Continuing on my trend of TV show dissection, here is another post along the lines of ‘What went wrong?’. I mentioned in my Glee post that I rarely give up on TV shows but I did mention The Walking Dead as possibly being another show which I’ll put next to Glee: the kind I put away in a dusty cabinet because it was once good and enjoyable, but is not completely not worth my time. I know lots of people gave up on the show at the start of Season 2, but I stuck through even the most laborious episodes right to the end of Season 3. Finally though, I’m going to shoot this show in the head and I just cannot bring myself to watch Season 4 once that’s out. Now, this post is going to contain spoilers right up to the end of Season 3, because most of my complaints about the show occur in Season 2 and 3. If you haven’t watched the show, then you might want to consider whether you care about spoilers before you proceed.
The show started off so well. There was a lot of hype for it and I too jumped on the bandwagon. To be honest, I felt like zombies were getting a bit too overdone by the time I started watching The Walking Dead. Whether they were fast zombies, infected creatures or old fashioned slow undead zombies, I had honestly digested enough of it between movies like 28 Days Later and games like Left 4 Dead. However, I was promised by all the hype that the show was interesting, gritty and realistic so I thought I’d check it out. The first episode reminded me heavily of 28 Days Later, a film which I really enjoyed, and I was intrigued. The long distance panning shots of the devastated post-apocalyptic landscape with all the abandoned cars were simply stunning. I watched a clip of the CGI involved in those shots and I was really impressed by the high production values involved. In fact, I thought a lot of it was really well shot. It seemed to be mimicking that comic-book view; that kind of pacing where it is just a montage of striking images one after the other.
In terms of plot, the first season felt pretty solid. There was a good mix of action interspersed with real character interactions. It felt all very real, the idea that in an apocalypse, you don’t just have to worry about zombies; you have to worry about other survivors, both in good ways and bad. The conflicts between characters were rather compelling, and the tension was suitably ramped up. I could honestly imagine myself in a situation like in The Walking Dead and how I would react (not very well, I imagine I’d be walker-chow within the week) and the characters seemed to play off each other in a realistic, emotional yet reasonable manner. I was impressed. I was invested in some of the characters. I was really invested in the world that had been created. Obviously it shares a lot in common with other zombie depictions but it was kind of cool to see the new spin on it. The CDC stuff gave much needed explanatory context to the whole thing, and really painted a picture of hopelessness for the world that these characters were subjected to. It felt like a world that was irrevocably changed for the worst, and unlike other zombie films which rely on this mechanism of keeping hope (hope that the military can quell the zombies, hope that a cure can be found etc.), The Walking Dead universe looked beyond salvage. That, to me, was a really interesting concept to explore, and it gives a different perspective to where the story was heading. Unlike a lot of movies which are about surviving up to a point and then being rescued, The Walking Dead looked more about indefinite survival and the uncertainties that entailed. I was thoroughly engrossed.
There were a few things I didn’t like about Season 1. Like most, I immediately detested Lori and continued to detest her all the way until her death. Still, that’s what you’d largely expect from a show with a fairly large ensemble of differing personalities. I did feel like initially, the show had a lot of dispensable extras and I wouldn’t have minded just a little bit of exposition about them, just so I would care when they inevitably got their leg bitten by a zombie. It would have been nice to just have little tidbits of story, little morsels of character-driven dialogues about the multitude of survivors in this horrendous situation. Unfortunately, it seemed that the show was more focused on a small subsection of people, and developing their stories at the expense of really interacting with anyone else. In fact, this problem gets worse as the story goes on.
Which brings me to gripe numero uno: too much individual character drama, mostly a problem which started to fester at the start of Season 2 when the main characters set up camp on a farm. You see, what I enjoyed about Season 1 was that these were fresh new characters who were all reacting in certain, realistic but somewhat unpredictable ways to the depressing atmosphere that they’re in. But by Season 2, you’ve already established what quirks these guys have, and watching them whine incessantly to each other is just grating. Season 1 was fine because it was short and there were constantly new events happening which would stir the pot, prompt characters to react in unpredictable ways, drive forward some character development and just give some semblance of action to react to. However, this dynamic just disappears when the characters are holed up on the farm and can only react to themselves. It’s a common criticism, but it really does turn into a soap opera in Season 2. There’s some rumblings of danger on the horizon, but for the most part, these characters are just sitting pretty on a farm. The ‘action’ in these episodes are about gender roles in a post apocalyptic world (portrayed in a rather bitchy way I felt, that whole “omg Andrea why you want to shoot a gun ur a gurl” really does no favours for the rest of the female cast), whose baby is Lori pregnant with (what is this? Jerry Springer?) and where is Sophia (a little girl alone with zombies…yeah I like them odds)? Unlike in Season 1 where the characters are learning to deal with zombies, the show takes on the task of portraying how these characters deal with each other. And it is not pretty, nor fun to watch.
