At the end of Season One, I wrote of The Walking Dead, “The Walking Dead is very good at what it does, and what it does seems to be popular … while we got to know the characters better over the course of the episodes, at the end, we were basically in the same place we were several episodes earlier: on the run from the zombies. It’s unclear how long this can keep our attention.” Judging by the Season Two opener, keeping our attention won’t be a problem for awhile.
I’m still not entirely convinced the characters are going to be interesting enough to make for worthwhile viewing. They aren’t awful, and the show doesn’t stop dead in its tracks when we get a little character development. But right now, the show is worth watching for the ways it plays with our expectations of the zombie genre. Tonight’s episode delivered big time on the cool zombie stuff, excruciatingly gory without showing much (thanks to great sound effects work), making the experience of watching it anxiety-inducing. That’s the thing about zombies: you never know where or when they’ll pop up, you just know when they do make an appearance, it will be bad news for someone.
The Walking Dead changed showrunners in the off-season, but you can’t tell from what’s on the screen. It’s a show that takes pride in doing its genre right, takes pride in grossing out its audience, takes pride in scaring the shit out of us. Thus far, I don’t see many signs of the larger meanings of a Dawn of the Dead, and so I won’t be surprised if The Walking Dead never rises above its limitations. But there is nothing wrong with a show that knows what it wants to do, and does it. The Walking Dead is the Joan Jett of television, which makes the B+ I gave Season One ironically appropriate (Christgau gave Jett’s albums five straight B+ grades, saying “not since her start-up has she made something special of her populist instincts. It's almost as if that's the idea.”). Grade for Season Two premiere: B+, of course.