Has the third season of Walking Dead improved on the second? Will it ever become great zom-drama?
Last night on FX, the first half of The Walking Dead season three came to an end. The second season tasted strangely bland and boring for a show about the zompocalypse, so the undead really needed to speed up their shamble. But has it come at the cost of being, you know, actually good? Is this now a series where shit just happens, for no particular reason, an endless parade of gory deaths with the only question being “Who won’t run quite fast enough this week?”?
Well, we had some thoughts as the season started, now let’s find out. Zombie survivor leader Rick, played by Andrew “Ain’t Cuddly No More, Got Me An Accent” Lincoln, must deal first with settling the group into their new home, despite it being a stark, grey prison full of the undead. And then, even worse, another settlement led by the Governor, played by David “Smoother Than Yow” Morrissey, who is obviously unhinged. You can tell because he keeps killing people and sticking their heads in fish tanks.
So, where does all this lead in eight episodes? And was it good?
What Does The Walking Dead Say About The Human Condition?
Firstly, let’s get the disclaimer out of the way: this is not a great drama series. There are no amazing character journies here, no deep insights into the human condition beyond “Wow, living in a zombie apocalypse must be balls”. They just can’t seem to pull off great – whenever the writers try to let the story breathe, take their time and dig into the characters, we end up with the mess of last season, which had good episodes (the third ep, the mid-season finale, a fair few of the last six, except a dull one where they argued about killing some kid), but also a lot of what passes for characterisation and introspection on The Walking Dead – standing around and talking, endlessly, about how shit everything is.
I mean, yes, everything is shit, but wouldn’t you occasionally mention something else to take your mind off it? Especially when everything is quiet? Apparently not. In this show, all we can do is blurt out our feelings, and it made the first half of last season painful.
The bad news, then: that hasn’t changed. The good news: instead of trying to pull of thoughtful character based drama, they’re throwing everything they have at the poor half-alive sods. Because, yes, if the poor bastards only have a couple of conversations per episode, the straight-to-the-point dialogue works better. If they’ve only got time for a few words, sometimes you just gotta.
In fairness, some characters have become likable despite all that. You’d need a heart of steel to dislike Maggie and Glenn especially, which gives their torture scenes some heft. Despite his earlier pro-zombie stubbornness, I didn’t want Hershel to die at the start of the season. Main hero Rick Grimes, possibly for the first time since the show started, is one of the most interesting in the group, thanks to his increasing instability following the events of last year, brought to an ugly boil thanks to the death of his wife.
We Need To Talk About Lori
Oh yes, we should probably talk about that. There are other fatalities, but they’re mostly bland prisoners and T-Dog, a dull character who only surprised me when he wasn’t killed off in the season two finale. But in episode four, they knock off Lori Grimes, out of nowhere. I’m genuinely split on this decision, because her emotional arc at the time, a strained and awkward relationship with Rick, was genuinely interesting, but I can see why they wanted to take her out on a high, rather than wait until it gets boring.
Still, she was one of the leading ladies, and killing her robs The Walking Dead of a matriarchal role that they haven’t really managed to replace. Carol is having a go, but it isn’t the same. In the same way, I was glad Hershel survived his leg amputation because after Dale died last year, we don’t really have an older chap to dispense wisdom anymore. (f it sounds like I’m generalising and referring to characters as basic roles only, that’s because I am. The characters are thin enough on this show for me to get away with it.)
And, to be honest, her death felt unearned, and this another reason The Walking Dead is not a great drama series. Yes, the action-packed season three version is more entertaining and exciting, but it’s also very pulpy and basically a grinding mill for characters. Fortunately, between the good folk of Woodbury and Tyreese’s new group who arrive at the end, there’s plenty of fresh meat to chew on. (And now, a pause to imagine zombies eating Jack Whitehall.)
A Typing Tour Of Woodbury
Speaking of Woodbury, then. Our major storyline for this year, bringing new villain The Governor, played by Britain’s own David Morrissey. The show needed a new enemy character after they offed Shane last year, and between the Gov and Merle Dixon’s return, they got a good selection. Morrissey is definitely a strong enough actor to sell both charismatic leader and unsettling maniac, although the writing calls for him to veer between the two quite sharply. Still, he definitely gets his reason to slip into full on mania in the eighth episode, so maybe we’ll see a more consistent(ly evil) character in the future.
The Woodbury scenes are the ones that come closest to overstaying their welcome, with a few mid-run weeks where they restate themselves heavily, but happily the eighth episode battle comes along before it becomes a real problem. And Woodbury at least features Michael Rooker as Merle Dixon, who really makes bigoted villainy fun. We may not get that Dixon brothers reunion until the final scene, but he’s pretty watchable on his own.
The last big new element is Michonne, a remorseless, emotionless, fearless killing machine who knows no sensations except anger and slaughter. It was bad-ass for a few weeks when you assumed deeper characterisation was coming later, but now it’s unsettling. Either this is a shallow character who lacks depth beyond “I’m pretty cool” (see also: River Song in Doctor Who), or she’s intentionally being written as so mentally destroyed that there just isn’t anything else there. We’ll see if a firm answer ever comes.
So, that was The Walking Dead season three, part one. Imagine how long this piece would be if I’d waited until the season finale. In short, this show has “flawed but fun” written all over it. As a piece of drama, it may not be amazing, but they’ve got a big enough budget and good enough actors that they can get away with just pulling twists out of their hat for a while longer. Certainly, in spite of every criticism I’ve just typed, I’m curious to see where they’re going with all this.
Guessed the spoiler? Are modern audiences too savvy for TV show twists?
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum