It's quiet out there, says David Chute. Too quiet.
"I'm starting to get a bad feeling about this" -- as characters are too often moved to suggest on genre shows less consistently well-written than The Walking Dead.
It's not that the show has suffered a precipitous falling off just since last week. But what came to mind unbidden last night, while watching Season 2, Episode 2, were key TV shows of my childhood, such as The Fugitive, in which the ostensible premise (the hunt for the one-armed man) was really just a pretext to get the central character on the road, essentially as a hobo, wandering around having loosely connected adventures. Contemporary cable shows tend to be more tightly plotted, but the basic situation of WD is loose enough to be a cause for concern.
The zombie refugees of Georgia have a goal for the season: making a beeline for the fortified premises of Fort Bragg. But they run into their very own Highway of Death midway through the premiere, and have now spent a second hour straggling across the nearby woods and farmland. There's a certain lack of urgency, too, in the way the quest is being framed, now. No new Holy Grail has emerged. Our realistically frazzled and not entirely fearless leader, Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes (the excellent Andrew Lincoln), recalling the destruction of the CDC in season one, put it bluntly: "There is no cure." A bone-weary hopelessness has settled over the proceedings, and not only for the characters who are contemplating suicide.
Still presumably mapped out mostly during the Frank Darabont administration, 2.2 generates some crafty twists. The irony that the injury to Rick and Lori's son Carl occurs while Rick is out stubbornly continuing an apparently hopeless search for someone else's missing child is a bit heavy, though a valid crystallization of the wrenching moral quandaries endemic to no-exit situations. Scott Wilson brings an impressive gravity to a role that, as written, is a crotchety cliché. (The apparent MD who turns out to be a vet? That's a wheeze that's a lot older than The Fugitive.)
And in general we approve of the implication the show seems to be working on that the smartest and most generous people stand the best chance of surviving the apocalypse, a Darwinian culling that could give a post-zombie society a fighting chance of being an improvement over the old one. What's missing so far this season, though, is an overriding framing storyline, a sense of structure or purpose to give shape to the wandering adventures and head-splattering zombie turkey shoots. The award-winning comic book series on which the show is based now runs to more than 80 issues, so at least there will be a handy stockpile of incident to draw upon for some time to come. The show should able to get by on spectacle and good will for a while, but not indefinitely.