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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
here aren't very many shows on TV that are as widely criticized as AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” and yet despite the constant complaints from fans, its viewership remains stronger than ever, with the Season Two finale smashing the previous ratings record set by the first season. Granted, ratings aren’t everything, but they’re a pretty good indicator that, while the show might get on the audience’s nerves from time to time, the quality keeps them coming back for more. And if there’s one word you could use to describe the second season, it would definitely be "more." More drama. More zombies. More suspense. More gore. Bigger may not always be better, but in the case of “The Walking Dead,” it's hard to expect anything less.
Season Two picks up almost immediately after Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and the rest of the survivors hightailed it out of Atlanta just as the CDC was being blown to bits. While on their way to Fort Benning in search of refuge, the convoy is interrupted by a horde of walkers as they try to clear a path through the wreckage on the highway, and in the ensuing panic, Sophie runs away into the woods. The search for the little girl eventually leads them to a nearby farm owned by a religious veterinarian named Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson), who has somehow managed to survive away from all the madness with his family and close friends. But despite Rick's desperate attempts to co-exist with Hershel on the farm, personal secrets and a struggle for leadership threaten to tear both groups apart.
Say what you will about the show's sluggish pacing, but the character-based drama remains one of its biggest strengths, even if not every storyline works as well as others. Sure, the search for Sophia dragged on for a while, but at least there was a point to it. I’m not sure you could say the same about Andrea’s incessant moping or Lori’s baby daddy issues, both of which got old real quick. For the most part, however, the second season had some great ongoing subplots, like Glenn (Steve Yuen) finding romance with Hershel’s daughter Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Daryl (Norman Reedus) revealing his softer side while still upholding his role as the resident badass, and of course, Shane’s descent to the dark side. The latter storyline is without a doubt the strongest arc of the entire season, and a lot of that comes down to Jon Bernthal’s fantastic, emotionally and physically demanding performance, which was more than deserving of an Emmy nod.
Though the first few episodes were overshadowed by the news of executive producer Frank Darabont’s sudden departure (an incident that reportedly upset one cast member so much that he requested to be killed off the show, only to change his mind too late), “The Walking Dead” quickly found its footing under the direction of new showrunner Glen Mazzara, which assuaged many fears that the show’s quality would suffer as a result. In fact, the only people that had anything to fear at all were the actors, because several members of the core cast were knocked off this year, and it was a big reminder that no one on this series is totally safe – even when there aren’t any zombies in sight.
For as much of a slow burn as the show can admittedly be at times, there was plenty of great zombie action on display, including a few gross-out scenes to rival Season One’s appropriately titled “Guts.” And the only thing more dangerous than the walking dead was the living, as Rick discovered on more than one occasion, first in the excellent mid-season offerings “Nebraska” and “Triggerfinger,” and again in the penultimate episode where he faces off against Shane. It’s actually hard to believe that some fans argued there wasn’t enough action, because the show strikes a really even balance between the more dialogue-heavy character stuff and the zombie attacks. The decision to split the season into two parts certainly didn’t help matters, but if you don't think that Season Two was just as good as its freshman year, then you obviously weren't paying attention.
Special Features: The four-disc set comes packed with some great extras, including audio commentaries on five episodes with the cast and crew, although it would have been nice if more than one or two actors were involved on each track. There’s also a series of webisodes directed by Greg Nicotero that was used to promote Season Two and nearly 30 minutes of deleted scenes, but the various production featurettes are by far the best. There are 11 mini-featurettes in all, and they cover a range of topics like filming the zombie autopsy and well zombie scenes, the differences between the comic book and the show, character profiles, sound effects, composing the score and more.