The Walking Dead II

Season One of The Waking Dead was just six episodes, standard serial length for a drama in the UK but in US Drama terms, the equivalent of an EP. Two fine performances from British actors now plying their trade in the States, Lennie James and Andrew Lincoln, set the scene in an opening episode in 2010 that quickly developed an overriding theme of groups and individuals looking for a safety and security; distant echoes of Steinbeck, despite the setting of a post-apocalyptic zombieland.

Based on a comic book, the television drama is full of depth, with expanding layers. The thirteen episodes in Season Two have allowed the addition of new characters, largely adapted from the comics, to join a group that had already grown nicely in Season One. The dynamics of a diverse set of survivors, merged together from different age groups and walks of life, had already seemingly been established, with a couple of leaders, internal tensions, and a collective moral compass that had encountered rednecks, controlling scientists and of course, “Walkers”.

The new blood of course serve a key purpose of creating more storylines, which means episode endings thankfully aren’t always reliant on characters being trapped and outnumbered by Walkers. And their introduction also added another dimension to the overall plot; as well as protecting their lives, the core characters now have a home to defend. That progression has ramped up emotions of those that have survived this far and sheds light on a paranoia explored particularly well with a War on Terror analogy, where a hostage faces torture and death because of a fear of a crime he may or may not commit. Conscious and reason is the lone voice as the protective instincts of group, who have already suffered bereavement in a rapidly changed world, take hold.

Decision making dilemmas are a constant factor in The Walking Dead, but where it really excels is the pace. The isolated setting gives an ensemble cast of characters space while their dialogue has air to breathe. Maggie’s fresh perspective leads her to tell Glenn the bravery, morality and leadership she sees in him, attributes that seem to be overlooked by his group. Like many one-to-one conversations in the series, it is imaginable how it would be unwatchable with overbearing incidental music over the top of it, circa the rubbish of Blue Bloods, but The Walking Dead is the opposite, with a minimalistic approach in comparison, where the viewer is treated with intelligence.

And it is a slow-cooking approach that works well throughout with an undercurrent of an alpha male resentment bubbling under the surface that feels it will lead to an inevitable climatic conflict, Sopranos style. As the drama grows out of the crisis, there is always a shock waiting around the corner. The mid-season finale was terrific, while the punches to the viewer are constant throughout all thirteen episodes. With a sizeable number of characters, and danger lurking in every marshland, barn or trip to the shops, there is always the prospect of losses.

The looming full-scale bloodbath, when it comes, is stylish, part Wild West, part modern day cinema, with long lens shots, and more imaginatively, the viewer momentarily on Daryl’s chopper. But even that is still only a pre-cursor to more revelations, another realignment of a diminishing group and the seemingly very real appearance of the grim reaper in the woods.

The pictures of highways jammed with broken cars and messages left in vain are brilliant, and as poetic as Springsteen. It may not be the aftermath of the Great Depression John Steinbeck or Woody Guthrie wrote about, but amongst the resurrected dead and fallen heroes lying on the ground with hollow heads, there are sure to be more attempts to move across state on dusty roads in Season 3, in a search for shelter. But the continuing drama will rely on there being nowhere left to hide.

MG

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