In the summer of 2011, just after a ComicCon appearance promoting the series, Frank Darabont was fired by AMC as showrunner of The Walking Dead; the hit series he helped to bring to the small screen. I remember the outrage of fans and folks in the press, alike, while I remember thinking to myself, “Good. Maybe the show won’t be such a monumental bore anymore.”
Yeah, that’s right. I was bored by the first season. Sure, it started off with a bang, but, as things dragged on (and on, and on…) toward the finale, I found myself pining for the comparably action-packed comic series upon which the show is based. I wasn’t alone, either. Other disenfranchised fans made their voices heard, giving the show sadly fitting nicknames like “The Talking Dead” or “All Walking, No Dead”. So, when it was announced that Darabont had been shown the exit, I was actually looking forward to seeing what impact his absence would have on the second season. Granted, the first half of the season was already “in the can”, so much of what was already filmed under Darabont’s watch would make it to air, but there would be plenty of changes, too, as well as a few surprises.
Season two opens with “What Lies Ahead”, in which the survivors resolve to seek aid at Fort Benning after their ill-fated stop at the CDC in Atlanta. En route to Fort Benning, the group is waylaid by a horde of walkers, and, during the ensuing panic, Carol’s (Mellissa McBride) young daughter, Sophia (Madison Lintz), runs off into the woods. Rick later finds her, but, when a pair of zombies gives chase, he instructs Sophia to hide until he loses them. Upon his return, however, Sophia is, once again, missing.
The group splits up into search parties, with Rick, Shane (Jon Bernthal), and Carl (Chandler Riggs) venturing in the direction where Rick last saw Sophia. Along the way, Carl spies a deer, and, as he stands admiring the animal, a gunshot rings out, and a bullet tears through his abdomen. The shooter turns out to be congenial hunter named Otis (character actor Pruitt Taylor Vince), and the guilt-ridden man leads Rick and Shane to the farmstead of Dr. Hershel Green (Scott Wilson), where Otis serves as a ranch hand. Hershel (who turns out to be a veterinarian) and his family tend to Carl while the rest of the survivors are brought back to the ranch to wait it out.
Hershel stabilizes Carl, but informs Rick and Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) that he’ll need more advanced medical supplies if he’s to save him. Shane and Otis volunteer to make the run into town to get what’s needed, but, while there, they’re overrun by walkers. Shane decides that Carl’s life is more important than Otis’, and he shoots the man to keep the walkers busy while he makes his escape. When Shane returns to the farm, he tells everyone that Otis died a hero, and credits him for saving Carl’s life. This is where Shane’s season-long downward spiral begins in earnest, as, from here on out, he’s at odds with virtually everyone in the group save for Andrea (Laurie Holden), who questions Rick’s leadership tactics and the well-being of the group with him in charge.
After Carl recovers, Lori discovers that she is pregnant. It is then that she decides to come clean about her brief fling with Shane. Rick assures her that he knew all along, and tells her he has no doubt that the child she’s carrying is his. When Shane learns of Lori’s pregnancy, however, he’s convinced that the child is his, and his resentment toward Rick grows into something much more.
These are the main themes that run throughout the first half of season two of The Walking Dead, and, like the season prior, things move a bit slow over these first six episodes. Still, they serve to establish a devastating mid-season turning point in the episode “Nebraska” that is then followed by five of the most exciting and harrowing hours of episodic television I’ve ever seen. Over the course of the remainder of the season, beloved characters die, exciting new characters join the fray (including a certain samurai sword-wielding badass), and the series dynamic (as well as the motivations of its protagonists) shifts wildly. This action-packed and emotionally exhausting second half may have been the plan from the get-go, but I can’t help to think that, were Darabont still running the show, many fans would still be groaning about a series that was, as my friend Peg Kendrick so eloquently put it, “all walking and no dead”. Under the watchful eye of new showrunner, Glen Mazzara, the series seemed more in line with the comics, with equal emphasis on both zombie horror and human drama. Yes, it’s still a show about people living in a world overrun by the undead, but, for now, anyway, the undead serve as more than just a shambling backdrop and are finally given their due.
Anchor Bay presents The Walking Dead – The Complete Second Season on Blu-ray in an extras-packed four disc set. As with the first season, Anchor Bay’s video presentation is absolutely stunning, with a tack-sharp image that is brimming with fine detail. While the series isn’t known for its vibrant aesthete, colors are rich and occasionally pop (the gorgeous sunrise/sunset intro/outro of the episode “18 Miles Out” for example), while blacks and shadows are deep and true. The accompanying 7.1 Dolby True HD audio track is exceptional, with deep and satisfying LFE, crisp dialogue, and an immersive and all-encompassing surround mix that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the finest examples out there. If you’re a fan of the show who regularly views it on “over the air” HD, you may think you’ve seen and heard the series at its best, but you’d be sorely mistaken. This is the way The Walking Dead is meant to be presented.
Anchor Bay offered a fair amount of extras in their first release of The Walking Dead – The Complete First Season (a follow-up Special Edition 3-disc set offered all of said extras, plus an entire disc’s worth of bonus supplements), but, with this release, Anchor Bay loads on the goodies with several short featurettes (all presented in 1080p), five full-episode commentary tracks, a collection of “Webisodes” (1080p), and nearly 30 minutes worth of deleted scenes (1080p). Granted, none of the individual featurettes run more than 10 minutes apiece, but, all totaled, there’s a couple of hours’ worth of quality bonus content here that will more than satisfy fans.
So the series “creator” (a title I always flinched at seeing as how The Walking Dead is Robert Kirkland’s creation) Frank Darabont has moved on, and, personally, I think his absence has had a positive impact. Of course, we won’t really know until Mazzara and company have a full season under their belt, which makes this fall’s premiere that much more exciting. For those of you looking to get caught up before then, Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray presentation of The Walking Dead offers superlative sights and sound, as well as a host of quality bonus features, making it easy to give this set my highest recommendation!