By Lawrence Monaco
Welcome to “I Just Don’t Get It..” a series in which I discuss anything and everything that my old, out of touch self just doesn’t understand. Enjoy!
This Sunday, millions of viewers will sit down at 9 PM to catch the season 4 premiere of The Walking Dead on AMC. Judging from Facebook, this will include every single person on my friends list (all 15 of them. I’m popular!). With every preview and teaser trailer that is released, anticipation has built since season 3 came to a conclusion back in March. Every season, ratings continue to climb, and critics continue to rave, while I just sit here and scratch my head. I just don’t get it.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the whole ‘zombie’ thing. I mean, I don’t personally, but I know a lot of people get hot and bothered at the mention of zombies. I guess that’s a good place to start. I just don’t get the appeal of zombies. They are slow, dumb, and easy to kill. The only time they really pose any threat at all is if they are in a large group. And honestly, isn’t ANYTHING dangerous in a large group? Insects are threatening if you get a swarm of them, and they don’t get their own TV show! If you run into a zombie in a one on one situation, just shoot it in the head. Or stab it in the head. Or knock a couple of boxes over in its path. Or go into water. Or climb a tree. Or run. Or walk briskly in the opposite direction. You’re good.
Maybe this is the basis of why I don’t get the show. I don’t consider zombies to be interesting, and definitely not a serious threat. So Rick and 6 of his crew can clear an entire jail cell block, but a heavily fortified military base with hundreds of armed and trained soldiers is overrun? Gotcha. I think the show puts zombies on the back burner in a lot of ways. They pop up once in awhile to kill a character no one cares about, but the main adversary to Rick’s group is other survivors. While I personally like this dynamic, if your selling point of the show is how much people love zombies, shouldn’t you feature them more and present them as more of a threat?
Before you think I’m hating just to hate, there is a lot about this show that I like. The premise, while I don’t really get the appeal of zombies, still intrigued me enough to watch it. AMC has been killing it lately, and being a fan of Mad Men and Breaking Bad, I was excited to check this out. I enjoy the prototypical zombie movie, and I played Resident Evil back in the day. I was curious to see the genre tackled in a weekly format.
The fact that they focus more on other aspects of their survival and not as much on the zombies is refreshing to me. It’s like they are admitting that other groups of humans are more threatening than a hoard of mindless ‘walkers.’ The show would get boring and repetitive if every week was them fighting and running from the same zombies. It keeps things fresh. But again, if you like the show because you like zombies, and they aren’t the focus, why do you like the show?
With the exception of The Governor, Daryl, Merle, Carl, Shane, and sometimes Rick, the characters are lame. I couldn’t even remember half of their names and had to look them up (Dale was ‘old guy’ to me, Andrea was ‘annoying blonde girl’, etc.). I didn’t even remember the lady that died at the CDC lab or that Andrea had a sister. Barely any of the side characters get any development at all, and the ones that do are so one-dimensional it’s comical. To steal RedLetterMedia’s Star Wars gag, pick a character and describe them without using physical traits as descriptions. It’s hard to do. Dale cared a lot. And that was it. Andrea was annoying. And that was it. Lori cried and complained a lot. And that was it. I realize the difficulty in developing characters in an ensemble cast, but shows like Lost and Firefly have proven that it can be done.
The problem with underdeveloped characters is that it diminishes the importance when the inevitable main character deaths occur. CDC lady, who’s name I forgot AGAIN after looking it up and I’m not looking it up again, was a main character through season one. Her death should have been memorable and made the viewers care, but I don’t even remember her name and before I sat down and watched wrap ups of season one and two I completely forgot she existed. This could be easily fixed, and I’ll give a brief example of what I mean:
In season two when Sophia goes missing, and they make it painfully obvious she is going to be in the barn full of ‘walkers’ in like the third episode, wouldn’t it have added to the story a bit if they had shown her and Carl connecting more over the first two seasons? Seeing as they are the only children in the group, it would be easy to throw in a few shots of them spending time together. Maybe Carl sees his Dad protecting his Mom, and makes a promise that he will do the same for Sophia. This would reinforce Carl’s growth as he becomes more mature and responsible as the story unfolds. Then when it is finally revealed that she is infected, Carl has to sit and watch his father kill his only friend. Wouldn’t that make the scene more impactful? Wouldn’t that be a cool nod and foreshadowing to Shane’s upcoming death? Wouldn’t that make you connect with the show and feel sorry for Carl? It’s not a perfect scenario, but off the top of my head, that’s just one idea that would have improved the storytelling.
