So The Young Folks has recently brought me on to provide coverage of The Walking Dead television series, among other future possibilities and I am excited to do so. However, given that I have previously been covering the show on my own blog (check it out HERE) and have been and will continue to talk about the show on The Walking Dead TV Podcast, I wanted to basically recap my thoughts on the show in general, so new readers know where I am coming from. As much as I like to bluntly insert myself into conversations about movies and TV in real life, it seems like it could be a good idea to publish some thoughts in a post, before going crazy over why I did or did not like episodes of an insanely popular TV show about zombies. With that said, it does not hurt that the mid-season premiere of The Walking Dead was a step in the right direction.
I should probably begin with what I think of the show overall. The Walking Dead, for me, has settled on being a good show that often flirts with being something much better. As I watch it each week, during the time of year in which it releases new episodes, which has become a comfortable zone occupying mid-fall and late-winter, I judge the show for what it is. At its best, The Walking Dead works as a solid character drama that also benefits from having some of the most talented makeup people in the business crafting some eerie-looking zombies. At its worst, The Walking Dead is an overcrowded series, with too many redundant and dour situations to make you appreciate the good work being done by the actors and filmmakers involved.
As far as what got me into the series goes, I have been an avid fan of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead graphic novel series. While I enjoy reading comics, there are not many current comic series that I keep up with and next to Invincible (also by Kirkman), The Walking Dead is easily the series I most look forward to reading. I am also a huge fan of zombie-related media. While George A. Romero’s earlier forays into the world of the living dead are the foundation for me (and I do have a soft spot for Land of the Dead), I am not opposed to the many different variations on zombies in the horror genre since. Of course, the best ones are those that deal with the characters that happen to be involved in a world overrun by zombies, but credit goes to some of the zanier entries as well. Additionally, for me, it practically goes without saying that Shaun of the Dead is a top notch film any way you look at it.
Back to the television series, when it was first announced that The Walking Dead would be turned into a TV show on AMC, which had been producing Mad Men and Breaking Bad, and would be developed by Frank Darabont, director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Mist, among other films, it seemed like everything was coming up Millhouse for one of my favorite comic series. Initial casting left me with no real complaints and getting to see the debut of the original trailer at San Diego Comic Con back in 2010 certainly kept my spirits high.
I am not going to go over everything leading up to the present, but I will provide some basic thoughts on the different seasons. The pilot episode, “Days Gone By” is still one of the best of the series. My favorite episode happens to be “Clear” from season 3. The reason is pretty simple: focus. The first episode of The Walking Dead had a lot of help from the fact that it was directed and written by Frank Darabont, who set a tone and style for the series, but also had a very clear cut story to work with and very little filler to go with it. The rest of the first season could not live up to that standard, despite some highlights, as the show was both finding its footing and dealing with issues that continue to plague it to this day.
Regarding season 2 as a whole, again, there were some highlights here and there, but the rumors surrounding problems behind the scenes definitely came through, when considering a lot of the fan outcry surrounding the pacing of the show and the questionable need to stay at Hershel’s farm. My actual written-write-ups for the series did not start until mid-way through season 2; as it became easier to cover the show in full, rather than bullet point my thoughts on each episode. The second half of this season, which featured a new showrunner, following the removal of Darabont from the equation, was stronger, but the show still wasn’t reaching its full potential. While the setting was never an issue for me, the expanding cast, thin characterization, and weak writing was certainly holding the series back. The one saving grace was, ironically, the zombies.
Thanks to fantastic make-up and special effects work by make-up guru/director Greg Nicotero and his team, coupled with a great handle on action/horror filmmaking, the zombie sequences in this show have always been first-rate. These undead walkers look great and scenarios involving walkers vs. people have always felt quite tense and appropriately gory, given the nature of the show. While I view The Walking Dead as a series about the people involved in a world that happens to have essentially ended, I can get behind quality zombie attacks, when they are handled properly, which is something the show consistently knows how to deliver upon.
When season 3 came around in October, 2012, everything started to click together, which led to its first 8 episodes being the best run of the series, thus far. A key difference came in the form of storytelling. While not without its issues, the initial stretch of season 3, and particularly the first episode, “Seed”, took great strides to tell a story with emphasis on visuals and character actions that did not revolve around people yelling at each other or going over the same types of scenarios through scripted dialogue. The episodes may have been a bit sprawling and almost too fast-paced (in an attempt, I assume, to try and appease those who complained about the previous season), but there seemed to be more confidence in what the show had to offer.
