I have not written any reviews of any of the third season episodes of The Walking Dead because most of it has been pretty bad. Badly written with terrible, fifth-grader level dialogues and comatosely boring content lacking real meaningful dramatic tension and forward momentum.
Everytime I was going to write a review I realized that my review was going to be nothing but one huge rant criticizing all the things that were just wrong and pissing me off with the show and which ultimately diminished its quality and the phenomenally amazing tone set forward by Frank Darabont during the first season. And as much as I sometimes love to hate this show, mainly because of the abysmally bad and incoherent writing and ridiculous plot outcomes, I just did not want to spend my time basically saying the same thing one episode after another.
Alas the latest episode titled “Clear” has departed from that abysmally bad note and was definitely worth a review But before I get to that let me summarize the things I have taken an issue with during this entire season:
1) Despite the success of the show just numbers wise, AMC seems to be either on a tight budget or just cheap. The entire second season took place on the Farm of Our Discontent and this entire third season has taken place in one facility (prison) and a set (Woodbury village). People are getting bored with the lack of forward momentum and diversity. There is only so many exciting episodes you can shoot in the same one or two locations.
I mean, how many more times do we wanna show Walkers breaking into the prison? How many more times do we want to show these people sitting in prison cells bickering over something? How many more ghost images and knotholes can Rick make out with? How many more times can we watch Carol and Daryl give each other longing, awkward looks without it going anywhere? How many more times can we watch long, drawn-out shots of the Governor bullshitting his way into Andrea’s panties? I mean really. You would think this land and the prison on it were the last patch of land left.
2) This show has gone from phenomenally good to ok to bad to abysmally bad. Jumbled together story lines, non existent character development, soapy, stagey phony struggles, half-assed dialogues apparently written by contest winners, too many characters – none of whom are properly explorers and developed – much like a soap opera – bickering and arguing and blaming, lack of continuity, gaping plot holes and just overall implausible plot developments and outcomes.
A few examples:
–> Andrea’s deep loyalty to the townsfolk whom she just met two or three weeks ago and her dispassionate, half-assed speech a few episodes ago about how they must hold on was painful to watch. Especially since these are townsfolk who, may I add, are nothing but bloodthirsty sheep cheering at gladiator torture games and who have nothing worth saving.
–> Andrea’s loyalty to the Governor and acting like she and him had been in a close, personal relationship for years, when all they have been doing since she moved in two weeks ago is fuck. That scene at the beginning of the mid season premiere where she tells the Governor to not “pull away” from her now and “close off” was phenomenally cringeworthy and completely unrealistic. Bitch just met the guy two weeks ago. Seems to be fucked in the head, literally, for being so dick-whipped that she apparently – despite all evidence to the contrary – just does not seem to get how bad he is.
This is a character who was so observant that she knew that Shane and Lori had a thing going on, someone who confronted Dale who wanted her to be thankful for having saved life by telling him that she saved his and that what he really did was take away her choice to end her life as she wished. And suddenly she is too stupid to recognize what a terrible sociopath the Governor is? Even after Michonne tells her? Even after the death match he set up between Daryl and Merle and the myriad of other pieces of evidence? She was supposed to have been an attorney in her life pre zombie apocalypse. How come she be so immensely dense and unobservant?
Speaking of: her allegiance to people she doesn’t know is totally unreal, especially when in the loyalty department she is lacking as she, just a few weeks ago, abandoned Michonne, her friend of 10 months for the governor’s stick. Her loyalty to people she met five minutes ago doesn’t make sense. Not to the point where she is willing to betray Rick.
3) As to the Governor, it is unclear what his agenda is. What is inspiring him. What is informing him. He is just an uninspired, boring, dispassionate villain on autopilot. He is just doing all things you expect villains to do, but he is one dimensional. There is no passion behind his villainary, so to speak. He is just an archetype. Not a real person. He might as well be the Joker in Gotham city hating Batman. That is how (un) real he is.
People, at least I, don’t like characters that are unreal. Not in a show like this which is explicitly not supposed to be fantasy. Now if this show was supposed to be Batman, it would be cool. But it is not, so why create real characters with real issues and then throw in this archetypal, comic book villain? That seems fake.
