I just received the latest hardcover edition of Robert Kirkman’s long running graphic novel season, The Walking Dead, which has put me in a good enough mood to share some thoughts on the upcoming season of The Walking Dead. As I am about to be writing weekly thoughts on the upcoming season, episode by episode for HHWLOD, and because it is not often that I have a moderate amount of time to do my own editorials, I figured I could provide a bit of a primer on where I stand with this popular AMC series. It is in a good position to deliver possibly the best season yet, but it also still faces challenges, if it does not learn from its own past missteps. A continuing story of survival horror can no doubt be an uphill battle.
For those who are unfamiliar with the record breaking AMC series, The Walking Dead is the television adaptation of a graphic novel series, which has a premise centered on the zombie apocalypse. The show’s hero, Sheriff Deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), and an assortment of other characters, including Rick’s wife and son, Rick’s best friend and fellow policeman Shane, and an RV full of other characters are forced to survive in this new world that has the dead coming back to life and eating people. (For the record, there may be mild spoilers in this essay for the series up to the end of Season 2.)
To start, I do not consider The Walking Dead to be the best show on TV, not by a long shot. There is a lot that I admire about it for sure though. Much like the graphic novel it is based on, the series has wisely tried to stick with being about the characters that makeup this universe, as opposed to being a weekly show about zombies devouring people. This does lead to the show’s biggest problem though, as the characters are not the most likable bunch of people, which is not a discredit to the acting on the show, which I believe to range from fine to quite good, but has been an issue based on the writing and direction that The Walking Dead has taken. With that said, while the show is more about character focus (regardless of however successfully or poorly handled they may be), it does certainly deliver on scenes that feature zombies devouring people, let alone a solid handle on the horror atmosphere, when backing away from its more melodramatic elements. This could be seen as a strange two-way street, but despite the concerns from many who may not like the show, it is still a series that continues to break ratings records.
So why is that? I think there are many reasons. For one, it would appear that we are in a time where zombies are one of the “It” monsters/creatures in pop culture (along with sexy vampires, of course). Whether or not zombies are “fading,” the fact is that this past year alone has seen the release of an assortment zombie-related media, including movies, games, and books. The idea of having a zombie-themed TV show is an intriguing one and the fact that people don’t have to pay for HBO or Showtime to see it makes for an accessible series to an extent. Another reason, of course, stems from geek culture, which may not be effective for turning internet hype of certain film releases into box office dough, but does seem to work in hyping up the idea of bringing Robert Kirkman’s comic to life. And then I suppose, despite the flawed nature of the series, enough people do find something to grasp onto with these characters that we are presented with.
Enough with that though, my own relationship with The Walking Dead is as follows: I have been a fan of the graphic novel series since the release of the first hardcover edition, back in 2006. Having already been an avid zombie fan (between things like the Romero films and The Zombie Survival Guide), this was something that was right up my alley – a comic book series that presents the idea of an ongoing struggle to survive in a world infested with the undead, continuing on well after where any movie version would generally end. I love the graphic novel series for its writing and its artwork and continue to read it (note how this essay began). The idea of a TV series was intriguing to say the least, because not only would this series get far more recognition, but it would be developed by people that seem to care about the property. Kirkman would be heavily involved and developers and producers Frank Darabont and Gale Anne Hurd would be shepherding the production. Add on makeup effects guru Greg Nicotero, and this was a series I would be happy to invest my time in.
I am going to jump ahead now because I am pretty sure fans of the series and people interested in reading this are probably well aware of what has happened behind the scenes. Following the success of the first season, regardless of its quality, the second season essentially became Frank Darabont vs. The World, as the direction of the series was an issue for certain people. Whatever happened, Darabont is now out as showrunner and Glen Mazarra is in. It has since been determined that the show has gotten back on track, pacing and development-wise, with many people eagerly anticipating the show’s return.