This is where things get tricky, as I now have to get into the Governor, played by David Morrissey. In the graphic novels, the Governor is held up as one of the best modern villains of recent years in comic lore. He was obviously an element of the series that was heavily anticipated (along with Michonne, who I’ll get to), and this show did a lot to try and make him work. I can say that Morrissey certainly did his best, acting-wise, to make this character work. Unfortunately, while I was initially intrigued by how he was factoring into this series, I was not a huge fan of how the Woodbury arc played out. Between irritating writing and character actions (which pretty much came down to the character of Andrea and some inconsistency with others), I grew more and more tiresome of how this plotline was turning out. I never actively disliked an episode, but the same issues continued to crop up. The writing continued to bother me and the general tone of the series was very grim, which can make sense, given the subject matter, but similar shows have found a way to inject a sense of fun that extends beyond cool zombie scenarios.
To be fair, I still hold onto season 3 as the best season of this show so far. I’ll get to season 4 soon, but I am excited to see if it ends up better than the previous season, by the time it ends. My enjoyment of season 3 once again comes down to the filmmaking and some work from the performers. Zombies still looked topnotch and there was a lot of attempts to go for more focused episodes, which included my favorite of the series, “Clear”, as I previously mentioned. While season 2 began the notion of providing episodes that would focus solely on a couple characters, as opposed to the group as a whole (I am referring to “18 Miles Out”), this concept was pushed forward a few times in season 3 and gave the show a chance to deepen a few characters and allow some breathing room, in general.
I should mention the actors involved in this series, or at least my general thoughts, as this is becoming a much longer “get to know me” piece than intended. Basically, I think the cast of actors involved on this show is quite solid all around. It is rare that I see any of the cast members doing a bad job, despite my constant issues with the writing of the show, or other occasionally problems. As the lead of the show, Andrew Lincoln has certainly evolved for the better, as he has gotten deeper and deeper inside who Rick Grimes is. Some supporting characters have certainly stepped up for the better. Scott Wilson as Hershel, in particular, has done great enough work in season 4 to warrant Emmy consideration. I could call out some others as well, but it would just amount to “good job guys.” And of course, everyone loves Daryl Dixon, which is aided by the fact that Norman Reedus is legitimately great in the role.
To spotlight some actors, Michael Rooker certainly had a lot to do in season 3, which mostly made up for how much I disliked his over-the-top initial appearance in the second episode of the series, “Guts”. He managed to find a way to shade the Merle character and ended up leaving the show in an effective manner. The other performer I will highlight is Dania Gurira as Michonne. She has certainly gotten better, but there was a long period where it seemed like the writers felt simply having a character with a sword standing around and looking badass was enough. It is one thing to say Michonne has a guarded personality, but it is another to have many plot points depends on a character that refuses to say anything. Thankfully her character has evolved, making her one of the larger highlights of the series, at this point.
Moving on to season 4, I have continued to enjoy the series, but I still see some of the same issues cropping up. An expansive cast makes it tricky. It tends to lead to shortcuts being used to put characters in certain emotional states, in an effort to drive home the themes that are never subtly presented, as The Walking Dead has simply never been a show about subtlety. There have been some major highlights, which includes Melissa McBride’s work as Carol and the aforementioned work by Scott Wilson as Hershel. I took a lot of issue with how this show decided to bring back the Governor, but you can check that out in my previous recaps, to save time here. Essentially, I am glad he won’t be back. And with all that said, I loved the mid-season debut, as it had that level of focus that generally works best on this show.
So getting back to the topic I introduced in the title of this article, “Why I Write About The Walking Dead”, it is because I enjoy doing so. While I enjoy plenty of television shows (and write more about film), I have a great interest in this series, given my love for what it is, where it came from, and who has been involved. I do not attempt to compare it’s quality to the comic very often, as that simply does not matter (and truth be told, The Walking Dead game by Telltale Games is my current favorite way to digest this franchise). I have been able to talk about it weekly on a podcast, but that does not inspire me to write about the series either. I believe it comes down to not wanting to blindly shower praise on a show that has clearly been met with massive ratings and praise from general audiences everywhere, but instead analyze what I really think about it. As with anything I voluntarily watch, listen to, or read, I would love to enjoy The Walking Dead wholeheartedly, but it is more complicated than that, because I don’t think the show is a great one, despite having some truly great episodes and an obvious devotion to getting the zombies right.
So having put all of that out there, I am excited to continue writing about this series (as well as other topics, as I figure out what else I can cover). It helps that this second half of season 4 is off to a good start and that I was also able to vent in my not-so-covert way of reviewing the series as a whole, thus far. It is always nice to find a way to kill two birds with one stone. If The Walking Dead can manage to do so by providing a good character drama and some stellar zombie-related sequences, I think things will be just fine.
[Note: My write-ups will be much shorter, I promise.]