*Plots are discussed, up to Season 3, episode 8, of Walking Dead. Though I have attempted to avoid any true “spoilers”*
Last night we watched the mid-season finale (a new concept, for me) of season 3 of Walking Dead. I have greatly enjoyed seasons 1 and 2, and now, at the half-way point of season 3, want to get down a couple thoughts before starting the second half. Walking Dead is clearly re-imagining itself and seeking to create a more complex and rich identity. It’s expanding the cast and the matters it concerns itself with. Not surprisingly, this puts the show at risk of an identity crisis.
What I most liked about Walking Dead season 1 was how clearly the terror of the show’s premise came through. The central and only concern of season 1 is how these few people will survive the zombie apocalypse, and the absolute horror of that situation was carefully communicated. It is done wonderfully. In season 2 the world broadens, the cast grows, and the central concern of the show becomes not just surviving, but asking: what now? What does it mean to live, now, after everything you’ve known is gone? The show was still wandering and scary, like season 1, but also slowed down, and lingered upon the realities of the new world.
As my wife was quick to point out after we started Walking Dead, the first two seasons draw natural comparisons to Lost. In our home, Lost hovers over Walking Dead like an older sibling. It both enhances our experience of Walking Dead, while competing for superiority. But Walking Dead’s relationship to Lost has become both more obvious, and more damaging, in season 3.
The story-telling parameters of television being what they are, I’m not terribly surprised by the overlap like that between seasons 1 and 2 of Walking Dead and seasons 1 and 2 of lost. Survival dramas in which we are introduced to the survivors and the dangers that threaten them (season 1) and explore the world in which the survivors will inhabit (season 2). Given the genre, it’s hard to see a path around those similarities. In season 3, then, we meet the others. And here, it’s getting a little distracting.
Of course, Walking Dead does not live in a vacuum. It operates in conversation with every other TV program and movie about survival and zombies and post-apocalyptic life that precedes it. Walking Dead occupies a world of more extreme violence and danger than Lost, which helps to separate it from the roving island counterpart. Walking Dead season 3 more than winks at another, more apt comparison than simply who are the Others. Season 3 wants to know the answer to that old query: Who run Bartertown? Who? Run? Bartertown?
I do not know how season 3 will conclude. These comparisons to Mad Max and Lost run through my mind as I watch the show, because they are the pre-existing genre referents which Walking Dead must navigate. One cannot blame Walking Dead for its genre precedents. They exist, and heretofore, Walking Dead has added to them creatively and distinctly.
Still, I feel justified in saying that, should Walking Dead fully transition from zombie apocalypse survival drama into a gangland drama pitting two crews against each other for territory and domination, the show will be weakened, at least temporarily. I guess what I’m saying is I do not want Walking Dead to leave behind thoughtful horror, in exchange for a prolonged engagement with The Others, or even less inspired, for the Thunderdome, where torture and rape are just tools in the toolkit of gang warfare, zombies are irrelevant background annoyances, and fire-lit hand to hand combat appeases the blood-thirsty human survivors. Unfortunately, that’s not my decision.
All that said, Michonne is badass, and a worthy addition to the show’s relatively straight-forward cast of characters. And the increasingly violent/heart-breaking life of young Carl, who caused me to utter about how ‘there are no more children’, offers wonderful potential for the show.
Perhaps the parameters of the graphic novel are driving these changes. But they are perilous changes nonetheless. Tread carefully, Walking Dead.
Previously: moving on: The Walking Dead