Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Return of the Walking Dead -by Kyle Johannessen


     As the euphoria of one of the greatest, back to back comebacks in all of sports history was washing off, (yes, I’m talking about the New England Patriots and the Boston Red Sox. I’m a well rounded geek!) it came time to sit down with the roommates and start watching America’s favorite gore fest this side of Westeros. The Walking Dead. I started out as a pretty big Dead fan. I thought the first season was masterfully done, and couldn’t wait for the second season to start. Unfortunately, the second season bored me to tears, and I found myself unable to make it back after the Mid-Season finale. Which is a shame because it was the only other show I would watch on a weekly basis other than Game of Thrones (I’m not big on network TV.)

Two shows with NOTHING in common.- Ed

     But then the second season got put on Netflix, and right before the third season was set to start, I binged watched it all the way through. I was immediately back into it. Which was great, because I very much believe that the third season is even better than the first in just about every way. I also binge watched the third season again last week to get me caught up for last Sunday’s season premiere. Unfortunately, what I got felt a lot more like season 2 than season 3 and its big “twist ending” left a pretty sour taste in my mouth.

      We find Rick and the gang back in the prison several months after the last season ended. Everyone left in Woodbury that the Governor hadn't killed has moved in, along with a bunch of other people that Daryl has found along the way. It is not explained by anyone why they didn’t all just stay in the very well defended Woodbury, the set must have been too expensive to maintain. Rick has kind of taken a back seat in terms of leadership, letting Daryl do most of the heavy lifting now. Everyone seems to be less concerned about survival, and more concerned with living life. Despite the ever present threat of Walkers pressing on the fences of the prison, life seems almost idyllic. Which means it’s all going to get destroyed sooner or later.

     Daryl takes everyone on a raid and Beth’s boyfriend, who we’ve known for literally five minutes (and she was supposed to end up with Carl!) dies. This whole plot is not all that interesting. Except that it literally starts to rain zombies. Beth’s reaction to her new bo’s death is one of numb indifference, which takes Daryl by surprise. With the addition of more children in the cast, the showrunners are doing a fairly good job showing the difference between Adults who once knew normal lives, and children who are growing up in this world. But again, I’m not going to give a damn about a character I’ve known for five minutes. I have zero emotional attachment to him. But perhaps that was the point - maybe I was supposed to feel what Beth felt. I’m chalking it up to bad writing because this is my article and I can.

       The real interesting storyline is the subplot with Rick. Rick goes out to scavenge for food. He comes upon a big Walker trapped in a snare when a Walker comes up to it. But, to Rick’s surprise, the Walker speaks! It’s not really a Walker at all, but a dirty young woman who appears to have experienced every horrible thing this world has to offer. She begs Rick to help get food to her husband and take them both to the Prison. Rick agrees, but only if they can answer three questions to their liking (more on those in a second.)

Damn it, that was my line.

      As Rick travels with the woman to her camp, she can’t help but speak of the terrible things she’s seen, or the terrible things she’d had to do to survive. I came to the realization that this woman represents what Rick almost was during the third season after Lori died. Rick was so close to becoming this woman and it scares him. I found this woman to be a really interesting window into Rick’s psyche. Her sudden yet inevitable betrayal wasn't all that surprising, nor was it that surprising when her husband ended up being a Walker in a bag. But her committing Seppuku right there in front of Rick was a very intense moment. It was also a bit of a disappointment, as the actress was really quite amazing and I would have liked to have seen the character grow. They succeed in making me care more about her in the brief time she’s on the screen more than the other fatalities on the show. And as she gasps her last breaths, she begs Rick to ask her the three questions. Which are “How many Walkers have you killed?”, “How many people have you killed?”, and “why?” In a world this grim, these are some pretty great questions to figure out just who is sane enough to be kept around. This woman, as she lies dying, also raises a new theme for the show. Can you escape the things you've done? Let’s hope, for Rick’s sake, that you can.

      That brings us to the big twist ending that really put a damper on the whole episode, and made me very worried about where the season was heading. One of Carl’s new friends (another one of those characters that we’re supposed to care about in two minutes of screen time) gets sick very quickly and dies. And of course, because he dies, he turns into a walker. Maybe he was bitten and no one knew, maybe he just contracted some sort of horrible virus that killed him quick. Maybe it’s the zombie virus mutating into something. Whatever it is, it’s lame. This show isn't The Thing. The tension comes from knowing the threat, often seeing it coming, and not being able to stop it. The Walkers are this threat, and so was the Governor. Now we have to worry about who is infected, who isn't and why. Of course, we’re never going to find out why, because there are no freaking biologists left and if there are, there are certainly not any working labs to figure out the cure. And they better not find the cure, because that would also be lame.

     I understand that they have to raise the stakes, but I just don’t know why they had to go the mutated virus road. It’s not interesting, and it doesn't really fit the universe. All in all, I would say that this was a disappointing season opener, but it’s certainly not enough for me to turn it off next week. At least not yet. The Walking Dead has been so consistently good for two and a half seasons that I will give it the benefit of the doubt for now.

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