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Warning: Spoilers abound!
I wrote last fall that I thought the third season of The Walking Dead largely improved upon its flawed second year. I still feel that the most recent string of episodes worked better than last year’s, but I can’t help but feel like it didn’t improve enough, and as such I will not be returning for season four next year. The Walking Dead has been a massive, runaway hit for AMC, and I’m sure my viewership won’t be missed. This isn’t about making some kind of point or boycott, or something like that. I feel like I have given the show more than a fair shake, and I just can’t continue on with it. In this article, I will recap the finale and touch on some of the big issues I’ve had with the show this year.
The finale, titled “Welcome to the Tombs,” opens well enough. The governor (David Morrissey), increasingly disheveled over the past few weeks, makes an ultimatum to the nerdy Milton (a solid, underused Dallas Roberts). Milton must kill Andrea (Lori Holden, often the worst part of this show), who is hand-cuffed to a chair, to be accepted back into society at Woodbury, the human town run by the aforementioned governor. Milton refuses, and then is nearly instantly stabbed to death by the governor, who leaves him locked in the room with Andrea. The governor knows that Milton will turn, and then attack Andrea, who won’t be able to fight back while tied to the chair.
From here, the episode starts to lose me a bit. Rick (Andrew Lincoln, still bad as the lead) and the group at the prison decide to pack up and leave, having been previously threatened by the governor. The group apparently came to a consensus somewhere between last week’s episode and tonight’s episode. The governor and his group of nameless thugs then attack the prison, making a shock-and-awe show of blowing up the guard towers and mowing down every walker in the prison yard. They storm the prison, but finding no one, they retreat back into the courtyard. It is then revealed that, *dun dun dun!*, Rick’s group never left the prison at all. Rick, Maggie, and Glenn attack the governor’s group, causing them to go into disarray and head back to their vehicles, scrambling to get away from the prison.
With the governor’s group in retreat, the show goes completely off the rails. The governor pulls his group to the side of the road, chides them for a job not well done, and then proceeds to mass murder nearly everyone, for absolutely no reason whatsoever. He gets into a vehicle with his two top henchmen, having spared them I guess, and drives off and is not seen for the rest of the episode. Rick, Daryl, and Michonne then head out towards Woodbury, intent on ending the feud with governor by killing him. They discover a survivor of the governor’s massacre, then head to Woodbury. They find the governor is not there, but realize that Andrea must be held prisoner somewhere. They find her, but shock of all shocks, it is too late, and Andrea has been bitten by a turned Milton. She has one final talk with Rick, and then shoots herself. Rick rounds up the rest of the Woodbury residents, and hauls them to the prison. End of episode. End of season three.
The Walking Dead has essentially had three different and distinct problems during its course as a television show. Problem #1: The characters are not compelling. Problem #2: The pace does not lend itself well to tension or excitement. Problem #3: The show has done a pretty bad job of establishing consistent setting. Each problem has its own various sub-problems as well, meaning that the poor characterization often leads to a host of other issues with the characters on this show. Additionally, something like poor characterization can actually make problem #2 even worse than it is, because who is going to care about a stupid character in a tense situation? This is the kind of show where I’ve found myself actively rooting *against* main characters.
The issues with characterization on The Walking Dead television show have been around since season one, where Merle was an asshole for no other reason than the script demanded him to be. In season three, the show has given the viewer almost numerous reasons to dislike Andrea. She is flighty, makes bad decisions, doesn’t follow through with her own decisions, and has a host of various other issues. The back half of season three focused so much on Andrea, that I often found myself texting, playing games, or generally browsing the web on my iPad during her scenes. Because Andrea sucked in season one and was never fixed, I can’t be bothered to care about what happens to her in season three.
