TV Review - The Walking Dead: Season 2

Jon Bernthal in "The Walking Dead"
The first season of The Walking Dead was only six episodes total. The second season will be double that number and the reason why is the high ratings that season two has been getting. "What Lies Ahead," which opened season two on October 16, 2011, got 7.26 million viewers. Yet, "Nebraska," which is the episode kicking off the second half of season two on February 12, 2012, got 8.1 million beating Desperate Housewives, which used to be a top 20 show.

The Walking Dead is clearly a phenomenon. Like with vampires over the past half decade, zombies may be a new fad emerging. Zombies are not as sexy as vampires in TV shows, but AMC could be tapping into horror fans who are yearning for a niche that crime and cop shows aren't filling. It's either that or audiences have really fallen in love with these characters.

I think that this is particularly true of the character known as Shane Walsh, played by Jon Bernthal. Following new episodes at midnight, AMC started airing a live talk show, hosted by Chris Hardwick, called Talking Dead. Last year, after the episode titled, "Save the Last One," where Bernthal notably shaved his head and also notably had a shirtless scene, Hardwick and his guest, Felicia Day, explicitly commented on Bernthal's sex appeal. There are plenty who I don't think would mind seeing him naked.

There is a lot going on with his character, but clearly people are attracted to him, even without his beautiful head of hair. I personally like Shane. He is my favorite and I'm more curious about what he's going to do above all else. If I had to compare Shane to any other character, I would compare him to another from one of my now all-time favorite TV series, Lost.

Lost was similarly about a group of desperate survivors trying to make it in an extreme environment. Lost wasn't nearly as bloody or gore-filled, but it did have emerge what I'm seeing emerge in The Walking Dead, especially in this second season.

In Lost, there was Jack Shepherd who rose up to be the leader of the group of survivors and Jack's leadership was marked by a purity, an optimism, a kindness and a fairness, whereas waiting in the wings was Sawyer, a character who wasn't the leader but who challenged Jack's authority and was very much a person who was, if not selfish, self-involved and willing to do things that were morally questionable to get what he needed or wanted.

In The Walking Dead, the Jack of this group is Rick Grimes, played by Andrew Lincoln. Rick is a sheriff, a strict man of law whose faithful to its tenets and like Jack is a consummate diplomat. He can be tough when pushed, but he's more inclined to talk things out and try to help everybody. This is opposed to the Sawyer of this group, which is Shane who is the consummate kick-ass. He's not more inclined to talk and he's not more inclined to help everybody. In fact, he's more inclined to leave people behind.

The finale of season one defined Shane as someone who leaves people behind. Shane specifically left Rick behind, left him for dead. The second season continued that definition. Shane leaves another person behind, a person who arguably deserved it. He then wanted to leave a second person behind, the second person being a little girl.

Now, most people might think Shane is awful for something like that, but Bernthal is such a good actor and the writing is such that you never truly dismiss him as a bad guy. There is one character on the show that does. Dale, played by Jeffrey DeMunn, truly believes that Shane is borderline psychotic and perhaps because of the zombie apocalypse has lost his humanity.

There are others, and I might be included, that don't see Shane as being less human but rather more human. In terms of Shane's sex appeal, it's not just something that the audience recognizes. It's something that other characters recognize, namely Andrea, played by Laurie Holden. Andrea was ready to give up and essentially commit suicide. It was either that or she was walking around angry, but Shane changed that for her. He showed her that she doesn't have to be a victim. She can be a survivor.

Yet, this not only goes to defining who Shane is. It also goes to the essential dilemma at the heart of this show and this second season. It's a question of what it is to be human. Is being human simply about being a survivor, only about being in constant fear and constantly running?

In the sixth episode, "Secrets," this question comes up in the subtext of what Rick's wife, Lori, played by Sarah Wayne Callies, says. Lori discovers that she's pregnant. When Shane learns this, he secretly believes he's the father and not Rick. Lori is not thinking about paternity. She's thinking about what kind of life her baby might have.

Lori expresses, "Memories are what keep me going now, memories of what life used to be, and I got a deep well to draw on. I still remember joy... and this baby won't have any good memories at all." Lori expresses this to Dale who responds, "We can still find joy and we can still take strength from each other."

This is the argument at its core. Being human is about finding joy and finding it in each other. That joy can come in a myriad of ways, but the more elevated those ways, the more human. The struggle in the show will be for the characters to find those ways, be they big or small, but most likely small, as they dodge creepy zombies.

Unfortunately, as the series goes on, we probably will see less and less of joy. From the direction of things, we'll likely see diminishing humanity in many characters, including Rick. More characters will move toward Shane's way of being. Survival is the name of the game and what does it do to a person when that's all there is. The first half of season two really had the characters in what was ostensibly an oasis, but the second half looks as if the threats will increase as the so-called oasis dries up.

It's taking a little longer for this current oasis to dry up than the previous. At the end of season one, the group had the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta as its oasis. This season, it's Hershel's farm. Hershel has been played by Scott Wilson. Hershel, more than anyone, clung to an idea of humanity, even in the face of zombies. It's an idea so extreme that it's affected the idea of humanity in Rick and his group.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Sundays at 9PM on AMC.


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