Directed by Various
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
During its original airing it was often hard to separate the quality of “The Walking Dead” season two from the tumultuous behind-the-scenes strife. Everyone had theories as to why one episode wasn’t as good as another, and many people were quick to blame the departure of original showrunner Frank Darabont as a reason for the sluggish pace, occasionally unfocused feel and lack of mega-budgeted zombie chaos.
It was refreshing to have an opportunity to reappraise season two of “The Walking Dead” on Blu-ray now that most of the controversy has simmered. And while there’s no question that the first half of the season is marred by dawdling plot devices, it’s also home to strong character writing, terrific ensemble performances and an overall feeling of gloom that rivals the best zombie fiction in any medium.
For those who’ve not yet seen the second season, our haggard band of survivors find themselves holed up on the isolated farmland of Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson). A wayward survivor who reluctantly accepts Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and co. into his stead after a series of mishaps force them to take shelter from a zombie horde. As expected, these two groups blend together like water and oil, paving the way for a season’s worth of explosive confrontations as Rick desperately tries keeping the peace amidst a situation that only gets worse as it goes.
Despite the leaden pace of episodes 2-6, it should be noted that season two is a considerable improvement over the debut year. Maybe there’s nothing quite as impressive as the city block apocalypse setpiece that was frequented throughout season one, but season two feels much more assured and it flows better from beginning to end (impressive, considering the series changed showrunners halfway through the season). The slow pace builds to an emotionally devastating mid-season climax that’s heightened by superior zombie splatter and some phenomenal acting highs (especially from Jon Bernthal, whose Shane is given the meatiest content of the season). It paves the way for a top notch “back six” which forces Rick to become much more of a calculated hardass than he’s truly comfortable with.
There’s really no shortage of tension throughout “The Walking Dead”. Characters are constantly at each other’s throats; people’s ideals become just as deadly as any walker and the show isn’t above throwing a curveball or two. Whether or not you’re familiar with the comic book and think you know the story is irrelevant – there are plenty of surprises in store for audiences new and old.
If it’s zombie carnage you’re looking for, consider your search over. FX man Greg Nicotero’s work has only gotten better, and there’s no shortage of gore here. Screwdrivers are plunged into zombie eyes, walkers are knocked down and gutted and, if you’ll excuse my Joe Bob Briggs impression, there’s an endless array of headshots, zombie-stabbing, head chopping, gut-munching etc. It’s enough to sate even the most jaded genre fans out there.
Season two of “The Walking Dead” is a successful one. It builds upon an already strong foundation to create an even more compelling television experience. With its third season just around the corner, it’s safe to say the show is finding its stride. Season two is solid, but it’s the later episodes that really brim with the confidence needed to turn this damn fine show into a great one. I have a feeling we’re on our way.
Anchor Bay brings season two of “The Walking Dead” to Blu-ray in a pretty terrific high definition transfer. Shot 16mm, this isn’t ever going to be demo material, but this transfer is beautiful and true to its source. Colors are strong and when there’s a lot of them on the screen at once you can really see a nice contrast. Detail is most welcome and surprising (again, considering the 16mm source) – clothing textures really benefit as does the brilliant zombie make-up work. Grain structure remains intact and certainly works to provide a gritty experience. This is a great presentation from Anchor Bay and fans should be quite happy with it.
The 7.1 Dolby Digital TrueHD track is a winner. Gunfire is loud and textured – there are moments throughout the season where you’ll feel like you’re in on the action. Same with the foley sounds – some are guaranteed to make you sick. Dialogue levels are perfect and remain the focus of the audio while music creates truly effective ambiance throughout.
As for supplements, there’s quite a lot to wade through here: commentary on five episodes, a massive collection of featurettes, collected webisodes and thirty minutes of deleted scenes:
First up is a commentary on episode one, What Lies Ahead, with showrunner Glen Mazzara, producer Gale Anne Hurd, co-executive producer/writer Robert Kirkman and producer David Alpert. This is a strong track for the extended-length pilot and the group dissects the challenges of moving the story forward while keeping things fresh. Unfortunately, very little mention is made of the Darabont controversy (understandably), although the gang is acutely aware of season two’s criticisms and address it quite a bit. A pretty engaging listen.
The track for episode seven, Pretty Much Dead Already, features Mazzara, producer Scott M. Gimple, director Michelle MacLaren and editor Julius Ramsay. It’s a far more technical commentary than any of the others and easily the weakest of the five.
Episode eight, Nebraska, sees Mazzara joined by co-executive producer Evan Reilly and actors Scott Wilson and Steven Yeun for a lively and enjoyable discussion. This confirms what we already knew, that the first half of the season was entirely Darabont’s design, and Mazzara explains his position of taking over mid-season. We also get to hear about how this change impacted the actors, which is pretty interesting stuff as well.