After several months, Season 3 premieres on October 14th. So is the show in a place that deserves the attention it is getting, which is to say more attention than ever, given its increasing popularity? I think it is, but not without some words of warning. The reasons are fairly simple. I think the show is in a place where it has a better idea of what it wants to be. The biggest problem has always been the characters, which has been an issue based on both the writing of the series and the large ensemble cast. With season 2 stripping away certain characters and settings, therefore certain recurring plots that have been ‘slowing’ down the progression of the plot, the show has the chance to build on its remaining characters and hopefully not leave anyone too far out in the cold. While there will be new characters introduced this season, including comic fan-favorite Michonne and one of the most anticipated characters of the series, The Governor, the show has a chance to manage the core cast that has managed to survive thus far. The fact that the series is moving to a new locale is exciting too, but I just hope it does not lose focus by trying to provide too much and find itself lost trying to sort all of these new developments out.
I cannot say I am giving The Walking Dead the benefit of the doubt in all of this, but I do believe there has been enough time for things behind the scenes to have sorted themselves out as well. With Mazarra now serving as showrunner and having the chance to start a new season fresh, without big changes happening in between, I would like to think that The Walking Dead team has had a chance to plot out the arc of this season appropriately, as well as get into areas that they can improve upon –namely the characters. If the show is able to give these people better dialogue to work with, better plot points to tackle, and better reasons not to feel frustrated with their actions or general demeanor, The Walking Dead could be on the right path it needs to be on. I may be asking a lot from this series and my optimism may be shining through a bit too brightly, but I don’t think it is asking too much to be hoping for a good show to become better. I would be much happier in not feeling so depressed after every episode due to the dourness of all the characters or have less need to make fun of the ridiculous decisions made by some of the characters, in favor of praising the interesting paths that this show could chose to take.
Where the show can continue to excel and only satisfy more with is the depiction of zombie-related action. No doubt various highlights of the series all generally relate to scenarios that pit the zombies against our cast, which is to say that Nicotero and his team have been completely nailing this side of the series. The makeup and visual effects always look top notch, these scenes have a great level of tension (no doubt aided by Bear McCreary’s effective work as series composer), and sometimes you can’t help but think that some of these zombie-related deaths are the ‘coolest’ thing you may have seen on TV that day. Given the popularity of the series, I certainly don’t have to hesitate when considering whether or not AMC will continue to air creative zombie-related kills that push the TV-rating to its limits.
Aside from the show itself, I am also pretty pleased with what has been done to promote the show. The trailers always look solid, as whoever is cutting them seems to know how to entice the viewer. Various preview images have teased plenty of interesting possibilities for the show to take. The recent release of Walking Dead Webisodes has also been a successful way of keeping the show’s awareness out in the open, with a bonus being that this four-part webisode series is actually really well done. And I also can’t count out the presence of The Walking Dead at various conventions over the past few months, including San Diego Comic Con (where I got to run away from zombies through Petco Park) and the upcoming New York Comic Con, which will have the cast and crew on hand to present a show that many people are really excited for. Regardless of the show quality, from what I can tell, everyone involved has been really excited about being a part of the series and it would be great to see that reflected in the actual season.
Whether or not The Walking Dead climbs the rankings as one of my favorite shows on air is not something I am too concerned about. The fact is that the show is going to be one that I will absolutely be watching right away, as opposed to catching up with on my DVR at a later time. I am excited to see what happens to Rick and the gang this season and I will be excited to continue writing about it, contributing to HHWLOD (the podcast network, which has been gracious enough to become the host for my own film podcast, which I co-host with my buddy Abe), and interacting with the community of fans who get similar joy out of the series, brought together thanks to things like The Walking Dead TV Podcast and The Dixon’s Vixens, who equally love to talk all about The Walking Dead. The show has had a chance to reevaluate what has worked well and what could be improved upon, so hopefully everyone will be able to see this new season in all its zombie glory and enjoy it (except for Dish subscribers).