Black Summer season 2 spoilers follow, but they're pretty minor.
There's an episode in the first season of Black Summer that anyone who's watched the show will struggle to forget. Titled "Alone", this unique chapter follows just one character who's stuck in a never-ending chase scene with a particularly determined zombie. It's unbearably tense, stripping down the zombie apocalypse to its most basic — and horrifying — components.
While there's nothing in season two that quite matches the impact of this set-up, new episodes of Black Summer still deliver the kind of scares that newer zombie fans might not be used to.
Almost eleven seasons into The Walking Dead, one lonely walker no longer poses the same threat it once did. Even the children are pretty adept now when it comes to stabbing or shooting zombies in that sweet spot between the ears.
The zombie genre as a whole seems less concerned with horror these days too (Kingdom aside). Sure, that's a broad generalisation, but in a bid to keep the genre fresh and appealing to mainstream audiences, films like Army of the Dead lean far more heavily into action and even comedy than the scary tropes that rot at the core of zombie stories.
That's why Netflix's Black Summer is so refreshing to watch, and by "refreshing", we mean absolutely chaotic and deeply stressful. That's not a bad thing though. Viewers will feel their heart pounding again for huge swathes of season two, which transports the terror to an icier, northern setting.
Unfortunately for Rose (Jaime King) and other survivors, this cold hasn't slowed the dead down one bit. Whether they're hiding out in a large house or running through an abandoned air hangar, Black Summer does everything it can to make you feel on edge thanks to its frantic camera, relentless action, and eerie sound design.
It also helps that the (unofficial) Z Nation prequel is set at the start of a zombie outbreak. Of course, it's only natural that Daryl and Michonne would become expert zombie killers over time. But here, even the most seasoned fighters are still at the mercy of just one false step. Literally, no one is safe and that is truly terrifying at a fundamental level. There are no "safe" scenes that encourage viewers to let their guard down.
Fear The Walking Dead could — and should — have been The Walking Dead's version of Black Summer. This "prequel" was also supposed to kick things off at ground zero, and it did, but the allure of The Walking Dead's character drama soon overtook that original idea, transforming the spinoff into a lesser version of the original.
Of course, there's a big drawback to the way that Black Summer prioritises horror. As intense as both seasons are, the show doesn't really encourage you to become attached to these characters.
The randomness of their deaths, and knowing that anyone could go at any time, is a huge part of Black Summer's appeal. But because it's so relentless, character beats are few and far between, which also means you end up caring about them far less too.
In fact, it's rather telling that one of the few survivors who really resonated with viewers is Sun, a Korean woman who doesn't speak English at all. With no subtitles to help non-Korean speakers, it was Christine Lee's emotive performance that sold her plight to us, and that's also true for the most part in season two as well.
Unfortunately, there aren't many other standout characters. And while it's thrilling to follow such an unpredictable story, most of the deaths only end up moving us in a visceral, fear-based way. There are not many characters you really miss once they're dead.
Early on, there was a sense that most characters weren't safe on The Walking Dead too, although that's not necessarily true now in the way it once was. And to be fair, that actually makes a lot of sense. Being the ratings monster it is, The Walking Dead franchise needs to keep certain characters alive for the sake of its fandom and the success that springs from that. But this also robs the show of some much-needed tension.
That might no longer be the case moving forward though. Now that The Walking Dead is shuffling towards its final season, it's entirely possible that the show will go out with a bang and kill off huge chunks of its cast. Annoyingly, we know for a fact that Daryl and Carol are safe thanks to their upcoming spinoff, but everyone else could soon end up as the main attraction at a zombie buffet of epic proportions.
Between Black Summer and The Walking Dead, zombie fans have never had it so good on the small screen. And while it's important to have some variety, it's also true that both shows could learn a lot from each other.
Instead of filling time with long, drawn-out speeches, AMC's Walkerverse would do well to remember that fear is vital when it comes to keeping us invested in these characters. And if Black Summer does return for a third season, it wouldn't hurt to remember that characterisation is just as crucial as the horror tropes this show handles so well.
Black Summer season 2 is now available to stream on Netflix. The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights on AMC in the US and FOX on Monday nights in the UK. UK viewers can also catch up on the show via NOW.
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