Episode eleven, Judge, Jury, Executioner, features Mazzara with co-executive producer and special FX artist Greg Nicotero (who directed this episode), writer Angela A. Kang and actor Laurie Holden. Here we’re given some pretty interesting insights into the idea behind this episode, which features the depressing departure of one of the show’s major characters.
Finally, episode thirteen, Beside the Dying Fire, has Mazzara with director Ernest Dickerson and actor Norman Reedus, as well as reappearances of Nicotero and Kirkman. Here’s a fun discussion about the decisions behind the action in the finale.
Then there are eleven featurettes (and, sadly, no ‘Play All’ feature) which cover almost every facet of production in some capacity:
All The Guts Inside – a five-minute look at the zombie autopsy scene featuring interviews with director Ernest Dickerson, FX guru Greg Nicotero and other cast/crew members. Expect to see how they pulled off this revolting practical effect. Very fun stuff!
Live or Let Die (6:51) – A look at the changes from the comic to the screen regarding the longevity (or lack thereof) of some of the characters. This includes some fun behind-the-scenes stuff as the crew offers rationale for the ultimate fate of one of season 2’s stars.
The Meat of the Music (7:54) – Offers some insight into the creative process of Bear McCreary’s terrific musical score.
Fire on Set (6:10) – A look at the primary setting of season 2, Herschel’s Farm, including the construction of the infamous barn.
The Ink is Alive (9:06) – An interview with Robert Kirkman focusing on the similarities and differences between the show and the book. This isn’t redundant to the earlier Live and Let Die featurette as this is all from Kirkman’s mouth so, as expected, it’s a lot of fun.
The Sound of the Effects (4:32) – Just as you think, this is an examination of the spectacular foley artistry involved in this production.
In the Dead Water (5:05) – Everything you need to know about the revered well zombie. Need I say more?
You Could Make a Killing (6:20) – Here, Greg Nicotero’s importance to the production is emphasized: spectacular make-up FX work, his role as the series’ “zombie” advisor and his directorial debut. In short, he keeps it real. But us horror fans already knew that.
She Will Fight (5:40) – A look at Andrea’s character arc featuring an interview with actress Laurie Holden.
The Cast on Season 2 (4:50) – An EPK-ish featurette that collects a bunch of sound bites from the actors.
Extras Wardrobe (2:48) – Ever wonder about the level of detail that goes into the zombie creation? This is a nifty piece that emphasizes the importance of costume design.
If the zombie action throughout season two wasn’t quite enough, this set also includes Torn Apart, six webisodes (complete with ‘Play All’ option) which can be played with optional Greg Nicotero commentary. Combined, these run just under twenty minutes, focusing on the earliest days of the zombie infection. The primary focus here is built around a family’s harrowing quest to stay together as the world around them crumbles. Yes, it’s a bit redundant to the main themes of the series, but the claustrophobic scale of this story is classic zombie stuff. Performances are generally good (despite some really clunky dialogue), and these don’t skimp on the production values intrinsic to the series either. Zombie make-up is excellent, and the narrative includes some pretty grim surprises along the way.
Finally, we come to a collection of deleted scenes, complete with optional Glen Mazzara commentary:
An alternate opening to What Lies Ahead, picking up in the RV moments after the CDC explosion. An interesting sequence complete with good performances, but Mazzara explains it was cut because it felt more like a continuation of season 1, as opposed to taking the series in a new direction.
A brief insert into Save the Last One which is a really short glimpse of Shane and Otis escaping the zombie horde. From the same episode, we get a little bit more of Shane and Otis holed up in the high school.
From Secrets, we get a bit more of Shane educating the rest of the group in gunplay.
An original opening to Pretty Much Dead Already featuring a tormented Rick agonizing over the disappearance of Sophia as well as the accidental shooting of Carl. An interesting character piece. From the same episode, a little more of Rick and Shane circling the barn and checking its structural integrity. There’s also a snippet of Daryl hanging out on a dock agonizing over Sophia’s vanishing. Finally, an alternate scene of Rick discovering the truth about the walkers in the barn.
The Nebraska episode would’ve had an extra establishment of Hershel deciding to fall off the wagon and take a drink. We also get an exposition-laden piece between Dale and Lori that was cut for being largely pointless.
Judge, Jury, Executioner cuts more stuff with Carl getting into ‘mischief’ and a little more strife between Carol and Daryl. We also get more of the Glenn/Maggie romance. There’s also an excised scene between Dale and Lori in which he tries getting Lori to be more of a conscience for the group.
Better Angels loses a humorous scene in which Glenn tries moving in with Maggie.
Beside the Dying Fire adds more tension to the ending of season 2. And there’s some additional gore at the end of the episode (I won’t spoil the moment for fans who’ve not yet seen this season).
The second season of “The Walking Dead” should keep fans busy for a while should they decided to add this set to their collection. Anchor Bay delivers a top-notch technical presentation and sweetens the deal with supplementary material that any fan will want to see. It comes recommended.
4 out of 5
4 out of 5
Discuss The Walking Dead: The Complete Second Season in our comments section below!