Now, I’m someone who quite enjoys character-driven dramas. I mean, I’m someone who watched all the seasons of Lost because I cared about the characters. But in The Walking Dead, I found it a real chore to try to like or sympathise with these characters. I mean, half of them are just downright stupid and the ones who aren’t don’t have enough sway or power or confidence to say something. The main main characters of Rick, Lori and Shane are just so mindboggling idiotic. Hey Lori, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on where your kid Carl is during a zombie apocalypse, especially because the only reason you’re on a farm is because you were looking for another lost kid! Rick tries way too hard to appease everyone, but at least he’s still reasonably sympathetic as a leader and you feel bad for him because he’s the cuckold. Shane is an unbelievable douchebag and frankly, I’m glad they killed him off because he was introducing so much contrived conflict to the group. What about the other characters in Season 2? To be frank, most of them are given so little screen time that it’s hard to form an opinion. The Maggie and Glenn relationship comes out of nowhere, and it progresses surprisingly fast, though perhaps that’s understandable in a zombie outbreak where you could die any day. I actually liked Andrea in Season 2, she was probably my favourite character, even though she’s rather despised in the online communities. Dale and Andrea’s friendship was actually quite refreshing to watch amidst the drama that was the Rick, Lori and Shane triangle (though when Andrea did the nasty with Shane, that lowered her in my estimates…).
As for plot points, the reveal of Sophia in the barn full of walkers was actually quite well done, and I felt once that had happened and the action was picking up again, the show was quite watchable. It reminded me of Season 1 again, introducing a new perspective to the Walker epidemic and the idea that people are still attached to their former human beings. The conflict that ensues with Herschel made the show much more interesting. By the end of the season when the inevitable zombie hoard comes, it felt like the show had set itself up for more interesting pastures. I was glad to see the end of the farm and the return to that scavenger, frantic lifestyle of being on the road and running from walkers. Seeing Andrea separated from the group and the introduction of Michonne as a Season 2 finale was spectacular and gave me really high hopes for Season 3.
Season 3 starts and it looks promising as the group gets into a run in with prisoners in a highly secured facility that they want to take over. I think the show is at its best when there are interactions between people of the main cast and strangers. The prisoners are an unpredictable lot and they provide the much needed injection of new blood into the group. Meanwhile, watching Andrea and Michonne survive in the wild is interesting and Michonne is just absolutely fascinating to watch; her skill with a katana, her two mutilated walkers on leashes, I was just so curious to see where she would go from there. It’s characters like Michonne which remind you of the fact that the show is based on a comic book, because only in comic books would you find someone so downright cool. Then of course, Lori gives birth and dies, and Carl steps up and becomes the ultimate badass. Honestly, who wasn’t glad to see the end of Lori? Plus, maybe it’s rather evil of me, I thought it would give Rick the kick up the ass to become the true badass that he can be, rather than the appeaser of all people. He had shown glimpses of that side to him at the end of Season 2 when he declared that this was a dictatorship, but seemed to have relapse somewhat when consulting his friends about the prisoners. Season 3, in my opinion, started off very strong.
Then comes all the stuff about Woodbury. Ah, it had so much potential. I was interested to see how society can function in a post apocalyptic world, how much was the same and how much was different. When Andrea and Michonne are shoved into this seemingly idyllic paradise, I was just waiting to see how all the different residents of this place had reacted to the apocalypse. I wanted to hear all the gory stories from all these survivors, these ragtag group of people who were trying to rebuild civilisation. Unfortunately, I got none of that. The citizens of Woodbury might as well be cardboard cutouts. I wanted to hear sad, emotional stories from old men who had lost their sons, or a young girl hardened by her time in the wilderness and is now a ruthless killer. But there were no interesting characters, no great comic book heroes or villains, just sad pathetic people who had maybe one or two lines about the weather and about what book they had just been reading. I understand that Woodbury was supposed to be about ignorance, about total blindness to the outside world and wilful denial of the terrors that lurk just beyond its walls. It just seemed so unbelievable to me though that none of these people had interesting stories to tell.
