The Walking Dead Review – 2.02 ‘Bloodletting’

Good news, zombie fans – AMC have announced that The Walking Dead will return for a third season next year. But will we still be watching? Kieran Mathers weighs the pros and cons of the latest episode…

Like the final floundering heartbeat of a zombie plague victim, this episode only manages sporadic moments of life. When it’s good, it’s very good but when it’s bad it’s ugly.

In this episode, Grimes has to get his son to a doctor. Realising they don’t have the correct equipment to save him, Shane and a companion head back into town, where an overrun FEMA hospital might provide the equipment they are looking for…

If there’s one thing The Walking Dead does well, it’s the study of human weakness. Most television tends to idealise its characters, or at least make them stronger than one would normally be. Liberated from such story telling conventions by its commitment to horror, The Walking Dead shows the world as people may actually recognise it – hot, sweaty, hard work and frequently horrifying.

A case in point would be the opening scene, in which Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) runs across a field, carrying his son, in search of salvation. Lincoln gives a totally convincing performance – desperation mixed with exhaustion and fear. You’d never have thought the pathetic teacher from Channel 4 would make such an engrossing lead, but he’s brilliant to watch and demands attention.

Unfortunately, such gripping scenes are interspersed with moments that just don’t work, and elements of plot that make very little sense. The other survivors, still searching for their missing member, spend most of the episode wandering through the woods and bickering as they go. Despite being unable to find anyone, someone else is able to find them remarkably quickly, making a bit of a mockery of the missing person plotline.

And the character of Andrea seems curiously ill-served this week. Last time, trapped in an RV, she took out a zombie with a screwdriver through the eye. In this episode, faced with another zombie she panics, screams, runs … and falls over. Hmm. Convenience of plot over character, I would say.

However, the good aspects really are good. I’m really beginning to appreciate the character of Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn). The survivors are a mix of ages and genders, but as the only older man he is wise and down-to-earth. When faced with a delirious and paranoid T-Dog, he doesn’t panic or get angry – he merely challenges and then listens, finally figuring out the cause of the man’s rant. It’s a small moment, but what with the running, screaming and falling over (exit Andrea, pursued by a zombie) it’s great to see such level headedness.

This episode also brings forward the complexity of its characters’ relationships. With the caveat that there are some bloody awful lines this week, there is also some fantastic work between Rick and Shane (Jon Bernthal). Despite the secrets these two men hold, it’s really good to see the reality of male friendship in adversity. It’s become fashionable in popular culture to lampoon any male friendship which is not super-cool and detached as homoerotic. As much as Frodo and Sam might have deserved it, Rick and Shane come across as brothers and, despite the intimacy of Shane wiping blood from Rick’s face, there are no romantic subtexts to lampoon. It’s refreshing.

Perhaps the cliché of zombie survival has actually opened up the drama. Scenes with a terrible air of reality about them – such as the operation on Rick’s son – have almost set out the stall for this show. It brings us graphic horror and, because we know this is an unvarnished, unpolished world, it can also show relationships which beat most other dramas hollow, because they seems so honest.

Despite the zombies. And Andrea…