The Governor and his character, if one call that incoherent, dispassionate jumble that is his person a character, sounds made up and is evil and bad because it says so in the script and fits in nicely with the story, not because he has an agenda, a goal, a passion.
4) Grimes gang’s artificial holding on to the damn prison as if it was the last patch left on Earth that they had to defend until the bitter end not only makes little sense it pissed me off. I mean shit, just about anything is better than this toilet they live in that has been compromised a dozen times anyway with the psycho Governor on the other side having it in for them for no good reason. Just get the fuck out. You have cars and after this episode an arsenal, so just get out. At least with Walkers, bottomless pits of hunger as they may be, you know exactly what you get.
5) Merle. Oh boy. Bringing back that backwoods degenerate who does not possess any redeeming qualities, whatsoever, is still beyond me. And then that fake, stagy made up attempt at trying to redeem him out of the blue without any evidence to a shred of humanity within him in the entire previous seasons. It is called building up a character.
If you wanna show that the character you are portraying is misunderstood and does have redeeming qualities hidden deep within, then freaking show it. Shows us glimpses of his humanity hidden deep within, like they did with Daryl, so that when he does change, it is believable Otherwise it just seems like pulled out of your ass to fit the story line.
I mean how did Merle go from being a violent, angry racist thug to a remorseful good guy feeling sorry for all he did in just as few hours? Not even weeks or days, but literally within hours? I am all for people changing and making amends but not within hours. That is not how it works.
Okay, so Hershel is established as a religious sort who very reasonably might have Bible quotes memorized. I buy that. But then Merle cuts him off and completes the Bible verse? I didn’t even know Merle could read, let alone memorize complicated sentence structures.
Then he follows it up by saying that Woodbury has a good library which he misses. Hahahahahaha….yeah right. I mean no. Merle did not spend the last 10 months hanging out in the Woodbury library memorizing the fucking Bible or reading shit.
That is not plausible any way you look at it. It is also very inconsistent with his character as Assistant Grand High Oppressor of Shitburry. I desperately hope that the intent is that Merle is lying to Hershel in order to gain his trust, because anything less is a laughably transparent attempt to retcon a lazy-minded bigot monster into some kind of conflicted warrior-poet. I am so sick of the writers trying to tell us Merle is interesting or trying to artificially create character development where there is nothing to create anything from.
Merle is not sorry, as he claimed, about what he did before or after the ZA. I mean it’s been only been, what, two days since he has fallen out of the Governor’s grace? He did not change and for the writers trying to tell us that he has by making that scene is terrible writing at best and insulting to our intelligence at worst.
Maybe Merle is just bullshitting his way through Hershel and Michonne knowing he has no way out and has to stick with these people or else be on his own. But Michael Rooker played the part convincingly. There was no guile in his tone or expression, so unless he is a terrible actor, which he is not, it is doubtful that he was just playing. In other words, when he said he misses the library, he meant it. And the writers meant it too.
I could go in with the inconsistencies and lack of forward momentum and the myriad of other issues with TWD since Darabont’s departure and the pooh-pooh platter of characters that are barely fleshed out always bickering, arguing, deceiving, backstabbing and conning one another soap opera style, but suffice it so say that the third season has left much to be desired and I consider the episode Clear to be an outline rather than the rule.
The great thing about the Walking Dead has always been the extent to which the story of its protagonists has been rooted in reality. The challenges facing these people – from basic survival to the emotional and philosophical ones – aren’t stereotypical caricature type of struggles you see in most zombie movies. The problems of our protagonists feel real as these people suffer the way one would expect real people to suffer if the world had come to an end. The end of the world feels real and is palpable rather than being some fantasy scenario we can detach ourselves from.
The great thing about TWD, therefore, has been how real it felt and how authentically it portrayed the end of the world.
