Why The Walking Dead: Season 2 is bogged down by a weak cast
by Ozzie Mejia, shacknews.com, Jul 25, 2014 1:30PM PDT
My original intention for this article was to write out a character recap for The Walking Dead: Season 2. The plan was to recap where the story's characters have gone over the course of the season's first four episodes and where they're lining up to go for the final episode. Unfortunately, I started to come to a sad realization once I sat down to actually write it.
The characters simply aren't all that interesting.
It's kind of staggering how Clementine is single-handedly carrying the narrative for The Walking Dead: Season 2, because her supporting cast has been quite terrible. It goes beyond them being distrustful of her, but it's also that their survival instincts are so dreadful to the point that they become a liability. When that happens, the entire narrative is affected. The idea of games like this is to become attached to characters so that their deaths and sacrifices are meaningful. It's so that there's genuine emotion when inevitable loss comes.
The first season of The Walking Dead understood this. There were personalities behind those characters, but more than anything, they also grew to become survivors. Carley and Doug started off rocky, but grew into pivotal members of the group. Their deaths meant something. Ben started off as the group's biggest screw-up to the point that even he thought himself to be a liability, but grew up before our eyes to the point that his loss was real punch to the gut. And though Kenny's family didn't have his survival instincts, they helped shape Kenny's character to the point that we became more empathetic towards him, because we witnessed his world shatter around him.
By comparison, there are almost no signs of this type of growth with Season 2's survivors. Characters like Carlos, Nick, and Rebecca were borderline one-dimensional. Their deaths felt more like they were there to fill a quota and as a cheap way to move the story forward. These losses were simply glossed over, because they never evolved as characters. Carlos never went beyond the doctor with a kid. Nick stayed a screw-up to the bitter end. Rebecca was nothing more than "the pregnant lady" for the entirety of the story, so it made sense that once she gave birth, she had nothing left to offer.
Let's also look briefly at Sarah, who was Season 2's equivalent of Ben. Ben had next to no survival instincts, constantly held the group back with his own deficiencies, and was always wallowing in his own self-pity, even though it helped no one. Sarah turned out to be very similar, but her weakness can be seen in Clementine's interaction with her. Clementine helped Ben believe in himself and helped him grow as a person, eventually making him a functioning member of the group and a devastating loss when his death eventually came.
Sarah, on the other hand, was unsalvageable. Even if Clementine opted to help her as much as humanly possible, Sarah could never escape her childhood bubble. When her father died, she was completely lost and hopeless. Instead of understanding the gravity of the situation, she (intentionally or not) became a total liability. Her death should have had some meaning, but because she was such an unhelpful member of the group, it was simply something to shrug over and move on. I never felt happy about losing members of my group in Season 1, but Sarah was among the deaths that affected me the least, helping illustrate what a weak character she was in the end.
The remaining cast members are no different. Luke, especially, has proven insufferable throughout the first four episodes. He thinks himself a brilliant leader, but he's constantly exercising the poorest judgment possible. The scene at the cabin in Episode 2? Luke disappears, fancying himself as a savior. The scenes at the camp in Episode 3? Luke goes to the well once too often and gets himself captured trying to steal food, compromising the group's escape plan and indirectly getting Kenny's eye crushed. And don't get me started on the latest episode, where Luke thought it would be a good idea to stop and have sex with Jane, who he had known for maybe two scenes at the most, knowing that Rebecca was going to give labor any minute.
Luke was supposed to be Season 2's version of Kenny, but the man himself has shown what a poor comparison that is. Even with his world crumbling around him once again and finding himself crushed by despair once again, Kenny overcame all of it to do the right thing and do what's best for the camp. He came to his senses in time to fend off the herd of walkers and help Rebecca deliver her baby. By comparison, not only is Luke continuing to show poor judgment and awful survival skills, but he actually becomes a liability by constantly arguing loudly with Kenny and potentially attracting more walkers.
None of the other supporting cast is any better. The game has done little to give any background to Mike or Jane, making their characters feel superfluous. And even with the benefit of a backstory from 400 Days, Bonnie comes off feeling flat. There's nothing about any of these characters that particularly stand out. I ask myself the question of whether I would be emotionally affected if any of those characters were to die and my answer is always a resounding "No."
It's hard to fathom what The Walking Dead: Season 2 would have going for it if it didn't center around Clementine. She's proven, by far, to be the single most well-rounded, brilliantly-written character in the entire series. In fact, she's probably one of the best characters of the decade, period. The growth she's shown in this season cannot be understated, as she's been forced to grow up and become more of an adult, sometimes in unimaginable ways. But with this supporting cast to work with, you'd have to grow up fast, too, in order to survive.