One thing I find annoying is when shows or movies waste good characters. Season two of The Walking Dead is guilty of this. The show’s voice of reason, Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn), is marginalized in season two and killed off in a frustrating manner. It’s as if Rick (Andrew Lincoln) took over Dale’s role as both feuded with the increasingly unstable Shane (Jon Bernthal). Jeffrey DeMunn is a fine actor as well, so losing him hurts no matter the trajectory of his character.
Daryl (Norman Reedus) is not so much a wasted character by the writers as he is wasted as a member of the group by Rick and Shane. As the two, along with Hershel (Scott Wilson), vie for control of the group’s direction, Daryl - seemingly the member most adept at surviving - is left to his own devices. This is partially his fault. He is a loner and doesn’t make much of an effort to to engage the group. His social skills are unpolished to say the least. There is also some underlying resentment of his “respectable” colleagues who have been brought up in good families, have families and jobs, and dress nicely.
Carol (Melissa Suzanne McBride) is quick to dissuade Daryl of the notion that he is any less worthy than the others. In this new world the heights someone has reached in pre-apocalyptic society are certainly meaningless. After Daryl’s extended commitment to finding Sophia (Madison Lintz) there is no way he could be considered less worthy - curt manners or not. Rick matches Daryl in the duration of his searching - with Shane all the while pointing out the obvious truth that Sophia would be assumed dead after two days before the zombie apocalypse - but no one matches his effort. In large part (though unsaid) he tirelessly tracks her through the forest because he was ignored and abandoned as a child. As we find out in the shocking mid-season finale, Shane was right. Sophia has been locked in Hershel’s bard the whole time. It was probably the now dead Otis (Pruitt Taylor Vince) who put her and dozens of other walkers in there as Hershel held out hope for a cure.
As Rick steps forward to put a bullet in the head of what used to be Sophia, the show loses another character, Carol. Having found strength during her ordeal, she is destroyed after the discovery of Sophia. A kinship seems to develop with Daryl, so it’s possible she’ll rise again with another lifelong survivor, but for the second half of the season she faded away.
Finally, Merle (Michael Rooker) returned, but only as a hallucination in Daryl’s mind as he struggled to get back to the farm after falling off his horse. I’m assuming that the fact that his amputated hand returned that this meant he was dead (though reports outside the show seem to suggest otherwise). If that’s the case it would be a big waste of Michael Rooker, a great villain character actor.
Another aspect of the story that was wasted was the great state of Georgia. One of the great things about post-apocalyptic stories is that everyone is uprooted - from their homes, their jobs, and their communities. There is no center to life anymore, nor is their stability. The farm brings that back. That’s what the group was looking for in the CDC and hopefully in Fort Benning. Now that they’ve found it they don’t have to explore their environment. They don’t have to explore, scrounge, or think on their feet to avoid the walkers.
The main storyline is the schism between Rick and Shane over the direction of the group. Rick still believes in some sort of order, while Shane believes it’s now kill or be killed. The latter’s descent is, even in the zombie apocalypse, one of the more scary aspects of this season. Once the rules have been invalidated and the element of fear has been introduced, this man of the law, this loyal friend, becomes unstable. Some of it is understandable. Beyond the obvious “world is ending” issues, Shane is being emotionally jerked around. He thought his best friend and superior at work was dead, thereby promoting him to leader and head of Rick’s family. He begins a relationship with Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) whom he has clearly been in love with since before the zombie apocalypse. Now after all he’s done for Rick’s family - and he would do anything for Lori and Carl - his reward is to lose his new family. Shane is not blameless though. Dale tells him that this new world is where he belongs, and it is certainly true that Shane is, if not the most violent, the most erratic of the group. He’s the one who would best live on instinct. You can see this even more in his inability to handle a group dynamic. He can’t handle the dissent that comes with democracy or even a committee. He’s too impatient for process. Eventually his opposition to Rick ends the only way it can, with Shane making a play on Rick’s life, only to be outsmarted by his friend.
