The Walking Dead isn’t just a hit for AMC, it’s a runaway success. The pilot last year roped in nearly 5.2 million viewers and averaged 3.5 million for the season. Season 2 broke the show’s own record with 7.3 million viewers—with a whopping 4.8 million in the 18-49 demographic sweet spot. To no one’s surprise, AMC renewed TWD for a third season. Overall, this is good news. TWD is a solid show with enough action, horror, and philosophical waxing to string along dissenters happy with one of those aspects and unhappy with the rest. For those of us that expect all three, a third season comes with more than a little trepidation.
But before we boot up the complaint machine, let’s break down what worked. “Save the Last One” was, in general, a decent episode. I could be generous and call it “good,” but I’ve had 10 hours of sleep in the last three days and generous isn’t one of my strong suits right now. So let’s just go with “not completely awful or boring.” One of the things I liked most about the pilot was that it didn’t revolve entirely around zombies killing people. TWD isn’t like most zombie movies where everyone gets killed or the government swoops in and contains the damage. Instead, the apocalypse came and went. This is a story about what happens next, what happens to those left behind to crawl out of the wreckage. Grimes and co. aren’t anywhere near the point yet where they can even begin to consider rebuilding or settling, much less sort out the rules of the zombie contagion. They’re stuck just trying to make it from one day to the next. TWD isn’t a horror show where zombies pick off the secondary characters; it’s survival horror where those still alive are ultimately more deadly than the undead.
“Save” played up that part well. A lot can happen in one night, and those few short hours at Hershel’s farm were no exception. It brought a whole host of character developments and laid the groundwork for several potential storylines. Glenn and Maggie finally got some screen time together and delivered a nice respite from the uncertainties of the outside world. Glenn has always been horribly underused and pairing him with someone as daring and bold as Maggie is a nice touch, one that will hopefully bring out the best in both of them. They weren’t the only unusual match-up, though. Daryl and Andrea had some one-on-one time during an ill-advised walk through zombie-infested woods in the middle of the night. (Seriously, who does that?) When the writers aren’t pushing her to win the Sulking Ice Queen of the Year Award, Andrea is a pretty cool character. Daryl continues to win the show by virtue of his persistent awesomeness. I vote for her and Daryl to run off together and raise a little army of zombie-killing babies. They’d tie up this End of Days nonsense in no time flat.
What didn’t work quite as well were Carol, Dale, and T-Dog. I honestly don’t have anything useful to say about them since they didn’t do much of anything except pad out the air time. I watched the episode twice and still haven’t the faintest idea what they actually contributed. Hershel’s continued adherance to monotone delivery and a steadfast refusal to show emotion is getting tiring, but I assume he’s trying to remain calm under the pressure of having to perform surgery for which he is unprepared. Sophia is still missing, to which I offer a shrug and a bored sigh. By not giving out any clues about whether she might be alive or dead (hell, at this point I’d even take a red herring), it’s hard to keep worrying over her safety, especially when I’ve already spent my “concern for a possibly dying child” quota on Carl. Carl’s temporary revival and twee conversation about how awesome that deer was before it nearly got him killed was far too convenient to carry the emotional weight the writers intended it to bear. It really only served to grant Rick the fodder he needed to shame Lori later on.
Speaking of terrible things, Lori continues to be the worst person on the show. Clearly the writers think more highly of her than the audience does, otherwise they never would have had her choose to let her child die. It was a horrendous decision, made even worse by the fact that the surrounding circumstances simply didn’t merit it. Yes, life sucks for them, but it could most certianly be worse. If they learned to have a little more caution and plan ahead they could skate by pretty easily. For Pete’s sake, Carl and Sophia are unfazed enough to make vacay plans to the Grand Canyon.
Lori is incapable of seeing anything positive, and Rick incapable of seeing anything negative, and forcing them to talk it out was like nails on a chalk board. It’s no wonder their marriage was on the rocks. Opposites attract, but that can’t be the foundation of the relationship. Her willingness to let Carl bleed out was in character only by virtue that she is a cipher. She exists only to act as a counterweight to whoever she’s interacting with. After everything they’ve been through, a good mother would be at her son’s side willing him to live. But not Lori, because the writers already have a character acting like a good parent (albeit a not very responsible one), so, in need of some dramatic tension, they turn to Lori. Why Rick didn’t leave her right then and there is beyond me. A mother who doesn’t even want to try to save her child, who would rather let him die than to fight for him isn’t worth keeping around.