To be fair, the show has tried to make Andrea a more interesting character, mostly by making her have sex with male cast members (Shane in season two, the freaking governor in season three), but this has obviously failed. So when Andrea bites the bullet, quite literally, in the season three finale, why am I supposed to care? I never liked her in the first place! Her reasoning behind her actions, which essentially boiled down to “I just didn’t want anyone else to die,” is both illogical and also goes against her own actions on the show. The writers have given the actor, who is not entirely to blame for the poor character, essentially zero reason for the things she has done all season long, making her dumbness even dumber in retrospect.
And keep in mind that Andrea is by far not the only character with zero to little motivation. She’s also not the only one making bad choices and generally behaving in a way in which no human being could ever be expected to behave either. The other problem with characterization on this show is that many characters have been introduced and killed off without so much as a moment to get to know them. A small group of prisoners/convicts is introduced in the first episode of the third season. All of them are dead by the time the season is about half over. A new group of survivor’s is established in the mid-season finale. One of them dies immediately, two of them waffle back and forth about where they stand at Woodbury, and the two remaining are nothing but cannon fodder. Other characters, such as long time cast member T-Dog, is killed off without us really knowing anything about him at all, despite the fact that the guy appeared in twenty episodes, which is a good majority of the show at this point.
The second issue, one of pace, I have had with this show is also not unique to season three. The pacing of The Walking Dead television show does not do the show any favors whatsoever. Like in season two, the network split up season three of the show into two distinct parts. So what should have been a season-long story arc is split into two separate parts. On paper, this sounds like a good idea. The writers get to build towards two separate things and have about seven episodes or so to build their story arcs and tell their stories. Sounds good, right?
What this does, however, is render the first half of the season almost meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Consider the season three mid-season finale, in which much ballyhoo was made about Daryl getting kidnapped and Merle being taken prisoner by the governor. The audience spends over a month wondering what is going to happen in the back half of season three with Daryl and Merle, the famed Dixon brothers, as captives of Woodbury. It turned out absolutely nothing happened, as the two broke free of Woodbury in the very next episode. All tension has now been zapped from that storyline. Like characterization before it, this is not the only example of this kind of thing happening.
The show has also done an absolutely piss poor job of establishing setting throughout its run. The famed first episode of The Walking Dead clearly took place in established locations. The rest of the season gave the group a goal as well: Head to the CDC in Atlanta. Season two revolved around Herschel’s farm, and season three was all about the heated rivalry between the prison group and the citizens of Woodbury. The big problem with the setting in season three is that it is never established just how far Woodbury is from the prison. The two groups have been back and forth between locations at various times, sometimes on foot and sometimes in vehicles. It is never established how far either locations are from the various towns that get raided for supplies (including Rick’s hometown, which he returns to this year), nor is it ever clear how far either settlement is from the established rendezvous “meeting point” that the groups head to a few times this season.
I know this is the weakest point in the article, and I know I am clearly nit-picking here. But I feel like this season has revolved so much around the drama and conflict between these two groups that the show needed to do a much better job of fleshing out not only the inhabitants within, but also the settlements themselves. For instance, we never really get a clear idea of just how big the prison is, where the dangerous parts are, or how much food is left to feed the survivors. In Woodbury, we never get a good idea of how many inhabitants are left. We don’t know much about the make-up of the city, such as how the guards are able to keep the entire town zombie free 24 hours a day. We never know much about the blue-prints of either establishment. They are both just convenient places for our characters to regroup before heading off into the woods to make bad decisions again.
I have tried throughout this article to highlight the major issues I have with this show. I truly feel I have given The Walking Dead television show more than a fair chance to improve. It is sad that the best episode of the entire show is still the pilot, and this is a show that has been on the air for three years at this point. The Walking Dead is now also on its third show-runner, which is not a good sign at all. Darabont did well in season one, Mazzara tried to right the show but failed throughout the back-half of season two and first half of season three, and now Scott Gimple has been appointed showrunner by the execs at AMC. I wish him the best of luck. I won’t be around to see if he gets things back on track, if they were ever on track to begin with.