Tag Archives: The Walking Dead

Mid-season Report: The Walking Dead

19 Dec

Welcome, Michone

I’ve been harsh on this show at times.  Many times.  In fact, throughout much of the second season, when I felt like this show constantly didn’t live up to its full potential.  That’s what made it so frustrating for me; while so many TV shows have no chance at greatness from arrival, The Walking Dead constantly seemed like a case study in potential only realized in spurts, like a naturally talented athlete who gets by on talent alone, but could be a star if he hit the gym more often.  There were a number of different issues, but there two stood out the most (at least that are occurring to me now).  First, the pacing was terrible; the show consisted of absolutely epic moments sandwiched between long periods of inactivity or activity that no one cared about.  Second, half the characters were either boring, incredibly irritating, or not fleshed out at all.  I posted this at last season’s midseason, and these problems remained throughout the season; there were always just enough glimpses of what the show could be to keep me watching, but also enough problems to make watching frustrating and occasionally exasperating.

This season, I’m happy to say, was a revelation.  By far the best season yet of The Walking Dead, the third season mostly dispensed with the least interesting aspects of the show, and moved at a far brisker pace than the second season; as much occurred in the first half of the third season as happened in the entire second season.

I haven’t read the comics, though I’m considering it, and thus, I don’t know how much is taken from the source material, and how much is original for TV, but either way a series of smart decisions were made along the way towards assembling this season.  An important part of a show like The Walking Dead is keeping fresh blood (brains?) coming in in terms of new characters; since there aren’t 20 major characters like in Lost, if characters die, they need to be replaced, or we’d be down to 3 characters in no time.  Thought of in a different way, the advent of new characters allows the creators freedom to kill off whichever characters they believe are the least interesting, have become irrelevant due to storylines, or would just provide the most punch, plot-wise.  This character refreshening was achieved smartly with the death of Laurie; Laurie had become of limited usefulness as she descended into depression over her inability to have Rick forgive her.  Her death packed a huge emotional punch, and also led to difficult reckonings for her son Carl, who, even I must admit, has become far less irritating than he was in season 2, growing up to become, dare I say, somewhat competent, as well as Rick, for whom Laurie’s death put him off his game more than any other time previously in the show.  In addition, I liked the new characters who were added, mainly Michonne, the Governor, and his cronies, including Merle and his scientist Milton, who have all helped keep the show interesting.

Having the two storylines (the prison and the governor’s town) side by side completely worked.  The multiple locations probably played a role in the much improved pacing, since the show could dance back and forth, and it paved the way for the eventual central conflict of the half season.  Although the governor was and is clearly evil, because, hey, it’s TV, and it would have been a shock if he wasn’t, he’s definitely seemed like a more of a real kind of complex person than I thought he might.  I think this could possibly be done even more deftly, with making him a slight bit less evil, but David Morrissey has certainly handled it well enough that it feels like the Governor is a regular guy turned hard ass, rather than a mere psychopath bent on the destruction of those who stand against him.

I thought for sure it would take us an entire season for Rick’s gang and the Governor’s to meet but was extremely pleasantly surprised to see that it happened within half a season, with major events and reveals seemingly occurring in every single episode.

I’ve already commented on its similarities to Lost, and many of the questions The Walking Dead deals with – how far is it right to go to protect certain remnants of society from surviving – what civility, and what rules are left in a crumbling society, are similar to those handled by Lost at its best.

Overall, I feel as energized about this show as I ever have, and I’m glad to report that I’m actually really excited for the second half of the season to begin, an outcome I hoped for at various points during the second season but began to stop expecting.

The Walking Dead’s Passing Resemblance to Lost

27 Nov

 

Warning:  Walking Dead and Lost spoilers ahead.

It dawned on me while watching the last couple of episodes of The Walking Dead, that the current situation in the show bears a striking resemblance to certain periods of Lost.  These similarities are not necessarily one for one, but rather in overall feel as well as certainly matching elements of both shows.  Granted, I’m stretching a little bit here and there, but just follow along with me.

