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After two and a half seasons, is THE WALKING DEAD in its
best place? Is that best place good enough?
Many, as in the millions who watch the zombie survival
horror serial weekly, would most likely argue it’s rarely been off-track. In
the two years since its premiere, THE WALKING DEAD has utilized top talent—in its
performances, its directing, its producing, its FX—to craft what a good portion
of the nation is finding to be an engaging, bloody apocalypse drama, one whose
hard ties to genre and stunning contributions from Greg Nicotero is leaving
some (like myself) who aren’t as enthusiastic, nonsensically feeling a bit
guilty and unappreciative.
At its midseason break, it’s worth surveying how far the
show has come since last year’s. It also may be worth surveying the series not
as delineated by air-schedule, but these breaks. The back half of season two
seems to be where current showrunner Glen Mazzara was able to wholly implement
his vision of THE WALKING DEAD, and let go of whatever remained of Frank
Darabont’s run. This leaves the six-episode season one—which fell hard from the
highs of its first two installments—and the dud of season two’s front half a
mess of a season in itself; one where the organic process of a series finding
its footing was met with a rocky relationship to its source material (something
that continues to inform the show’s problems) and behind-the-scenes shakeups.
And the series has come far since, if best evidenced by
the last two episodes. “When the Dead come Knocking” was largely filler, an
hour meant to put characters where they need to be, poised to act in a manner
worthy of some sort of finale. It was energetic filler, though, that embraced
the inherently pulpy nature of THE WALKING DEAD, instead of positing that
gripping, grim drama and being a genre tale are mutually exclusive. “Made to
Suffer” had similar intent (it was putting people in place for the show’s
return), and was often tense and successful in doing so.
On a larger level, “Made to Suffer” was emblematic of THE
WALKING DEAD as a whole. Most indicative of the show’s strength was a cliffhanger
largely concerned with the fates of two original characters, Merle Dixon and
Daryl Dixon, in the hands of a villain at his best when differentiated from his
cartoonishly evil comic counterpart. But while the Dixon brothers are lucky
enough to come without baggage, The Governor teeters because of his, as did the
sadly missed Shane, as does this season’s other major introduction, Michonne.
Since seasons one and two had attempted to take themselves
so very seriously (note: this is not decrying a lack of humor, but being
po-faced to the point of detriment), Michonne’s entrance in “Beside the Dying
Fire” felt incongruous to the established world. It was as if she had stepped
straight out of the comics to rescue Andrea. Mostly a brief moment of playing
to the fans (Danai Gurira had yet to be cast), the clunky introduction could be
ignored if the production had attempted to round out and develop a Michonne for
the series, just as it is trying with The Governor. Instead, the Michonne of
the comics finds herself in new scenarios, but is unwavering in comic
characterization. This led to Michonne’s slightly baffling detour in “Made to
By all accounts, The Governor is twisted, with morally
questionable giving way to especially evil as season three progresses.
Comparatively though, he wasn’t all that awful to Michonne. In courting Andrea,
he played to her companion and while they certainly butted heads and she saw through his veneer, there was
nothing close to the repeated rape and beatings of the comics. The Governor may
have sicced Merle on her, but her jaunt to his quarters, with plan to wait
alone in the dark felt of a personal vendetta unseen, as if Michonne of the
page was acting on her interests/experiences. The endgame was to have Michonne
take his eye, much like in the comics. It’s this unnecessary holding on to the
source (like Rick’s brief dead telephone correspondence) that’s holding back a
show otherwise improving vastly.
There’s much more to come from the rest of season three. The
Governor is creeping towards the whole-hog tyrant we expect (with some clunky terrorist
talk to provide subtext), Tyreese has found his way into the proceedings and a
war between Woodbury and the Prison is brewing. But like the end of “Made to
Suffer” itself, I’m concerned with the fates of these Dixon boys, and even what’s
to come of Milton’s undead experiments. Hopefully, these richer aspects don’t
get lost in the shuffle of an ultimate showdown.
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