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Note: This Walking Dead season two collection arrived with the same batch of late Anchor Bay stuff as the other stuff I’ve been pressing out these last few weeks. It didn’t seem right to group it with single movies, but I don’t have the time for the kind of episode-by-episode analysis I usually try to do. Here is a shorter review of the season on the whole.

Series


The Walking Dead got off to an incredibly strong start with a surprising first season that, for the most part, successfully mixed hard horror and high drama on a weekly basis. At its best, the show improved upon the rather tepid comic book it was based on and smelled like a game-changer that might convince studios that adapting more adult oriented comics to television might be in their best interest, both critically and in terms of viewing numbers. At its worst, it entirely misjudged the drama/horror balance, lost its sense of humour, and wrapped itself in boring mythology. Strangely enough, this ‘worst’ is almost entirely delegated to a single episode, the season finale, which didn’t bode well for this second season. The massive firings/walk-outs of key writing, producing, and directing personnel, specifically season one producer and The Mist director Frank Darabont, didn’t bode much better.

Walking Dead: Complete Second Season, The
Season two starts right where season one left off and quickly settles into familiar groves of gory horror and suspense framed by a series of long-winded interactions about heavy-handed morals. Soon enough, hungry zombies cause chaos and little Sophia (Madison Lintz) goes missing. While looking for her, group leader Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) son, Carl (Chandler Riggs) is accidentally shot by a hunter (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who quickly takes them back to a farm owned by Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson). Hershel offers his medical expertise, while his daughter, Maggie (Lauren Cohan), goes to warn Rick’s friends of Carl’s injury and lead them to the Greene farm. The cast then sits on the farm, sending out search parties to find Sophia and trading passive aggressive barbs with Hershel and his people. It’s about as consistently exciting as it sounds.

Watching the entire season in only a couple of sittings this second time around, I’m surprised by how quickly things collapse into a series of bland conversations about the same thing, spiked by a handful of satisfying shocks and potently artful moments. I’d sworn there were at least two solid episodes in a row, but the first episode (which runs a little longer at just over an hour) threatened to put me to sleep in a matter of about thirty minutes. By episode two, it felt like I was watching a good, tightly wound, shock-a-minute thriller being played out in slow motion, as if the celluloid itself had stretched and distorted the performances into mumbles. This droning lack of momentum also leaves the audience to notice the gaping holes in logic. I’m sure that if I wasn’t bored out of my skull by the umpteenth discussion about the supposed location of Sophia, I wouldn’t have thought twice about how little sense it made for zombies to take forever to make an appearance at the farm. I would’ve written it off as not essential to the plot or maybe have considered it poetic license. Instead, I’m practically begging the writers to send in the flesh-eaters to kill some people and make something happen.

Walking Dead: Complete Second Season, The
Why is season two so astronomically unbalanced and full of filler? The obvious answer revolves around Darabont firing the entire first season’s writing staff, then quitting the show altogether. There’s a sense of newbie writers trying to find their footing and biding time. But there’s also a sense of the series buying into its good press a little too fervently. The critics swooned over the deliberate pace and so-called ‘quiet moments’ and, theoretically, the second season writers decided to make something like 90% of the show deliberately paced ‘quiet moments.’ There’s something to be said for the series maintaining the tone that made it unique (as if zombies eating people wasn’t enough) and there are some pretty big payoffs peppered throughout; there’s just no rhythm here.