First, the Governor and his people are the Others.  The Governor is Ben.  The post-Apocalyptic southern landscape resembles the Island in the fact that danger lurks everywhere outside of protected areas, and that resources are scarce and technology is limited.  Like the Others, the Governor’s people live some semblance of a normal life, unencumbered by the constant dangers and shortages faced by those outside (Jack’s group in Lost, Rick’s group in The Walking Dead).  The Governor, like Ben Linus, is clearly an archvillain, from the viewer’s perspective, but we don’t know his exact history (at least in the first couple of seasons of Lost), and clearly he didn’t necessarily start out with the intention of being evil (well, neither thinks  of themselves as evil, but let’s say, their intents were not purely negative like a true evil villain).  Also, it seems that many in Governor’s group don’t know exactly the full story about the Governor’s motives and villain-ness; it also seemed that way for Ben as well in Lost, though that may just be an impression I got, especially in the episode (the first episode of the third season, A Tale of Two Cities) that showed some of the Others at a book club when Oceanic Flight 815 crashed (more of the Others obviously knew something was going on, but I’m not sure how obviously villainous it was to all of them, at least at first, there were innocents, like Juliet).  Like Lost, our good guys are composed of a rag team group of strangers who didn’t know each other until a tragic set of circumstances, nad have to band together to stay alive.

The interrogation scenes with Glen and Maggie have no exact parallels, but remind me of not one but two major interrogations in Lost.  These are when Jack’s crew had Ben locked up, without knowing his identity, for the last few episodes in the second season, when Ben claimed his name was Henry Gale, and when the Others captured Jack, Sawyer and Kate early in the third season, and particularly when Juliet interrogated Jack (by the way, if we’re really stretching this out, Rick is obviously Jack and Daryl clearly a much nicer Sawyer).  As in Lost, in The Walking Dead, we know these two groups are going to clash at some point, as the much weaker good guy crew dares to take on the much stronger bad guys.  There’s something not quite right about the Governor and his crew, which is exactly the feeling that viewers developed with the Others, even besides their simply being antagonists – the idea that they’re up to something fishy and underhanded aside from just wanting to defeat our protagonists.

Of course, Lost spent a lot more time developing these groups (the Others are around by the end of the first season, while the Governor doesn’t enter until the beginning of the third of Walking Dead, though the latter is on cable, and the episode count per season is significantly less) and then went way off the rail afterwards (time travel, um, purgatory, nuclear explosions).  Lost involved elements of the supernatural that aren’t present in Walking Dead.  Walking Dead involves the science fiction of zombies, and that’s about it.  Many of Lost’s best episodes were when the Others were still mysterious and when Ben’s creepy stare and constant lies-that-might-be-part-truths were captivating instead of tiring and repetitive (why did anyone ever believe Ben by the end of the show?).  The combination of the human dynamics amongst people who don’t know each other yet must work together set against the tension between opposing groups and the continuing plot mysteries that kept audiences guessing, anticipating, and theorizing were what made Lost so tantalizing, and what The Walking Dead does on its best days.

To its credit, I think The Walking Dead has soundly avoided the problem of biting off more than it can chew, plot mystery wise , and having source material, even if it’s not entirely faithful to it, probably helps a lot (I think the lack of limitless supernatural elements helps as well).  In addition, it smartly stayed away from the flashbacks, which I, and I realize this is a divisive opinion, always hated.  We can learn all we need about the characters from their actions at the present time.

I admit, the comparison is a stretch at times, but I do think Lost viewers will recognize at least a feeling in The Walking Dead right now which resembles some of the magic of the earlier (and best) seasons of Lost.  The show, which has had its share of issues over the first couple of seasons, has had its strongest half season so far.  Hopefully Walking Dead will continue its positive run of episodes;  for the first time in a while, I’m really looking forward to the next episode, the midseason finale.  So, kudos, The Walking Dead (and visiting the Lost wikipedia page just reminds me again of how Lost made me crazy (like visiting an ex’s facebook page) but that’s for another day).