Zombies stopped being zombies but instead became Walkers and the apocalypse and the tragic end of human kind stopped being fantasy scenarios and instead became real – with survivors facing real problems and real dilemmas. Talking to Jenner at the CDC you could say “yeah, I can imagine this taking place.” Not that zombies make scientific sense, but the end of the world and peoples’ reactions to it as depicted in TWD do.
This isn’t Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. These are real people, having real lives like you and I suddenly seeing the world as they know it end. These are people who have to start questioning not only their own humanity but humanity in general and all the beliefs they grew up knowing and holding on to so dearly, such as Hershel who suddenly found himself questioning his lifelong beliefs in his Bible and Christ, suddenly not really being sure anymore if any of it was true.
Questions human beings have been asking themselves ever since they have been intelligent enough to ask such questions, are being posited again and in a way forced into the foreground given the dire, end-of-days, apocalyptic reality these people are facing. Before the Apocalypse, these people never had to ask such questions so fundamentally and direly. But now they have to and with them we, as the audience, have to as well.
What has made The Walking Dead such an epic and compelling tale, therefore, is that it feels real and close to home. There is something deep within the tragedy of its protagonists that resonates with us and which we all can identify with as the themes of loss, tragedy, pain, desperation and survival are real for all of us.
Being able to identify with the characters and story is very important. If nothing you see here could possibly involve you, the viewer, and you could not possibly identify with the emotions, struggles and tribulations of the characters, then you also have no stake in this. Then you might as well just read a fairy tale/fantasy book.
There is no destiny, no archetypes in TWD (except the Governor, which is what makes it so problematic). Just real people who want all the things you and I want in a world were everything has gone to shit. Real people with flaws, hopes, dreams, setbacks, and strengths.
I’ve never been a chosen one, or a mystical monk, or collected aquariums with heads in them etc. I have, however, been someone who holds a job, has coworkers, skills, and dreams and people I care about and lost. And I want to see that in the characters I watch and follow. Therefore, TWD always speaks to me more than just any old zombie flick out there.
The Third Season
In the third season, the dead or death, the Apocalypse, the disaster that has brought these people down, is just not as important anymore. It is about the interpersonal issues and rivalries of the protagonists and villains with the Walkers as the incidental backdrop. It’s been all about the Governor and his gang vs Grimes and his gang. Like Boys in the Hood but with zombies.
In season one and even two the zombies, or Walkers as they are called here, were almost like this third character and their presence directly affected every action and move by the characters. In this season, however, the show has shifted from being about survival to being about war and gang rivalry. How the Apocalypse has been touching the people – our characters – in a personal as well as practical matter, is what makes the show and story enticing and interesting, however. Something the writers of the show have been forgetting increasingly in favor of prime time soap opera story telling schemes.
What are the philosophical struggles these people face? What demons are they fighting? What real challenges are they facing day to day? Battles and wars and just having to fight a specific enemy while you are traversing the apocalyptic landscape is ok, but there has got to be substance, and episodes filled with questions about survival, humanity and science, describing the Apocalypse and its fall outs. I don’t care to see people bickering and arguing over the same garbage over and over again.
How is the fate of the world affecting people and society without spending a whole season showing a lame villain who is uninspired, dispassionate and apparently without an agenda?
In this Season 3 we have not found out anything about these people, their inner torment trying to reconcile their new world order with their humanity. There is no questions of survival and the why. Instead, it’s all about the Governor, who is a caricature, and the townsfolk – who are also caricatures
That is why Andrea’s allegiance and loyalty to the people in the village of the damned seems so unreal. She is essentially rooting for one dimensional caricatures which most of us cannot identify with.
Last night’s episode Clear took us back to that. It took us back to Darabont’s original vision. It was beautifully written and the characters fleshed out and developed in a way the show had failed to do all season long – or in fact, for a very long time since the end of season one. Their tragedy was palpable and their humanity raw and exposed. We finally got to the psychological toll this has taken on people because aside from physical survival the most important part of survival is psychological survival. Something often glossed over in such apocalyptic movies where people seem to be taking death for granted.