Walking Dead: Complete Second Season, The

Video


I was hoping for a Blu-ray review copy, but in the rush to get me the missing discs the Anchor Bay people sent me this DVD set. At first, I assumed there wouldn’t be a big enough difference to really care, seeing that Walking Dead is shot on grainy 16mm for the sake of its gritty imagery, but I’m shocked to be reminded how much better even 16mm can look in HD. When I watched these episodes initially, I saw most of them as they aired in HD, which is a slight step down from a fully uncompressed Blu-ray, but a solid upgrade from this release. 16mm is quite grainy, but said grain is usually uniform. On this compressed DVD, the grain is flattened and spread into digital noise that takes up a lot more space on the image. The compression and grain then mash into more contentious artefacts like low-level noise and blocking. The series’ colour is mostly desaturated for the sake of tone, so a Blu-ray release wouldn’t have too much advantage in this arena. The daylight scenes look lush enough for SD, with only minor blocking on the richest forest greens and the night scenes have some decent colour separation, though here I’d suspect a Blu-ray transfer would pop a little brighter in the right spots. The show’s unrelenting darkness, which is as important to its visual tone as the grain and palette, proves a pretty big problem for standard definition’s detail limits. Sometimes, it’s entirely impossible to discern what the hell is going on for pretty long stretches of time and given the presence of zombies, takes me back to the bad old days of watching Lucio Fulci movies on pan-and-scan VHS.

Walking Dead: Complete Second Season, The

Audio


DVD quality dictates no uncompressed DTS-HD MA track, but this Dolby Digital 5.1 track fits the bill just as well, if not a little better than the original HD television airings. The basics of the track revolve around dialogue, which is centered and clear, and subtle ambience (often the sound of bugs) which settles nicely throughout the channels. The zombie attacks are always the prime moment on a given episode’s sound mix. These run a gamut from aggressive and loud to dreamy slow motion and all of it is given its proper stereo and surround due. When zombies are attacking aggressively, their growls are directionally enhanced and work best (at least for the sake of a scare) when coming from off-screen. When the attacks are presented more ‘artfully’ the immersive work is made up of dreamy screams that echo back from the front center. Either way, it’s pretty impressive. The first time I watched the season I didn’t notice exactly how maudlin Bear McCreary’s musical score got during the show’s sadder moments. I suppose the fact that it stood out as such this time is a testament to the clarity of this track, though when things get more action-packed and drum-heavy, I did catch some issues with compression distortion.

Walking Dead: Complete Second Season, The

Extras


The extras begin with a series of commentary tracks over the four discs in this collection. Disc one features commentary on episode one, What Lies Ahead, with producer Glen Mazzara, executive producers Gale Anne Hurd, Robert Kirkman, and David Alpert. Disc two features commentary on episode seven, Pretty Much Dead, with Mazzara, producer Scott M. Gimple, director Michelle MacLaren and editor Julius Ramsay, and on episode eight, Nebraska, with Mazzara, co-executive producer Evan Reilly, and actors Scott Wilson and Steven Yeun. Disc three features commentary on episode 11, Judge, Jury, Executioner, with Mazzara, co-executive producer/special effects make-up artist/episode director Greg Nicotero, writer Angela Kang, and actress Laurie Holden. Disc four features commentary on its only episode, Beside the Dying Fire, with Mazzara, Nicotero, Kirkman, director Ernest Dickerson, and actor Norman Reedus.

The rest of the extras are delegated to the fourth disc, beginning with a series of featurettes with no ‘play all’ option. These include:
  • All the Guts Inside (5:30)
  • Live or Let Die (6:50)
  • The Meat of the Music (7:50)
  • Fire on Set (6:10)
  • The Ink is Alive (9:10)
  • The Sound of the Effects (4:30)
  • In the Dead Water (5:10)
  • You Could Make a Killing (6:20)
  • She Will Fight (5:50)
  • The Cast on Season 2 (4:50)
  • Extras Wardrobe (2:50)


The final disc also features six webisodes with optional commentary by writer/director Nicotero (19:40) and an eight-chapter deleted scenes reel with optional commentary from Mazzara (29:30).

Walking Dead: Complete Second Season, The

Overall


If it could be cut from 12 episodes to maybe four Walking Dead season two might have been a brilliant and particularly cinematic television achievement, but as is, it’s a mess of badly balanced elements. I still have some hope for the series, mostly because this season did feature a handful of standout moments that sparked good discussion, but also because things ended on a high note, rather than the low note season one went out on. The final episode also hints at one of the comic book’s best narrative arcs and early casting information sounds promising. I’m also a slave to the idea of a weekly zombie show. This DVD release features some pretty unattractive video quality, leading me to assume that the Blu-ray is definitely the way to go for fans with the option, but is just fine on the audio and extras front.


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