Mid-season Report: The Walking Dead

8 Dec

(This should go without saying but this midseason report contains spoilers you’re not going to want to read if you’re not up to date on the show and plan on watching it)

This first half of the second season of The Walking Dead ends with a great TV moment which shows everything The Walking Dead can be when it’s at its best.  The barn full of zombies, which has been revealed to us a couple of episodes ago, and to the whole crew more recently, is opened up by Shane.  Dramatically, the zombies are shot one by one by everyone except Rick, until, last out, comes zombie Sophia, wearing the same clothes she was wearing when she got lost.  Everyone is stunned, too stunned to react, and finally Rick steps up and shoots her, taking on his leadership role and showing he’s willing to play rough at the same time.  Even though I hadn’t cared so much about Sophia before, the way she came out out of the barn as a zombie had an immediate visceral emotional impact, and the misdirection of the barn plot had me forgetting about the search for Sophia temporarily.  The scene was extremely powerful and exhibited surprise, plot development and characterization all at once.

The Walking Dead is a show which with a short season and a half behind it is still trying to find its footing.  It’s a good show, and it shows flashes of being a great show, but there are several areas that need improvement.  There are two top-notch moments in the first half of the current season.  The second is the barn scene that ends the half-season, leaving a very good impression going into the second half.  The first is when Shane is shown in flashback shooting poor helpful redneck Otis to get out of the school with the hospital supplies alive.  Both of these moments were character defining, hold your breath, call your friends and talk about them immediately after they happen moments.  Not all of The Walking Dead can be like this – no show can have moments like this constantly and be sustainable.  Still, the payoff of these scenes remind me how good the show can be.

Characterization and pacing are probably the two biggest areas of The Walking Dead that need work.  The Walking Dead has a lot of work to do buidings its characters up.  The best developed character so far in the show is Shane, who began as the best friend who looked after Rick’s family before Rick met up with them, and who has slowly emerged as the primary antagonist in the show.  His journey to antagonist has seemed fairly natural as he’s struggled with losing Laurie and dealing with Rick’s less practical, more soft leadership style.  The rest of the cast either hasn’t gotten a chance to grow or have had their moments in stops and starts.  Daryl, the redneck with the heart of gold, had one half an episode in which he has some battle with a hallucinated version with his brother, and other than that it’s not exactly clear what his deal is, or why he’s so friendly when he seemed more hostile in the first season (think Sawyer from Lost, but skipping past a few seasons).

The Walking Dead needs to decide what its relationship with its own status quo is.  Some shows constantly change while others like Battlestar Galactica feel uncomfortable once they venture too far from their original set up and work on getting back to it.  I’m not sure whether I can expect constant change in The Walking Dead universe or whether even when they move from place to place as seems inevitable, they’ll just settle back into their routines.  One way is not necessarily better than the other, but it affects the pacing of the show.  In the first season, the characters moved around a lot and the plot almost felt rushed.  Another episode at the camp might have let us learn about the characters more and laid down the groundwork for future conflicts.  The second season, on the other hand, has remained at the farm and it feels like an episode or two could have been cut.  All that time could have been used for productive characterization, but it wasn’t.  Often, instead of organically feeling like a character got to a particular state, it felt like he got there because the story needed him there.  An example of this is Dale’s admonishments of Shane in the last two episodes.  For Shane, the journey to antagonist actually seems natural as I mentioned before.  For Dale to hate Shane though, seems to come out of nowhere along with his certainty that Shane killed Otis.  There were no scenes showing us why Dale would feel this way or why he would suspect Shane, connecting the dots.