No Woodbury and its terrible caricature of citizens no prison, no stupid baby, no Lori, no Lori the unfriendly ghost, no Hershel speaking in sermons, no arguing about Rick being the leader or not, no arguing about Merle, no arguing about trusting strangers, not much arguing at all in fact, no Carol rubbing up on the nearest man, no spontaneous Beth songs, no frumpy Michonne moping in the background, and none of Andrea’s hands-on-the-hips head-bobbing. Instead, the focus of “Clear” was sharper than Michonne’s katana because the episode isolated its story. And it was just the kick in the pants the season needed.
The episode wasn’t action-slammed and it didn’t feature a river of zombie brains and intestinal tracts. But it was one of the most thought-provoking, enlightening, and well-written episodes of the series. The writing was solid and beautiful at times, with depth and nuances. And a great amount of Walker and Zombie Apocalypse moments reminiscent of the powerful and amazing work of Darabont in the first season.
It was great to see how the ZA has affected the world outside of the prison and outside of Rick’s immediate group. It was heart breaking and tragic to see him return back to his own old town haunted by memories of days gone by only to see it in devastation and ruins. The connection they drew to his and Carl’s respective pasts was beautifully done, ultimately putting a human face on the tragedy and preserving the continuity.
No comic book villains to fight, no gang rivalries, no bickering and arguing, just three people trying to make sense of a world in ruins. When Carl held the picture of his mom and dad and said he wanted it so he and Judy could remember how she looked like, the humanity that has been elusive for so long came back. And with it the extent of their tragedy.
I loved the continuity and the connection to the first season. What happened to Morgan and his kid has always been on the minds and hearts of the audience and Rick and with this episode the tragedy laid out so beautifully in the first season has come full circle.
It was also a pivotal plot moment because Morgan, who apparently lost his sanity after his Walker wife attacked his son, was sort of the mirror for Rick.
In the past few episodes we have seen Rick gradually lose it, talking to ghosts and having visions and here we saw Morgan, having apparently gone down the same tragic path. When Rick saw Morgan, he saw himself or his future. His potential future.
In the brilliant first episode of this show, Days Gone Bye, Morgan was a strong man showing cracks and mourning the recent loss of his wife, but he still had something to fight for in his son Duane. In “Clear,” that man no longer was and in his place we saw a deeply troubled and emotionally troubled man talking to himself and writing gibberish on the walls, tormented by isolation, fear and guilt; we saw a broken man who had lost everything, being merely a shadow of himself today.
Seeing his old buddy in such a state was bad times for Rick, but it was also an eye-opener as Rick saw a potential future for himself in Morgan, realizing that if he continued on the same path, he could one day become Morgan. As Rick said to Morgan, they both started out the ZA together. Rick realized, in a final moment of epiphany when he left Morgan after having tried everything to help him get back on track but in vain, that Morgan was a goner and that if he wasn’t careful, he would soon be too.
When Rick was telling Morgan, “You have to be able to come back from this,” he was also delivering that advice to himself. An advice he got just a few days ago from Hershel.
At the end of the episode, when Rick was staring off into the distance and Michonne told him that she knows he sees “things,” the “thing” Rick was staring at could’ve easily been Lori waving goodbye because Rick rocketed back into reality after seeing Morgan’s tumble and disintegration into insanity.
Just brilliant and beautiful.
This episode also showed just how apocalyptic their situation is. – which is something the show loses sight of while it’s busy writing the next soapy segment.
In this episode we finally saw what it was all about all along, namely the zombie Apocalypse. Everyone they loved is dead and the landscape marred by the apocalypse. This was really in tune with the tone and spirit of the first season. The best episode in the whole season in my opinion.
Toward the end I was thinking that Michonne, Rick and Carl really make a good team and that I wouldn’t mind if they carried the show from now on. I mean, just go off by themselves and never return back to that group of dysfunctional losers.
I also realized that I would, in fact, be able to enjoy the show if all the other characters were dead, from Carol to Daryl to Maggie, Glenn, Hershel and Beth. Even Andrea. Who knows, maybe they can just have Rick, Michonne and Carl go their own way and give the other characters a show of their own which they can call Days of Our Zombie Lives or some shit.