio commentaries to get through. Even though I'm not the biggest fan of how the second season played out, this is still a recommended set.