A few weeks ago, Frank Darabont — who was fired as the showrunner of “The Walking Dead” in between the first and second season — leaked what he had in mind for the first episode of the second season. The Black Hawk Down-like episode sounded brilliant, and as a standalone episode, it could’ve been epic, maybe the best episode of the series.
But it wouldn’t have advanced the plot of “The Walking Dead” one iota. Most people assume that the episode wasn’t filmed because it would’ve been wildly expensive, and while I think that’s probably part of the reason, Glen Mazzara — who took over as showrunner — also asserted that they didn’t go that direction because it felt like a stall. He wanted to get right to the characters.
He’s not wrong. In fact, much of “The Walking Dead” through the first season-and-a-half has felt like a stall. The first few episodes of the first season were well-paced, suitably violent, and gripping. But then Darabont slowed the series to a crawl — walkers were replaced with walking, and despite a decided lack of action, character development stalled, as well. That was never more apparent than in the first half of the second season: Six episodes devoted almost exclusively to searching for a minor character with whom few of us were invested. The payoff was great, but hardly worth the effort of getting there.
While the first half of the second season was executed by Glen Mazzara, it was conceived by Darabont. In fact, the last two episodes are the first two that were fully conceived and executed by Mazzara. They’ve also been the best two episodes of the second season. Mazzara has finally taken the foot off the brake, and while “The Walking Dead” is not exactly moving at break-neck speed, there have finally been some new — and exciting — developments.
Indeed, for the first time this season, new characters have been introduced (most of them have died, but still), Glen has taken off his baseball cap, and in last night’s episode, we got the strangest twist yet of the Mazzara era: Daryl was wearing a shirt. WITH SLEEVES.
More importantly, while Darabont was willing to let Rick’s discovery that Shane was boning his wife slide for half a season, Mazzara is finally moving that plot strand ahead. He made a brilliant choice, too. Knowing that the audience already dislikes Lori, Mazzara is using that to his advantage and making her into a shrewd b*tch. She’s forcing the feud, stirring sh*t, and planting seeds in Rick’s head about Shane’s state of mind. Shane’s insane. He’s been driven mad by his love for her, and he’s dangerous. Lori is pushing Rick out of his stasis and finally into action.
Better still, Hershel did what he should’ve done half a season ago: He told Shane to shut up or get off his lawn. Hershel put Shane in his place, which is in a narrative corner where he’s trapped like a caged rat. It appears that he’s going to pull Andrea into that corner with him, too. The show is finally moving toward a goal: Shane will likely kill or be killed (smug book readers and those who follow casting news likely already know the answer to this question). The important thing is, the show has found a interesting focal point to move toward. Even better, if the last two episodes are any indication, Mazzara has also ratcheted up the violence, and he’s done so to the benefit of the characters instead of the detriment (after all, the foremost reason 80 percent of us still tune in to “The Walking Dead” is to see zombies die).
“The Walking Dead” is compelling again. While it’s certainly true that AMC handled the Frank Darabont firing terribly, it’s beginning to look like it was the right decision all along. For the first time in a while, I’m glued to the screen again.