A few months ago my esteemed colleague Mitchell gave his review of the first half of “The Walking Dead’s” third season- season 3.5 if you will. He praised the show, giving it a nine out of ten for finally having more zombies, making Rick a badass, and introducing the Governor in a spiffy way. On the whole I agreed with Mitchell’s points, though I would have given it a seven instead of a nine, mostly because I feel that the Governor has been handled poorly.
Now though, after season three has just ended, I take back every vaguely nice thing I’ve ever said about “The Walking Dead.” Before the season finale I certainly wasn’t a fan of “The Walking Dead” but I was going with it because I expected a pretty good payoff, but nope, and now I hate it. Let’s take a look at the finale “Welcome to the Tombs”:
Look at all that talk of how “it ends today!” And by today it seems that the show runner Glen Mazzara and his writers mean in October when season four airs, because other than the end of Andrea’s plotline there’s no closure at all. Sure the Governor shows up at the prison with his posse, but this happens at the very beginning of the episode and isn’t even a good action scene. There’s just a lot of wandering around in the dark and then Glenn and Maggie attacking from the rear long after any tension had been defused. If the pacing had been tighter then it could have been an awesome action scene (taken on it’s own).
You are smart, and you are strong, and you are so brave, and I love you. (All lies)
Unfortunately, putting the big action scene so close to the beginning leaves “The Walking Dead” to wrap everything else up over the next half hour without any other action showcases or tension, which is when the show is at its worst. Again and again “The Walking Dead” has proven that it can’t handle any period of time, whether short or long, without zombies and some gunplay. It’s a show about zombies! There shouldn’t be any slow episodes!
The biggest problem that I can see is that the writers think they can deal with big weighty themes and they just can’t. They have been pondering the idea of what makes us human, and what separates us from the monsters for three seasons now, and they keep on coming back to the same point, which is that community brings us together. We get it, so maybe don’t give us so many Rick speeches about how we need to stick together.
So much time is dedicated to this one idea that “The Walking Dead” ends up spinning its wheels until it’s time for another action scene. This is definitely a problem in the last half of season three because the writers have written themselves into a corner where the only thing they can do is give us a big climactic showdown between Rick and the Governor, and we don’t even get that. We get a Glenn and Maggie v. The Governor and his goons instead of any meaningful showdown.
In this life now, you kill or you die. Or you die and you kill. (Not a lie)
I love a show that zigs and zags its ways around something like a climactic action scene, but it still has to be fulfilling. Before “Welcome to the Tombs” aired I thought “wouldn’t it be cool if the Governor lived,” and I was kind of hoping he would, just to throw off some of the usual expectations. But after seeing how they did it, I would much rather have them just kill him in a typical and boring face off.
The Governor has been a problem for me since he was introduced. It was clear from the beginning that his arc was going to be one of going more and more crazy until Rick has to take him down. When the writers set up the season with the tagline “Fight the Dead. Fear the Living” they laid out exactly how the Governor was going to develop. And while I kinda like that they establish his craziness early, with that shot of all the zombie heads in a stack of aquariums, they then decided to play coy about how nuts he is until the last few episodes. Was he rational? Sometimes. Was he butt-fuck crazy? Sometimes. Confusing? Always.
“You will be torn apart by teeth or bullets.”
If this was a case of just an unfulfilling finale, which happens, then I wouldn’t be so incensed about “The Walking Dead.” What really pisses me off is that since so much was riding on “Welcome to the Tombs,” everything that came before it is now totally worthless. I suffered through all of the episodes that were just there to fill time as the writers spun all of their wheels, in the hope that I would at least get some pay off.
I will say that there were two bright spots amongst the shitty last half of season three, and those episodes are “Clear” and “Prey.” Both of these episodes are highly focused, just like I want “The Walking Dead” to be. “Clear” is the superior episode, following Rick, Michonne, and Carl to his old town to find weapons. There’s no baggage to the episode, no cutaways to either the prison or Woodbury, and Michonne gets some glimpses of an actual character.
“Prey” does cutaway to Woodbury a few times, but it is still a very effective, straight up genre episode as Andrea runs from Woodbury. Once the Governor has her trapped in a factory the episode stumbles a bit as it follows some very out of date tropes, like the Governor getting really close to where Andrea is hiding to only have another sound distract him, but I liked the extended set piece in the factory, and I especially liked the numerous cool zombie kills. And there’s not a single speech in the whole episode.
If there were even a few more episodes like “Clear” and “Prey,” ones that effectively ruminated about human life without so much damn talking, then I would be sitting pretty, enjoying a kind of okay genre show that had some flashes of brilliance.
“This place must’ve been no fun at all.”
Other than these two episodes though, I can only think of a handful of other scenes that I have actually liked. Everyone changed motivation and personality episode to episode, often going back on everything they had said before, which drove me up the wall. Lazy writing is the core problem of “The Walking Dead.” There is no clear grip on any of the characters, no sense of pacing, and no variation. Even if it does get better next season, with a new showrunner, there’s no way in hell “The Walking Dead” can resurrect my interest in the show. At least I got some good jokes out of it.