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The Walking Dead has largely improved (SPOILERS AHEAD)
November 12, 2012Posted by on
Note: This article contains major plot SPOILERS from seasons two AND three.
In the midst of an awful second season, I was ready to proclaim The Walking Dead, AMC’s smash hit television adaptation of the mega-popular comic book series, as one of the worst scripted shows on tv. The second season was full of awful characters, wheel spinning, and a total lack of an overall narrative. Much change took place from the second season to the third, including Frank Darabont, who had worked hard to get the show on the air initially, either leaving or being fired from the show entirely. The back half of season two, far stronger than the first half, promised a better direction for the show. After Darabont’s departure, new showrunner Glen Mazzara seemed firmly in control of the show, and he was given the opportunity to restore The Walking Dead back to the greatness of its amazing pilot episode. He has largely succeeded in doing so, but the show still has a way to go.
Mazzara’s initial task including excising some of Darabont’s poor casting choices, and getting the opportunity to bring in new, dynamic characters to the show. The first casualty of Darabont’s departure seemed to be Dale, a character that just was not working. Dale, who differed only slightly in characterization from his comic book counterpart, served as a voice of reason among the group. This only served to continue the constant wheel spinning present in the show, including whether or not to kill or exile a young prisoner at the farm. Dale’s death may have been stupid (he gets bitten by a sole walker in an open field), but it helped free the show of one of its most annoying, inconsistent characters.
The show then lost Shane, who had become unstable, unhinged, and frighteningly uninteresting. In short, Shane was another character who just wasn’t working. His interactions in the group were often violent and purposeless, why anyone on the show would mutiny against Rick and join Shane would be almost impossible to ascertain. When the writers finally realized this, Shane was dumped in the finale (he died much sooner in the comics). The finale also saw the end of the survivors’ time at Herschel’s farm. The remaining extemporaneous characters are also killed off, including a young man who I guess was Herschel’s son (or maybe his grandson – it’s never quite clear) as well as several other background people we never really got to know. These deaths as well as the destruction of the farm served as a symbolic new direction for the show.
Fast forward half a year, and we’re now deep into season three. Much has happened, some of it pretty good and some of it bad, but the good so far outweighs the bad by far. The first episode sees the series jump ahead eight months in time, skipping the winter and spring and advancing Lori’s pregnancy to the point where she’s about to pop. The group finds a prison, where they decide to set up camp. Last year, this would have taken them four or five episodes, but this new, sleeker Walking Dead sees them take the prison in pretty much one episode. Similarly, the group runs afoul of several prisoners who have survived the apocalypse behind bars, and their leader presents a clear danger to Rick and his group. The old Walking Dead would have dragged this out for weeks, but the new Rick dispatches the unruly prisoner in a single episode.
The bad stuff largely takes place in the newly introduced Waterbury, the established colony of survivors run by the enigmatic Governor (newly introduced character played by David Morrissey). The Governor himself is an interesting man, as he keeps heads of zombies in jars in a secret room and has father/daughter time with his zombified daughter Penny. The problem with Waterbury lies solely with Andrea (who is still an awful character) and newly introduced Michonne (Danai Guirira), a samurai-sword wielding loner with a serious case of bad-attitudism. Michonne should work on paper (and seemingly does, if what I’m told about the Michonne of the comics is to be trusted) but she doesn’t work as a television character. Her relationship with Andrea is beneficial to neither. Michonne is constantly threatening to leave Waterbury, and Andrea is clearly not interested in leaving. Michonne discovers the Governor is not who Andrea expects him to be (that is, he’s devious and evil and stuff) but never talks it out with Andrea, instead just expecting her to take her word for it. This is all well and good for real life, but it is bad story-telling through and through. The audience knows some bad stuff is about to go down, but Andrea does not, nor should she expect anything to be awry.
The show has largely worked this season thus far. The make-up and special effects (always a strong suit) have been top notch. It’s kind of unbelievable that this show has the production values it has. I can’t imagine The Walking Dead is cheap to produce. The set design has also been strong, and the prison stands out as a high point as well. Characterization has largely improved; depth was even given to fan favorite T-Dog (may he rest in peace). Newly introduced characters have been a mixed bag for me (with the Governor standing out and Michonne disappointing). The show still could use a lot of work (a lot of the emotional stuff just hasn’t been handled well, including Lori’s pregnancy and death), but The Walking Dead is a largely improved show overall. It’ll be interesting to see where season three ends up, but I’m along for the ride for at least the rest of this season.