Back in March, when the first season of The Walking Dead hit DVD and I revisited it in one or two sittings, I singled out a few of the problems I had with the show, and wrote this article (which was "injured" in the BAD 2.0 transition, though at least all of the bullet points are still there). It was fairly straightforward - just a bunch of things I thought could improve S2 if implemented. Now that the first half of the season is over (new episodes return in February), let's see if they "listened" to me at all, and if not - do I still agree?
Note - obviously, this will contain SPOILERS for the episodes in the second season that have aired so far. If you're not caught up, don't read on!
1. The death of all current “guest stars." Not even close. Despite what seemed like a life threatening injury early on in the first episode, T-Dog lives on, as does Carol. They've even added a bunch of new characters courtesy of Hershel's farm, but apart from him and Maggie, those other farm folk make T-Dog (hell, even S1's Jacqui) look like the most fully realized characters on the show. The only one we lost (besides one of Hershel's crew) is Sophia, whose disappearance (and lengthy search for her) was a sore point for many viewers. I personally didn't mind it - I was a Lost fan, after all, so I'm used to children going missing for multiple episodes (and at least they kept looking for her! The island folk didn't exactly consider Walt to be a pressing matter). Plus (spoiler for the comic as well, here), Sophia is still alive as of this writing in the source material, making the outcome of this plotline a fairly decent surprise.
2. Fewer zombies. Sort of. There were a few terrific 1-2 zombie attack scenes (Andrea in the RV, Glenn and Maggie in the drug store, Darryl in the creek, etc), but more often than not they went with "AND THEN DOZENS OF ZOMBIES APPEAR!" sequences. Not that they were bad (the opening "herd" was amazing, I thought), but these scenes tend to result in the overuse of awful digital blood, and are nowhere near as scary to me as those isolated ones (which also result in better kills). But they seem to be increasing the number of "small" attack scenes overall, so I'm satisfied here.
3. More flashbacks. Yes! Well, there weren't FEWER, at any rate. We got a nice look at Lori finding out about Rick's injury, and another showing the city being firebombed by helicopter (which also seemed to kick off Lori and Shane's affair). They also used an in-episode flashback, skipping a key scene in the narrative and then showing it at the end to preserve a (not) surprise. I wish they didn't all involve the same people (Shane is in all three flashbacks), as I'd kind of like to know more about how the incredibly passive Dale managed to survive past day one, for example - but at least they're not abandoning the technique.
4. Never let Robert Kirkman write an episode again. This referred mainly to "Vatos," which Kirkman wrote and was (and still is) the series' low point. Well, the only writing credit Kirkman got on this season was the opener, which I loved, so which one was the fluke? It's worth noting that Frank Darabont (under his Ardeth Bay pseudonym) was also credited here, and it DID have some of the season's most cringe-worthy dialogue (Andrea's "world of madness" speech, much of Rick's "heart to heart" in the church), so chalking up the blame or praise is a bit tricky. But it's as good a spot as any to point out one thing about the writing that improved as a whole in this season - a more fluid narrative. Part of the problem with "Vatos" is that it was far too extraneous in the grand scope of things; barring a few moments here and there the episode is completely disposable. Here, despite what many thought was a slow pace (not me - the comic is even slower at times and if I want all out action zombie stuff I'll rent one of the 576 terrible zombie movies that have popped up in the past five years), it had remarkably few tangents. Most of the season (which took place over a week or so) was about the search for Sophia and the healing of Carl after his injury (at the end of ep 201), and they never strayed too far from that (though Shane's "I'm leaving" subplot went nowhere).
5. More guest stars. Nope. Even the expected guest shot of Michael Rooker was limited to a hallucination, and the other actors of note (Scott Wilson, Pruitt Taylor Vince) were multi-episode characters. It's worth noting that my original suggestion was built on the fact that with Darabont at the helm, it should be relatively easy to bring in talented actors for an episode or two, and that's obviously not the case anymore. Also, I wasn't expecting them to get to Hershel's farm so soon, so there wasn't really any opportunity for, say, running into a crazed Tom Jane along their endless road. And if they DID they'd be dipping into the aforementioned "pointless diversion" territory, so that wouldn't work. I suspect once they leave the farm and (comic spoiler again) make their way to the prison that we'll see a few other survivors that don't join up with them.
6. A dividing of the group. This ALMOST happened, but then they forgot to follow up on it. Shane went so far as to repair and pack up his own car (and Andrea expressed a wish to go with him) in the first episode, but after Carl was injured he forgot about it, and when it was brought up in episode 6 or 7 he had changed his mind. Instead, the "two group" motif was provided through Hershel, who made everyone stay outside and clearly didn't really want them there at all. Shane also more or less cut off ties with Dale, who sadly had even less to do this season (so far) than he did in the first. Poor Jeffrey DeMunn (that he was one of Darabont's guys doesn't bode well for him either; if they weren't giving him anything interesting to do when Frank was there, what are they going to do now that he's NOT?).
7. Sarah Wayne Callies eating something. No, but with her pregnancy out in the open I trust this will be rectified soon. Luckily, Lori is such a hateful character that her skeletal appearance is the least of my problems with her now.
Interestingly, my final (non bullet pointed) wish was that the season was more consistent, instead of going back and forth between terrible and great, and that was addressed quite well in my opinion. The opener and "finale" were big highlights, but the episodes in between were quite even - nothing stood out as a particular stinker, nor was there an episode where I shut it off saying "This is how it should be every week!". Course, some may (who am I kidding, WILL) say that the episodes didn't stick out because "nothing happened," but I've long since stopped listening to those folks anyway. If you don't like the show, STOP WATCHING IT. After thirteen episodes I think they've made it pretty clear how they would like to run things, and if that doesn't work for you, I believe there's about 299 other channels airing things on Sunday nights.
For those that DO actually enjoy the show, what do you think? Do you agree that this season was an improvement, or did you prefer the more "varied" first season (more locations, fewer ongoing storylines)?