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Walking Dead: Season 2, The

Anchor Bay Entertainment // Unrated // August 28, 2012
List Price: $69.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 16, 2012 | E-mail the Author
There were a whole lot of gnashed teeth when Frank Darabont was fired as showrunner of The Walking Dead. AMC had already suffered through embarrassing and all-too-public battles with the talent behind Mad Men and Breaking Bad, and to shitcan someone of Darabont's stature after he'd led The Walking Dead to be one of the most-watched series on television...? I was appalled for
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a few minutes, and then I remembered: "oh, wait, I hated the first season of The Walking Dead!" Wholly unable to recapture a glimmer of the brilliance of its feature-length premiere, the five episodes that followed last season suffered from anemic characterization, insultingly poor writing, cartoonish performances, and one uninvolving installment after another. A regime change is something The Walking Dead desperately needed, and it paid off.

This being the second season of a heavily serialized series and all, I'm not going to recap the overall premise or reintroduce its characters. If you need that sort of primer, you really ought to be reading the review of the first season anyway. With that out of the way... Last season drew to a close with the CDC reduced to a smoldering cinder. Former sheriff's deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and the handful of other survivors of this undead apocalypse set their sights south towards Fort Benning, but a Sargasso Sea of wreckage and a roving pack of flesheating ghouls quickly stand in their way. One of the youngest members of the group goes missing in the aftermath of all this chaos and another lays critically wounded. Unable to move forward, the survivors instead find sanctuary at a nearby farm. They certainly haven't come across anything like it in the weeks since this outbreak seized a chokehold over the world at large. There's no shortage of food, and they have access to all the fresh water they'll ever need. Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson), the kindly owner of the farm, is a seasoned veterinarian who's more than capable of patching up their wounded. It doesn't hurt that there aren't any walkers shambling around either. It's more ideal than anything they could've hoped to find, and it clearly can't last.

The search for their missing companion grows increasingly hopeless. The group is splintered between marching forward and anchoring themselves here. Hershel is more than hospitable but grows increasingly concerned that his guests see this as a permanent
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arrangement, and that can't stand. Hershel and Rick don't see eye-to-eye on a great many things -- how to deal with the legions of the undead squarely at the top of that list -- and those tensions inevitably boil over. Hershel's first priorities are his family and his farm, and...well, that's not all he's desperate to protect...

I guess I should admit to being more than a little bit pessimistic about this season of The Walking Dead, given my disillusionment with the comics over the past couple of years and how wholly inept so much of the first run of episodes ultimately were. This sophomore season, though...? Wholly and completely won me over. Sure, sure, it got to be kind of a meme for a while there that "yeah, they're still on Hershel's farm", and I get that. Season two was widely criticized, especially throughout its first half, for being insufferably static and talky. Most of those episodes were limited to a single zombie attack a week. With just a tiny handful of the undead and the backdrop of a pastoral farm -- where the series' cast was content to sit around and yammer on endlessly -- I can see how The Walking Dead might not feel all that much like it's waistdeep in a zombie apocalypse. I completely understand how that can be frustrating to watch week in and week out on basic cable, but all of those headaches are wiped away on Blu-ray. A series like The Walking Dead demands to be devoured in marathons. Though the first half of the season admittedly moves at a deliberate pace and is often stingy with the undead, I hardly ever felt it when episodes are separated by however long it takes me to grab a Coke out of the fridge rather than having to wait a full week. Aside from the back half of "What Lies Ahead" -- which runs around twenty minutes longer than a regular episode and winds up feeling kind of bloated as a result -- I can honestly say I was never bored.

The undead are the marquee draw here, as if you need me to spell that out, and when this season of The Walking Dead is at its best, it eclipses just about every last one of the hundred or so zombie flicks I have on the shelves downstairs. The attack sequences are unrelentingly intense and unflinchingly graphic, and because they're used somewhat
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sparingly -- especially early on -- the impact these scenes have is heightened that much more. The Walking Dead takes the proper approach to horror as well, disinterested in lazy jump scares or double-digit IQ gross-out gags. For instance, one of the most unnerving sequences throughout the season comes in the premiere as the survivors hide in silence under the carcasses of wrecked automobiles and a small army of walkers shamble by. The writing staff this year is able to deftly weave tragedy into those horror elements, crafting something far more substantial than just a body count. Arguably the most haunting scene in the season revolves around a horde of zombies rushing forward, and it's immensely powerful even though the living, breathing characters really aren't in any danger whatsoever. 'Course, I don't want to make it sound as if The Walking Dead pulls its punches. I mean, even with as much of a seasoned gorehound as I am, I can't believe what the series gets way with this season. Despite its disinterest in gore-for-the-sake-of-gore and the fact it's airing in primetime on basic cable, The Walking Dead is more visceral and more gruesome than the overwhelming majority of zombie epics I've come across over the years. Its makeup effects are still world-class, under the skilled hands of the Romero vets at KNB, and the scale of the havoc that's wrought this season is frequently staggering. With that sort of scope and that level of craftsmanship, it's very, very easy to forget that The Walking Dead is a television series and not a lavishly budgeted feature film.

