The Walking Dead: Season 3 created by Frank Darabont (American Movie Classics, Circle of Confusion, Valhalla Motion Pictures)
Starring Andrew Lincoln, Laurie Holden, Steven Yeun, Chandler Riggs, Norman Reedus, Melissa McBride, Lauren Cohan, Sarah Wayne Callies, and Scott Wilson.
Since its initial airing in 2010, I’ve held The Walking Dead to a higher standard than most television shows. For starters, the series airs on AMC, a network branded as a place for high quality acting and writing. With such sterling dramas such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead airs among the best shows on television.
Second, the genre is groundbreaking. We’ve all seen our fair share of post-apocalyptic zombie films. But the nature of a feature film hides some of the difficulties behind the genre. Zombie narratives, by nature, need to be fast paced. The entire world is trying to eat you. It’s hard to find space for character development in such settings. To translate these themes into television poses a challenge for The Walking Dead writers, but it also provides an opportunity to be cutting edge.
Season 1 and Season 2 of The Walking Dead held promise, but they just as often provided deep frustration. Truthfully, the writing lacked. For the most part, the moments where the narrative shined coincided with a stark lack of dialogue. Whether trying to escape zombie-infested Atlanta or mowing down Herschel’s zombies on the farm, these fast-paced moments shined mostly because a character didn’t put his/her foot in the mouth.
Given the slow-paced season-long dirge we encountered at Herschel’s farm during Season 2, my main hope heading into Season 3 was activity. In other words, more zombies, less talking.
On the whole, the writers gave me my wish, but I still see potential pitfalls.
Fight the Dead. Fear the Living
At the beginning of Season 3, we find our group of protagonists led by a distant and weary Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) efficiently clearing out a prison of “walkers”. Evidently, the winter between Season 2 and Season 3 has transformed this group into an efficient bunch of zombie killers.
Reasoning that the security of a prison will keep walkers out, the group once again tries to establish comfortable living conditions.
Meanwhile, Andrea (Laurie Holden), who became lost from the group during the farm escape in Season 2, has partnered with Michonne (Danai Gurira), a katana-wielding lone ranger. The duo encounters a new group of survivors led by The Governor (David Morrissey). This group has cleared a small town and erected large barriers to keep the walking dead out. The community feels serene and welcoming to Andrea. However, Michonne thinks it is too good to be true.
Interestingly, Daryl’s (Norman Reedus) long-lost brother, Merle (Michael Rooker), last seen in Season 1, resurfaces in this town and his grisly and unrepentant nature offers a harbinger for a contentious future.
As the first part of Season 3 heads toward the mid-season finale, Rick’s group and The Governor’s group orbit closer and closer to each other.
The Danger of Desensitization
Given the introduction to these new characters and the drama the new characters have created in both circles, the writers have clearly taken to hear a call to action. The first half of Season 3 runs by at a mile a minute. People die; zombies disintegrate; the suspense has been ratcheted to an all-time high.
But this activity carries potential pitfalls. With the death rate elevating, The Walking Dead runs the risk of desensitizing its audience. Of course, death is inevitable in a post-apocalyptic world.
But deaths, especially to the main cast, need to matter.
Death must reverberate through the survivors, causing them to question their motivations. If characters die off too quickly, there’s no time to develop the living ones before they meet a similar fate.
Death in The Walking Dead constantly reminds the viewer of the dangerous world in which the characters live. If it moves to a slasher genre where death becomes the thrill itself, all is lost for this series.
Now let me be clear, The Walking Dead isn’t there yet. They are killing off characters but meaning still exists. I worry, more so, for the precedent these narratives set for future seasons. If the viewer expects constant activity and the intrigue of death, how will this show last?
On the surface, this criticism seems to contradict my earlier request for activity. Truthfully, this season of The Walking Dead is the best yet and its pacing plays a crucial role in its improvement. But there’s a tightrope between excessive death and a constant reminder of danger. The writers will need to walk this tightrope as long as The Walking Dead continues to receive air time. Given its huge numbers in the ratings, this show faces many more seasons to come. I really hope they have a plan.
Verdict: 4 out of 5