There’s three main story reasons to kill characters in this show that I can think of offhand.  First, to provide a powerful emotional moment for the viewer.  For this, there needs to be a lot invested in the dying character.  Second, to show a big moment for another character.  For example, Shane killing Otis.  We don’t care that much about Otis, but it’s a powerful moment for Shane.  Third, to show how dangerous an enemy is, such as the zombies.  This is the main motivation between killing many of the early first season characters.  This is a horrible world and the zombies are deadly.  I have no way of knowing, but this seems like the type of show that’s going to want to kill off characters as it goes forward and right now I feel like for a majority of the characters I wouldn’t feel that much if they died (think Boon from Lost).  There’s plenty of time to change this, but it’s something the show should be working on so they can give us more moments like the final scene in the last episode.

I’m by no means souring on The Walking Dead. It’s just frustrating to watch a show that has so much potential not yet fill it.  Unlike shows like Heroes and Lost that had me extremely excited only to lose me for good after I was quickly disenchanted, The Walking Dead has me right now thinking it has the same chance of being great as it did when it started.  There hasn’t been any creative decision which is such a mistake that they can’t turn back from it and I have no reason to think there will be.  The pieces remain in place, they’re just shifting back and forth waiting for someone to get the configuration right.

Ranking the Shows I Watch – 12: The Walking Dead

20 Oct

This is the second of two shows I admit I may have overrated slightly because I wrote these entries right after seeing them.  AMC can just about do no wrong in its post-Mad Men original programming days (just about because of the “noble failure” Rubicon and the Prisoner remake miniseries which everyone seems to have tried to forget and mostly succeeded).  From Mad Men to Breaking Bad to now Walking Dead and The Killing (well the start of The Killing), AMC has hit after hit on their hands.  After the incredible success of the six episode season of the Walking Dead (six episode season, I know – what is this, the United Kingdom or something?), I read an interesting article concerned whether it was so successful that it would change AMC’s entire strategy.  The first episode of the second season has been no exception rating-wise, as the show shattered all sorts of AMC rating records, especially in terms of younger, advertiser-attractive demographics.

Based on a graphic novel, with which I was not too familiar before the series started, it comes on top of a decade long zombie fascination, second only to the more broadly popular vampire trend – made up of the resurrection of the Night of the Living Dead franchise, Zombieland, Shaun of the Dead, Planet Terror, 28 Days and Weeks Later, Zombie Survival Guide, World War Z and probably a couple of others.  Like most zombie works, even though the zombies are the enemy, they have no personalities, they’re simply unthinking, unrelenting enemies who the humans have to strive against.  The remaining humans, overtaken by the zombies have to figure out a plan to survive.  The real personal conflict is between the different factions of humans who are a bunch of unlikely folk brought together due to the strange circumstances of zombie attack and must work together in tough scenarios or face inevitable doom.

The tension is palpable, and both the action scenes and the personal drama are handled extremely well.  Finding the correct balance between out and out zombie action and relationship tension between the characters will continue to be an issue, but initial results are positive.

The season ended in a bit of a strange place, but due to the general strength of the season and the fact that the graphic novel is widely acclaimed, I’m more than willing to give the creators the benefit of the doubt.  The show faced an unusual level of behind-the-scenes drama this summer, as show runner Frank Darabont left, and going forward, the fact that I’m not sure who exactly the writers and show runners are going to be gives me a great deal of pause, but there’s a really good start here that I sincerely hope doesn’t get messed up.  They’ve started so well and have so much to work with, if they can just avoid a The Killing, it should be pretty promising.

What It’s This High:  Dark zombie drama which is constantly on the move and changing the status quo, so far anyway

Why It’s not higher:  The last episode was a little bit weak; I’m not sold on how it will continue to evolve just yet

Best episode of the most recent season: “Days Gone By” – the series remained pretty solid over the first six episodes but it was the pilot that won me over.  The episode felt cinematic and was so gripping that I was in for the whole six episodes whether or not the next five were terrible.