Season 3 just does a nosedive into the ground once Woodbury and its Governor are introduced. I was kind of fascinated by the Governor, this seemingly innocent man with such a sinister crazy hidden side to him. I did enjoy the conflict between Michonne and the Governor, though I couldn’t understand why Michonne didn’t just straight up tell Andrea what was up instead of acting like a paranoid nutter. Hey Michonne, why not just tell Andrea that the Governor is hiding a whole bunch of walkers in Woodbury, instead of just saying, “Yo my spidey sense is tingling, I don’t trust him let’s go”. So this is the Season which made me hate Andrea for being unable to resist the charms of complete assholes, but at least initially, I felt she was justified in thinking Michonne was crazy because she really didn’t do herself any favours by just frowning all the time.
Back in the prison, Rick goes crazy over Lori’s death and the rest of the cast are just helpless. To be fair, I think Rick’s craziness was really well done, and helped demonstrate the desperate situation these guys were in. Plus it was cool to see Glenn step up when it was clear Rick was incompetent, but really, these guys are hardened survivors by now, did they really have to be so useless without one guy? Then of course, the conflict between Woodbury starts when Glenn and Maggie get kidnapped. The torture scenes were horrible to watch actually, and the almost-rape of Maggie is just horrifying. Again, I like it when the main characters interact with strangers, especially sadistic strangers because I like the theme of ‘it’s not just the walkers who are a threat in an apocalypse’.
However, their response to this is just kind of crazy and moronic. Starting a war with half a dozen people just isn’t smart. If I were the group, I would have just hightailed it out of there. Their attachment to the prison was just totally unjustified. They had already lost people in the prison, they eventually learn that one wall is breached and unsafe, they know there are tons of zombies swarming the area…why stay? I know they have a baby to think of, but they needed supplies for the baby and going on the road would have been better for that purpose. So many stupid decisions taken by the group. It doesn’t help that Andrea is on both sides, trying to be some kind of diplomat, it just seemed so naïve.
I will mention one exception to all this negativity though which is the episode Clear. In this episode, Rick, Michonne and Carl go out to find supplies and head back to where Rick started to pick up guns. There, they meet Duane, the man from the first episode and he has gone a bit gaga. Still, this episode was so refreshing. We got to see Michonne do something other than frown in a corner! She actually smiles, interacts like a normal human being, is smart and talented, and shows some depth to her character. Like I said, interacting with other people outside the group is when the show is at its best and how they deal with Duane was really nice. Carl gets to show off being a badass with a heart as he desperately tries to retrieve a picture of his mother to show to his newborn sister. Carl truly is a child of the apocalypse and if I were to carry on watching the show, it would mainly be to see how Carl turns out; I envision him being one of the most interesting and awesome characters as time goes on and he grows up, having lived through the horrors and embraced them. He has none of the weaknesses of others who crave the old life; he is the new. Michonne is like that too; her no-nonsense approach, her priorities and her distrust of people is exactly what I think survivors of this kind of thing should be like. Watching these two interact was just wonderful, and at the end, when Carl says, “She’s one of us”, my heart practically melted.
But back to complaining because this post is about where the show went wrong. And I can definitely say that straw on the camel’s back for me was the Season 3 finale. All that time building up to the biggest confrontation of the show…and it is just utterly disappointing. At least Merle got a good send off in the penultimate episode and Milton, the hapless fool, gets to shine in the finale. But what really bothers me is when the credits rolled, the Governor still lives. After all that time, all that bloodshed, and the main antagonist lives! I cannot believe that he will still be a threat in the next season. I just cannot deal with any more of this incredibly contrived and stupid rivalry between the Governor and Rick, their suicidal attachment to this stupid prison complex and the annoying fact that the Governor turns into this two-dimensional character whose sole motivation is to cause trouble. Am I glad to have seen Andrea die? I guess I would have been, if it had put an end to all this stupidity regarding her and the Governor, but it just didn’t feel very satisfying because he’s still alive. It would have been really nice to see some kind of vindication or at least closure, but it feels like the Governor beat Andrea every single step and there was no heroic save or greater good. The finale was just a complete letdown and it’s the main reason why I won’t be tuning in for next season.
In conclusion, The Walking Dead is just too spotty in quality for me to like or recommend. The good episodes are rather spectacular, and the premise is not bad, and there’s so much potential for really interesting things. A good example of this is the Telltale Walking Dead game, set in the same universe but about different characters. The characters in that are well-fleshed out, for the most part, not too stupid (and the stupid ones usually die from their stupidity so it’s not too bad) and most importantly, there is enough action to keep the plot moving and interesting. The Walking Dead as a TV show just suffers from horrendous pacing issues. Really, the long seasons are just not helpful and I much prefer the first season which is only 6 episodes instead of these ~20 episode seasons which just drag on and on. There are just too many bad apples that spoil the whole lot.