Shane’s binary vision - kill or be killed - makes him think of Rick as weak. But just because Rick indulges Carol in searching for Sophia and Hershel by herding walkers into the barn doesn’t make him weak. Sophia is important to the group. Losing her without a fight might be too much for morale. Hershel is their host, so it is prudent to play by his rules, unless the group is willing to take the farm by force. Only Shane seems willing to go that far. When it comes down to it though, Rick has shown more than enough ability to take action. He is the one who initially goes after Sophia. He wants to be the one to go get medical supplies for Karl’s surgery with Otis. He steps up and puts down the zombie Sophia. He kills the two men (Michael Raymond-James as Dave & Aaron Munoz as Tony) in the bar. He allows Shane to make a move on him to force a confrontation.
One more problem I have with the season - the show really - is the careless way the group acts. It annoys me to all hell how much noise they make. The show is inconsistent in how it handles noise. In season one a single gunshot brings dozens of walkers to Morgan (Lennie James) and Duane’s (Adrian Kali Turner) hideout. This season the group engages in target practice and it doesn’t bring walkers. It’s only the helicopter from season one that sets a walker hoard upon the farm. (They left us hanging in season one with that, so I appreciated it showing up again.) I want the group to develop some rules and best practices for survival. How is it that Carl disobeys his parents? How is it that the fear of this new world hasn’t scared him into listening and his parents into getting the point across? Rick starts to develop some rules with his suggestion that they don’t use guns when possible, but for the most part, despite being on a farm all season, they act like a band on the run.
The first half of the season drags, but part two rewards viewers for their patience. Part one is not without its highlights. There is the zombie hoard the group meets on the road, leading to the search for Sophia. Carl is accidentally shot, leading to Otis and Shane’s excursion for medical supplies. This leads to the shocking realization that Shane disabled Otis on purpose so the zombies would eat him and Shane could escape with the equipment (he would do anything for Carl). Lori reveals she is pregnant and who knows whose baby it is. Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) have sex during a supply run. Shane and Andrea (Laurie Holden) do the same on a search for Sophia. In both case there are zombies to escape as well. Daryl tests his survival skills in the woods. And Shane lets the walkers out of the barn. Really, as long as you give me some zombie headshots you can sustain me for a few bland episodes.
Part two is what we signed up for. Hershel goes to the bar after his post-apocalyptic worldview is destroyed. There, he, Rick, and Glenn have to fight off a party of survivors. They rescue one of the men, Randall (Michael Zegen), which sets up a conflict about whether to kill or release him. When they do try to release him, Shane nearly gets caught by a group of zombies at a school before a daring “maybe things will be OK with the group after this” rescue by Rick.
The finale is what the zombie apocalypse is all about. No one is safe. People - Jimmy (James Allen McCune) and Patricia (Jane McNeill) - are going to die. Your world is going to be overrun like Hershel’s farm and burn to the ground like his barn. Here comes the hoard and you can’t stop them. Defend your home until you realize it’s hopeless. Then run for your life like Andrea does in the woods. With a bag of guns. No food. No water. No rest. Too slow - of mind or foot - and you are zombie lunch. Andrea’s face as she looks back in horror at the relentless hoard - that is the zombie apocalypse.
The finale also gives us three major pieces of information for the next season. Rick finally reveals what Jenner (Noah Emmerich) whispered in the season one finale. Everyone is infected. This was hinted at with the two dead biteless police officers at the school. It was heavily suggested after Daryl and Glenn find and kill Randall, and after Shane’s reanimated body is put down by Carl. The next two revelations are major foreshadowing for season three. As the survivors camp out Daryl, Carol, T-Dog (almost got to the end of the recap without mentioneing IronE Singleton’s character, yet he survived anyway), Rick, Carl, Lori, Glenn, Maggie, Amy (Emma Bell), and Hershel - once again a band on the run, the final scene pans up to show a prison, where I assume they’ll stay and meet new characters in season three. The last revelation is a mysterious black shrouded woman who saves Andrea by slicing the head off a zombie with some sort of sword. When Andrea looks up the woman has two amputated zombies in tow. Can’t wait till next year.