One sticking point for me still is the characterization. Of the ensemble returning from The Walking Dead's first season, the only two that I outright like are Daryl and Glenn. Boasting the most realized personality of anyone in the group, it's appreciated that Glenn's not just there for comic relief; he's one of the most dependable characters on the show when it comes to getting shit done. It's sort of the same deal with Daryl. That Southern-fried charm has helped to make him a fan favorite, but he's also the most capable warrior in the lot. When that turns out not to be enough to save the day, that failure hits him hard. I'm also intrigued by the way that Andrea comes into her own this year, summoning a strength that went largely unseen before now. Shane stands out as someone willing to make the difficult decisions, and though his
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calls are generally right at the end of the day, the way he goes about it is so crude and undiplomatic that it often does more harm than good. This season also benefits from the introduction of Hershel -- brought to life by the always-terrific character actor Scott Wilson -- and his twentysomething daughter Maggie (genre TV vet Lauren Cohan).

So many of the other characters, though...? They range anywhere from "forgettable" to "aggressively annoying". T-Dog (ugh) gets maybe a line or two an episode, never contributing much of anything. No idea why he's there, and the writers even saddle the poor guy with an "awwww, hayll no!" at one point, which is One frequent criticism of Robert Kirkman's comics -- capes and zombies alike -- is his fundamental inability to write women, and his female characters are generally squandered here too. Carol is teary-eyed dead weight. Although I like the direction Andrea takes over the course of this season, her defining trait in a lot of ways is not doing anything. Maggie scores a lot of the best lines this season but is mostly untapped potential (no pun intended there, Glenn). Lori remains one of the most shrill, argumentative, and fiercely unlikeable characters in the history of anything, ever. The rest of her family
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is no great shakes either, but some of the turns this season takes as it draws to a close have me looking forward to where Carl and Rick may head this coming year.

Even looking beyond its scattershot characterization, season two suffers from its fair share of flaws. I didn't find the slower pace throughout the first half of the season to be an issue, but your mileage definitely may vary on that one. Because so many of its characters are thinly sketched and largely forgettable, the soapy melodrama they have to slog through tends to be woefully uninvolving. I mean, if I don't care all that much about the characters, it kinda follows that I don't really give a shit what happens to 'em either. Again, it's pulled off just well enough that I can look past all that, but am I on the edge of my seat about whether or not Andrea will make another suicide attempt or when Glenn will muster up the courage to tell Maggie how he feels about her...? Not really. Then you have the usual stuff like Hershel's unlimited ammo cheat code, offing characters who were so barely introduced that I found myself wondering "wait, who was that again?" twice in the space of one episode, the lookout failing to notice that 14,000 zombies are a couple dozen feet away, unnecessary exposition, a few groan-worthy lines of dialogue, a consistently terrible job conveying the passage of time...

Whatever, though. Despite walking in with the lowest possible expectations, I fucking loved the second season of The Walking Dead. Sure, I can recognize its flaws -- I've been hammering out reviews like this for close to a decade and a half, so it's kinda second-nature by now -- but I can honestly say that its missteps hardly ever get in the way. It's a colossal step forward over The Walking Dead's largely disappointing first run of episodes, and it feels as if the writers have found the steady footing they need to make for a hell of a third season. I know there was a lot of grousing about this season of The Walking Dead when it first aired, but I think marathon viewing smooths out a lot of those rough spots, and in between are several of the most spectacular zombie epics ever committed to film. Highly Recommended.

It was a remarkably inspired choice to shoot The Walking Dead on 16mm film. Its coarse, gritty texture is such an essential part of the series' visual character, lending it a sense of mood and atmosphere that'd be lost if shot
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on the same digital rigs everyone else is using on the small screen anymore. That filmic approach also ensures that The Walking Dead looks like a movie rather than just another TV show. The downside to all of that is how bitstarved AMC's feed is on pretty much every cable and satellite provider the world over, resulting in heavy banding, macroblocking, and every other flavor of digital artifacting you'd care to rattle off. Thankfully, Blu-ray makes for a vastly superior experience. The Walking Dead's filmic texture remains wholly intact, not smeared away by any heavy-handed noise reduction. The digital missteps I'd come to expect on cable never shamble their way onto these four Blu-ray discs.

