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TV Review: The Walking Dead Ends Season One

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Mad Men fits perfectly with how I see AMC, with its old movie tone and style. Breaking Bad was somewhat of a departure, but nothing compares to The Walking Dead. If I had listed 100 channels in the order of which one I found likely to air a zombie series, AMC would have been near the bottom. Surely the network knew the huge gamble it was taking, hence the decision to order only six episodes of the first season, as opposed to the thirteen their other shows got.

But boy did that gamble pay off! Besides giving AMC their best ratings ever, it’s such a strong, enticing story with wonderful characters and deep moral questions. Last night marked the sixth and final episode of the freshman season, “TS-19″, and it will be nearly a year before season two (which will be a full thirteen episodes, by the way) makes it on screen. It’s far too long a wait before we get new episodes after such a great finale.

Does the title The Walking Dead refer to the infection-laden zombies, or the surviving characters walking among them? Surely, the argument can be made for either, especially after a finale with barely a zombie (or geek, as the show calls them) in sight. I suspect the answer is both.

In my first review for the series, after watching the pilot, I raved about the direction and excellent craftmanship that went into the show, so I won’t waste your time repeating all of that, though I will say that the elements introduced in the pilot were retained superbly throughout all six episodes. The acting quickly became even more impressive than it started. The issues the characters in Walking Dead deal with are so much more high stakes than the average television show. Yet, the series manages it without going over the top or too melodramatic.

I also talked about deaths in the first review, and how they would have to be frequent, but not too frequent. Season one accomplished that, with a handful of characters biting the dust, and expanding the profile of the survivors left. At this point, everyone left alive in the now-on-the-move camp has had some development; there are no anonymous extras. This will probably slow down the body county as we move into season two, but that won’t be unwelcome. Already, we’ve lost valuable players, and I’m not anxious to lose too many more.

As far as mysteries go, plenty were left unanswered, providing so much story set up that season two will surely not lack for twists. Last week, we met Jenner (Noah Emmerich, White Collar), who did a fine job explaining just enough to keep viewers hooked. Last night, Jenner showed what happens medically in the brain as the infection runs its course, though he couldn’t explain why it was happening. My only regret about Jenner is his death, as I would have loved for him to stick around a few more episodes.

Similarly, Morgan (Lennie James) was introduced as someone incredibly interesting in the pilot, and then was never seen again. Yet. Though imdb lists James as appearing in the finale, so I wonder if there are some cut scenes that might make the DVD, and why they were not included. Additionally, we have not seen Merle (Michael Rooker) since the rooftop where he cut off his hand, but I expect both Merle and Morgan will pop up sometime in season two.

For me, the most intriguing hanging plot, though, was the trivia that France came closest to a cure for whatever the infection is. Does that mean the show will become a globe-trotting epic? Because that would be pretty cool. I’d imagine the group would take a boat to Europe rather than a plane, but with the setting so open-ended, the possibilities for different segments, populations, and survivor types are infinite. I think the characters could easily spend a whole season just trying to get to the coast, let alone exploring outside of the United States.

The Walking Dead is based on a graphic novel series, but one major departure frequently mentioned has been the survival of Shane (Jon Bernthal), who apparently was killed fairly early in the print version. I guess this is still TV, and a love triangle is necessary to keep up the drama, so I will excuse it. Not only excuse it, but praise them, if his violent, almost-rape of Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) is any indication of future arcs. In the same episode, we see just how much Shane cares for Rick (Andrew Lincoln) in an emotional flashback. When Rick finds out what Shane did with Lori, mixed feelings are going to fly. Can you fully hate the man who took care of your family during an apocalypse? Shane’s fault has come after that, as it was perfectly reasonable for him to think Rick was dead and take up with Lori in the first place. His continued darkness now will likely be his downfall. Unless he earns redemption first.

The three in the aforementioned paragraph are the hands down stars of the show. But the series works so well because of all of the supporting ones. The best scene last night did not come from Shane, Rick, or Lori, but between Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) and Andrea (Laurie Holden). Andrea made the choice to stay and die with Jenner, having lost all hope after the death of her sister. Dale was willing to die with her if she wouldn’t leave, and only her guilt for his imminent demise saved Andrea’s life. I was on pins and needles as their sweet game of chicken played out, and was grief stricken with the idea of loosing either, let alone both, so early in the show. I predict that these are the two who will be the break out favorites. Besides Glenn (Steven Yeun), of course, who is the easiest to identify with.

Reruns will definitely be shown before season two comes around, and a DVD is already available for pre-order. I, for one, plan on watching every episode at least once more before next fall. I urge that if you have missed this phenomenon, or even if you haven’t, you do the same. The Walking Dead airs on AMC.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com