Walking Dead Season 3 will be better than the tepidly-received Season 2. How do I know this? Because Shane and Dale are dead, Michonne and The Governor are coming on-board and, most importantly, they’re off that god damn farm.
How sick was I of that god damn farm? If I’d had to watch one more scene of two people talking intensely under a spreading oak tree, I swear, I was going to whip out a gun and go Elvis on my TV. Hey hey, we get it. The big theme. How far can you go in the name of self-preservation before you sacrifice your humanity? We found out the answer early on. You can go right up to shooting Otis in the leg so the zombies get him instead of you. But if you cross that line? You turn into a complete dick.
The action of the story told us all we needed to know about the meaning of it all. We didn’t really need the endless arguments. But when you’re trying to fill 13 episodes and you don’t really have the budget for a massive zombie rumble every week? Well, you end up with a lot of arguing. Themes being simplistically hashed-out in the dialog. Folks yelling at each other and, by extension, us.
This is sort of dogshit writing. That was the main problem with Season 2. Too much standing around, too much arguing, too much setting up. “Longueurs,” I believe is the word. This was something of a disappointment after the ferocious pace of Season 1. We had to wonder: did they make a mistake doing a 13-episode season? Imagine Season 2 shortened to 8 episodes. One episode to clean up the business from Season 1. Handle the Sophia business in a two episode block (there’s a difference between suspense and stalling). Then five episodes of them fighting their asses off against zombies, culminating in the deaths of Shane and Dale and the destruction of the god damn farm. That might’ve been the way to go. But of course after the success of Season 1, a 13-episode order was inevitable.
Pacing was a big issue for the writers in Season 2. How to spread the action out over 13 episodes without creating too many of those pesky longueurs. They never solved it. The Sophia story grated on our nerves. The inter-personal conflicts just got tiresome. The love story between Glenn and Maggie was mildly diverting but never took off. The stuff between Shane and Lori was okay soap opera but that got old too. But the show’s main failure? That damn farm.
The farm was just not a great setting for an ostensibly tension-riddled survival-horror series. Of course logically it would be the best place to seek shelter during a zombie apocalypse. Your own water and food supply. Lots of open spaces around the house; much easier to spot oncoming zombies. You’re located far enough away from population centers that, hopefully, it will take awhile for the zombies to work their way out there. Trust me, if I’m ever in a zombie apocalypse, I’m heading for the hinterlands in search of a farm. Ideally one with a Maggie living on it.
So, a farm is great in reality, but for a TV show? It didn’t work. It just wasn’t scary. Zombies overrunning a whole city, that’s scary. Hanging out on the farm waiting for the odd zombie to poke through the trees and menace you? Sort of dull.
The inherent lack of threat forced the writers into some awkward situations. How to have the characters encounter zombies on a weekly basis? Well sure, they have to leave the farm for supplies. When Shane and Otis went out for medicine for Carl, that worked splendidly. But after that, it just sort of got repetitive and silly. Oh they’re looking for some excuse to leave the farm again? Why is pregnant Lori getting in that car and driving off by herself? Do you think she’ll run into zombies? What a dumb bitch. Just stay on the farm, Rick will be fine!!!
It degenerated into comedy. The show of course redeemed itself in the last couple episodes. It got creepy again at the end. Maybe the best single image of the series so far was Carl and Rick out in the dark with all those zombies bearing down on them. Hey, zombie hordes shuffling through the darkness? Scary. Getting trapped in a burning barn? Scary. Hershel having a shotgun that fires round after round without needing reloading? Stupid.
Three things became obvious over the course of the season. One: the writers ain’t great with dialog. Two: zombies are much scarier in cramped, dark places than they are out in the bright sunshiny open. Three: these characters are getting kind of tired, probably because the writers don’t know what to do with them except have them re-hash the same past crap over-and-over in between zombie attacks.
Before seeing even a single minute of Season 3, I already know that two of these three situations will be remedied. Solution to issue #2: No more farm. Instead most of the action will take place inside a prison fortified by the survivors against the zombie menace. Perfect. If I’ve learned anything in my years on this earth, it’s that zombie stories work best in small spaces. That’s the whole Romero approach, isn’t it? Trap your human survivors inside a claustrophobic space. Have them get in each other’s faces inside while zombies menace them from outside. The prison storyline returns Walking Dead to the very wellspring of zombiedom. The cramped, dark, zombie-beset interior. Perfect.
Solution to issue #3: Intro some fresh new characters. Already saw Michonne at the end of Season 2 – perfect WTF moment, her and the two armless zombies on leashes – and we’ll also get The Governor, who according to the comic book geeks is a brilliant villain. So we’ve gotten rid of Shane and Dale, the Heckle and Jeckle of boring hack moral grappling, and replaced them with a pair of confirmed bad-asses who do more killing than yakking. I’m liking the way this is headed.
Now, the other point: dialog. This is where my confidence sort of flags. Unless they’ve hired the Mad Men writing staff to re-work things, I don’t think we’ll be getting a significant upgrade in that department. Probably there will be a lot of yelling again. Rick will no doubt exclaim “I’m just trying to keep us safe!” or some variation of that line at least twice per episode. Lori will be stern and bitchy. Glenn and Maggie will talk silly love talk. Hershel will bore us with drawling religious crap. T-Dog will not say anything anyone remembers. No one will ever say anything clever or witty. But we’ll accept those things if the zombie action is cool. Cause really, isn’t that what we’re looking for?
When you boil it right down, Walking Dead probably has the least picky fans in all of TV Land. What do we really want at the end of the day? Just some cool zombie kills. Some cool zombie make-up. A little creep-out factor. We’re not all that interested in silly brainless dichotomies but we’ll tolerate that crap if, in the next scene, guts get spilled all over the place or some zombie gets a pitchfork in the head. The Walking Dead writers may suck at some things, but they know which side their bread is buttered on. So we’ll get what we want even if we have to swallow a bunch of hack garbage along the way.
Oh and I almost forgot to mention. Merle’s back. And not just in Daryl’s pain hallucinations. Yeah, this could be good. Maybe he’ll punch Carl.