Though The Walking Dead by design isn't startlingly sharp or immaculately detailed, it's never in question that I'm watching a properly mastered 1080p boxed set, with definition and clarity as robust throughout as the cinematography will allow. Since The Walking Dead isn't afraid to skulk around in the shadows, it's essential that the image hold up under limited light, and there aren't any concerns whatsoever on that front either. Honestly, the only complaint I have is that a handful of shots have an overly digital appearance to them: mostly quick pans, although there are some other moments that suffer, such as one angle of a conversation between Rick and Shane near the end of 18 Miles Out. Other than that, though...? Given The Walking Dead's deliberately rough-hewn visual style, I couldn't ask for anything better than this.

These thirteen episodes are spread across four BD-50 discs. The Walking Dead's sophomore season has been encoded with AVC and is presented at its original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1.

The Walking Dead has been lavished with 24-bit Dolby TrueHD tracks boasting eight discrete channels of sound, and the audio is every bit as cinematic as that suggests. The score, when appropriate, roars from every speaker. Almost every TV-on-BD set I've come across is timid when it comes to the lower frequencies; The Walking Dead, on the other hand, unleashes a hellish amount of bass. This series outclasses a lot of movies with as impactful as its gunfire can get. Every last element in the mix is rendered cleanly and distinctly. The surrounds do a tremendous job establishing a proper sense of atmosphere, and they ratchet up the intensity as the undead swarm from every direction. With a strong sense of directionality and quite a few pans across the soundscape, it's clear that The Walking Dead was mixed with home theaters expressly in mind rather than throwing all those extra channels in as an afterthought. Aside from the faint clipping to some of the dialogue, The Walking Dead's lossless audio teeters on the brink of perfection, and I doubt there's a better sounding television series out there.

Each episode of The Walking Dead also includes a French Dolby Digital stereo surround track (192kbps). Subtitles, meanwhile, are offered in English (SDH) and Spanish.

  • Deleted Scenes (29 min.; HD): The centerpiece of this reel is the original opening from season two, picking up immediately where last year's finale left off and returning to the nursing home. The deleted scenes from the season premiere alone clock in at thirteen minutes in all, and truth be told...they're pretty
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    terrible. It's not even a little bit difficult to see why "What Lies Ahead" would be so heavily retooled before making it to air. Among the other highlights are Maggie and Glenn looking through an old yearbook, a scuttled subplot with a religious zealot on the radio, and an extended take on target practice. Showrunner Glen Mazzara offers up thoughtful discussions about why these sequences were gutted in his optional commentary.

  • Webisodes (20 min.; HD): Set in the early days of the outbreak, these six webisodes reveal the backstory behind the iconic 'bicycle zombie' from the series premiere. It's splattery and piles on plenty of gutmunching, so there's that, but the whole thing is pretty awkwardly acted and clumsily written. It doesn't help that the "presented by Pizza Hut!" bumpers deflate more than a little bit of the tension. Director/co-writer Greg Nicotero chimes in with optional audio commentary, explaining how the entire series of webisodes wound up being shot in the space of 27 hours.

  • All the Guts Inside (6 min.; HD): One of the standout sequences from the season premiere is a zombie autopsy, and the first of The Walking Dead's featurettes delves into that gruesome makeup effects work.

  • Live or Let Die (7 min.; HD): Trying to keep this review spoiler-friendly means I have to dance around some things here, but "Live or Let Die" compares and contrasts one longtime character's arc in the series with the original comics.

  • The Meat of the Music (8 min.; HD): Although a typical episode of The Walking Dead only has a few minutes' worth of music, this season's finale, "Beside the Dying Fire", is heavily scored just about from start to finish. "The Meat of the Music" takes a look at the recording of the score with a forty piece orchestra, and composer Bear McCreary speaks about both this particularly ambitious episode and his approach to the music throughout the series as a whole.

  • Fire on Set (6 min.; HD): Since this season of The Walking Dead spends so much time on Hershel's farm -- pause for a snarky quip -- it's critical that the crew find the perfect location to roll their cameras. That's explored here, along with the construction of a barn and...well, there's one other thing too, and chances are you could look at the title of this featurette and make a solid guess.

  • The Ink Is Alive (9 min.; HD): Creator Robert Kirkman explains why The Walking Dead isn't just a rote adaptation of the comic he's been writing for the past decade, and he touches briefly on where he sees the series going from here.

