SPOILER ALERT: This blog post may contain spoilers up to Episode 5 of The Walking Dead Season 3. If you haven’t yet watched to this point, here’s your warning.
I’ll confess something, right up — I wasn’t actually that fond of Season One of AMC’s The Walking Dead. After hearing rave reviews all round and being a general lover of all things horror, particularly all things zombie, it pretty much became essential viewing.
I was wowed by the opening episode and its 28 Days Later-esque doom and gloom, and the characterisation of Morgan and Duane – a single man with a child forced to hide away from his zombified wife every evening – was touching.
The remaining five episodes of Season One didn’t really do much for me, mainly due to the supporting characters. We had the clichéd Deep South racist, Merle, the Chinese pizza delivery guy, an African-American called ‘T-Dog’…it all just seemed a little, well, over-stereotypical for comfort, as it blazed through its first six hours killing characters whose names we hadn’t even had the chance to pick up. Season One felt like more of a pitch of what the show could cover over the space of a few seasons than a coherent season.
Season 2, on the other hand, began by attempting to address the problem of characterisation by slowing everything down to snail pace, with a tiring search for a little girl called Sophia. The group wound up on Herschel’s farm, which seemed to have some sort of protective shield around it from all things ‘walker’ and the rest of the outside world for half a season.
The group seemed too safe. The characterisation seemed forced. The show became…boring.
The Mid-Season Revival
And then, almost by magic, producer Frank Darabont left the show and along came Glen Mazarra on his trusty steed. The second half of Season Two was all about picking up the pieces and clearing up the mess of the first half. It improved the speed of the pace somewhat, and slightly improved characterisation, but it was still pretty clear that Season Three would be the season where things were really put to the test and given a shot.
After five episodes, I can proudly say that Season Three has propelled The Walking Dead to the dizzy height of ‘best show on TV’ right now.
How has it achieved such a status?
1. Much better pacing
Season One of The Walking Dead felt like something of a blink. Season Two on the other hand was like reading the autobiography of a slug at times. Season Three has struck a perfect balance — we get enough action each episode, and even in the slower weeks (such as the introduction of Woodbury in Episode Three), episodes seem to have a point. To add a little context: the fourth episode of Season Two revolved around a zombie being pulled out of a well. Seriously, that was the core dilemma. On the other hand, the fourth episode of Season Three saw two major character deaths and some of the most dramatic television scenes I’ve witnessed in years.
Even aftermath episodes like Episode Five still manage to revolve around a core dilemma. That dilemma is central to the weekly progression of a TV show. As long as the producers give us something worth caring about, and do it with just the right amount of drama and tension, we’ll care.
2. Improved setting
The farm of Season 2 kind of felt like some sort of bubble at times. Maybe that was the point — the producers have argued that the intention of the farm was to give the characters the ‘illusion of safety to introduce complacency’ — but that doesn’t really stand when the characters are complacent as hell in the first place.
The prison, on the other hand, is fantastic. Many non-comic fans (quite rightly) worried that the prison would end up being just another farm, and the trailer of the group singing around a campfire didn’t exactly do a lot to crush those fears.
However, right from the first episode, it’s pretty clear that the prison is not just another farm. It’s packed with zombies, for one, each cell block holding a different dark secret. There are other survivors around, too — something that proves fatal in several episodes. So, whilst the farm felt safe, the prison kind of feels like a ‘relief’. It’s dark, claustrophobic, and no one can ever be quite so sure what to expect.
Woodbury is a fantastic setting too, perfectly paralleled with the prison. There is an aura of normality about the place, but of course nothing can ever be normal in a post-apocalyptic world…
3. Better characterisation
The main problem with The Walking Dead from the start has been the poor characterisation. I’ll sum up the general thoughts of a viewer, post-Season 2: Lori is a bitch, Carl is annoying, Carol moans too much and doesn’t do enough, and Daryl is AWESOME.
Oh, and T-Dog. T-Dog’s just…yeah. He’s kind of just there.
Season Three sorted this out from the off. By picking up after an eight month time jump, we see a closer, more productive group. Carol and Carl are picking off zombies and actually doing stuff. Even T-Dog seems to have been promoted to Rick’s core circle.
As for Lori…well, she’s still kind of annoying, but the great thing is she actually acknowledges it. ‘I know I’m a shitty wife and I’m not winning any mother of the year awards’ is a fantastic line, and the fear in Lori’s eyes as she dreads the oncoming birth of her child is enough to make the viewer sympathise just that little bit more, not to mention Rick’s coldness towards her.
Which leads to…
4. Truly shocking character deaths/near-deaths
I remember being stunned to see Dale die in Season Two. I didn’t really like Dale at all, but it was more the fact that after nine or ten episodes of safety, somebody in the core group had actually died.
And then, the following week, they went and killed Shane too. Although I always expected Shane to die, it was still shocking and well handled.
To say that Season Three has continued this trend is an understatement.
POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT
I thought we were losing Herschel in Episode One, I really did. Then, all of a sudden, Rick whacks an axe out and hacks his leg off. Herschel lives. Woah.
As for those who didn’t make it, well. I was kind of sad and surprised to see T-Dog go. That’s a testament to the writing so far in Season Three, as he was nothing more than a minor character in Season Two.
The other death, well… I don’t even want to talk about it just in case somebody hasn’t seen it. Let’s just say it’s shocking and gut-wrenching. It also provokes one of the most haunting and convincing ‘realisation’ performances from a certain lead actor, which should put them in line for an Emmy.
5. The Governor
Any show with The Governor in automatically becomes better. Twisted, psychotic, and brilliantly portrayed by David Morrissey. It seems we discover a dark secret about this character each week, just as Andrea grows more infatuated by him, and Michonne grows more suspicious…
Don’t do it, Andrea!
And a word from comic book readers: watch your back, Michonne!
Season Three of The Walking Dead has propelled the show from ‘just another watchable show’ status to ‘truly essential viewing’. If it continues at its current pace, I’m going to seriously miss it when the mid-season break arrives in three weeks.
Roll on the remaining episodes.
What do you like or dislike about Season Three of The Walking Dead so far? What is the best show on television in your opinion?