Finally, we’re left with Shane and Otis. I still can’t decide if their ordeal worked or didn’t, if I liked it or hated it, if it was necessary or pointless. With a little strategic planning, both men could have waltzed in and out of the high school easy peasy lemon squeezy. Instead they got themselves trapped in a high school that seemed to have been designed by M. C. Escher. And then Shane shot Otis and left him to be torn apart by zombies. On the practical side, this makes sense. The show is suffering in the absence of a cohesive narrative. The characters aren’t working toward anything (Fort Benning is only a vague notion, not an active goal like the CDC), and they don’t have anything to unite them by fighting against it (Merle is AWOL, the zombies are more like a destructive force of nature than a Big Bad, and the Governor isn’t scheduled until season 3). Shane fills the latter gap. When Rick first arrived, Shane had to back down to Rick’s superiority, but now that Shane’s made such a crucial decision on his own — a decision he knows Rick would have never approved even if it meant saving Carl’s life—he’s in a position to challenge authority. Shane and Rick are clearly both alpha males. Shane will have a hard time remaining subservient to Rick, thus pitting two friends against each other. The schism will divide the group and chaos will ensue, and there’s no way both men walk out of this season alive (i.e.: Shane has to die because Andrew Lincoln has top billing).
Just because I can rationalize the end game doesn’t mean I like the moves the writers are making in the mean time. Leaving Otis to die is exactly what TV Shane would do. Shooting Otis first is exactly what Comic Shane would do. Except Comic Shane and TV Shane are two very different characters, as different as TV and Comic Andrea. Comic Shane was an overbearing jerkwad who shared more in common with wife-abuser Ed Peletier than Rick. TV Shane is a tool, but he’s so dumb that you don’t expect anything out of him anyway. He has the personality of porridge and the brains to match. Serving Otis up as zombie noms could be construed as doing what was best for Carl, and I’m sure that’s what Shane will tell himself to rationalize his actions. But the reality is Shane used Otis as a distraction to save his own skin, and if it had been him and Glenn, Daryl, Dale, T-Dog, or even Rick out there he would have done exactly the same thing. Like I said, I get what the writers are aiming for, but like Lori’s conversation about Carl, what works in theory doesn’t always work in practice. A move like this would fit perfectly in character with Comic Shane; with TV Shane it is unpleasantly jarring. Then again, maybe I’m so bothered by it because I like Otis better than Shane and if someone has to die I’d rather it were him than Mose.
- Time jumps can be useful if they give us something to chew on. A 30 second clip of Shane shaving off his hair and breathing heavily (is shaving one’s head that physically tasking of an experience?) does not suspense make.
- Finally they give Andrea something productive to do other than glaring bitchily at Dale and assembling that gorram gun.
- Poor Daryl. Stuck in the RV between a wailing rock and a grumpy hard place. Somehow I suspect he goes out in search of Sophia less out of guilt and more out of boredom.
- Theory time: the gang needs a reason to keep them together, and having a common enemy will do that with the added bonus of dramatic tension. There’s no way Shane will ever be able to keep the truth about Otis hidden for very long, which will set him up nicely as the Big Bad. Given which characters are scheduled to show up this season and next, there’s only one way Shane’s story line can end. The bigger question is: who will be the means to that end?
- “I don’t know if I want to live, or if I have to. Or if it’s just a habit.”
- “It ain’t the mountains of Tibet, it’s Georgia.”
- “My ass itched somethin’ awful.”
- “Got bit / Fever hit / World gone to shit / Might as well quit”
Alex Brown is an archivist by passion, reference librarian by profession, writer by moonlight, and all around geek who watches entirely too much TV. She is prone to collecting out-of-print copies of books by Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen, and Douglas Adams, probably knows far too much about pop culture than is healthy, and thinks her rats Hywel and Odd are the cutest things ever to exist in the whole of eternity. You can follow her on Twitter if you dare.