  • The Sound of the Effects (5 min.; HD): This guided tour through The Walking Dead's Foley work reveals some stand-in sound effects I never would've guessed -- such as watermelons being used for the sound of
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    scooping out guts -- along with getting all those undead moans down on wax in the recording booth.

  • In the Dead Water (5 min.; HD): Although The Walking Dead is largely shot on location, a well with a bloated zombie stuck inside is one definite exception. "In the Dead Water" takes a look at that set, the suit behind its waterlogged walker, and some of the goopiest splatter the series has ever sloshed around.

  • You Could Make a Killing (6 min.; HD): Greg Nicotero first cut his teeth in makeup effects on George Romero's Day of the Dead, he's been on the set for every day of filming of The Walking Dead, and "Judge, Jury, Executioner" marks his first time sitting in the director's chair. As it turns out, this proves to be one of the most pivotal episodes of the season as well...

  • She Will Fight (6 min.; HD): The focus here is on Andrea and how her character progresses throughout the season.

  • Extras Wardrobe (3 min.; HD): I'm pretty sure this is the only costume design featurette I've seen where a cute, silky top was taken out to the parking lot, slashed with a pair of scissors, and lit on fire.

  • The Cast on Season 2 (5 min.; HD): The last and least worthwhile of the featurettes is this promotional piece with the cast gushing about how amazing the second season is gonna be. It's by design nothing but smiles and teases...pretty insubstantial.

  • Audio Commentaries: Five of this season's thirteen episodes are accompanied by commentary tracks, with executive producer/showrunner Glen Mazzara taking the reins as moderator in all of them. He's joined by a small army of executive producers on "What Lies Ahead", including Gale Anne Hurd, David Alpert, and writer/creator Robert Kirkman. It's my favorite of these five commentaries, attempting to address pacing concerns that so many viewers had about the first half of this season, the length of the hour and a half premiere being wholly unplanned, and nixing a zombified baby. A lot of the conversation swirls around the logistics of producing a series this ambitious as well as more than doubling the overall episode count this time around.

    "Pretty Much Dead Already" -- which features Mazzara, writer/producer Scott M. Gimple, director Michelle Maclaren, and editor Julius Ramsay -- delves into shaping the cinematic look of the series, the post-production process, and the execution of a scene with the scale of the barnpocalypse. "Nebraska" is the first commentary of the season to feature cast members, with Mazzara and co-executive producer Evan Reilly joined by actors Scott Wilson and Steven Yeun. They talk about how this is the first script to have been written post-Darabont, how Yuen's character Glenn has essentially gotten rebooted, and again defend the pacing of the season. "Judge, Jury, Executioner" marks the directorial debut of executive producer/special make-up effects artist Greg Nicotero, and he's joined on its audio commentary by Mazzara, writer
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    Angela King, and actress Laurie Holden. To keep this review reasonably spoiler-free, I can't really say all that much about this commentary's central topic of conversation. Mazzara, Nicotero, and Kirkman return for "Beside the Dying Fire", along with director Ernest Dickerson and actor Norman Reedus. If you've already seen the season finale, it ought to go without saying that much of the conversation revolves around the episode's staggering scale.

    One thing to note, though: don't listen to any of these commentaries until you've watched the season in its entirety. The conversations do often turn to the season as a whole rather than just focusing on one particular episode, and there are definitely spoilers for what's lurking ahead.

The standard edition of The Walking Dead comes packaged in a case about the same width as season one's, and there's a slipcover if you're into that sort of thing. It looks like there's an episode guide tucked inside, but instead, it's just a bunch of ads for various bits of Walking Dead merch. If you don't mind paying the extra premium, there's also an incredible looking collector's edition packaged inside a zombie head, complete with a screwdriver jutting out of its skewered eye.

The Final Word
I found the bulk of The Walking Dead's first season to be a complete letdown, falling short of both the brilliant feature-length premiere and the comics I'd been reading so ravenously for years on end. Thankfully, its sophomore season comes much, much closer to the series that The Walking Dead ought to be. Season two still has its struggles with uninvolving characters and uneven pacing, but a lot of those missteps are wiped away when devouring these thirteen episodes in quick succession. I'm a lifelong zombie fanatic, and what The Walking Dead delivers this time around is so intense and so gruesome that it outclasses just about every zombie flick I've ever come across. The second half of the season in particular is phenomenal, even when the gutmunching takes a back seat. Even if you were disappointed with season two the first time through, I'm sure the season will play a hell of a lot better on Blu-ray, and it's very heartening to see so many hours of extras piled on here. Highly Recommended.
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