In zombie stories, main character deaths are inevitable. That doesn’t mean you need them to be nameless or boring characters. I always compare it to Game of Thrones. You know main characters are going to die, but that doesn’t make them any less impactful or spontaneous when they happen. You go into every episode, every situation, knowing that anyone can die at any moment, but the deaths never feel obvious or forced, and everyone that bites the big one had on-screen time to connect with the audience and develop their character. You know a lot about these people, and it means more when they are gone.
And that is what is so frustrating. As I mentioned earlier, Daryl, Shane, Rick and Carl get plenty of screen time to tell their personal stories. We know a lot about them and in turn are able to connect with them and understand their motivation when they make decisions. Shane left fat guy for dead so he could survive. That makes sense, because we saw him do the same to his best friend in season one. He is always focused on survival, not being a nice guy, and we see that over and over. On the flip side, T-Dog was featured for three seasons. Do we know anything about him at all? The saddest part about his death was that he didn’t get a chance to do anything.
I am so tired of them foreshadowing something major, wasting three or four episodes on filler, then finally get to what you are waiting for. It’s one thing to build something up, its another entirely to spin your tires and pad the main story. I realize that they often save major plot developments for finales, but it’s the storytelling that matters, not the ratings. To borrow an example again from Game of Thrones, instead of putting an episode of filler into season 3 and saving the Red Wedding for the finale, they let the story flow and left it where it made sense. It made the season 3 finale seem underwhelming by comparison, but what matters is the flow of the overall story. This show should take a few notes.
Once the show got to Hershel’s farm the pace just screeched to a painful halt. I realize the show has always had pacing issues, but season two is where it lost me. I understand what they were trying to do; the crew spent the entire first season on the run. They had to constantly look over their shoulder, constantly keep their guard up. The writers wanted to give them a chance to relax, to be themselves. They could have had discussions about their life before the outbreak, what their professions were, what they were doing when they heard the news, ANYTHING TO DEVELOP THEIR CHARACTERS. Instead let’s have Shane be Shane and have no one trust anyone and let’s have Hershel collecting zombies because he knows them. Instead of taking this opportunity to see a different side of these characters, let’s keep the stress level up with Carl recovering from getting shot and Shane leaving fat guy for dead and cause tension between the groups. There is plenty of time for this once they leave the farm, at least seize the opportunity and give the group a couple episodes to just relax and get to know each other.
Okay, this one really pisses me off. They introduce us to The Governor. They build up this evil genius, this corrupt, sadistic bastard that plays the humble kind leader by day, psychopathic demented hate filled dictator by night. He fools hundreds of people, even dumb, stupid, annoying Andrea, who gets close enough to see his true colors, but doesn’t do anything about it even though she has several opportunities to save countless lives. His character was intriguing, and he stole every scene he was in. They do a great job establishing how evil and cruel this guy is, and how good he is at hiding it from his people. He murders people with no hesitation, nearly rapes Glenn’s girlfriend, and no one suspects a thing. He is the perfect villain.
So they spend most of the season building up this EPIC SHOWDOWN between Woodbury and Rick’s crew at the prison. After weeks and weeks of “the governor is coming’ and “we need to hit them where they live,” they drag it out (again, pacing issues) so it can fall on the season finale. The plan is simple; the Governor has an army. Everyone is given weapons and they are going to raid the prison and wipe Rick’s people out. So they train their townspeople with firearms, load up the convoy (which includes military vehicles and artillery, by the way) and move in to eliminate the threat.
Woodbury shows up and they move in for the surprise attack, but Rick’s crew knew they were coming. TWO PEOPLE pop up in riot gear and start shooing at the makeshift army. I don’t think they hit anyone, all warning shots I guess. So this large group of people, who were preparing for war for weeks, inexplicably panic and retreat. Were they not expecting any resistance at all? With all the planning, didn’t they figure they might run into some armed guards or face a few causalities? They have more manpower, they have more ammunition, so wouldn’t they just risk the firefight, and retreat later only if they are losing too many people? I just don’t get it. But for some reason they run away and some of the common folk question the Governor on the side of the road. Furious with rage he just starts unloading clips on his own people and the rest flee in terror.
So everyone bails on the Gov except for a few highly trained, skilled soldier types. These idiots decide that even though the Governor’s focus is mostly on the road as he drives (I’m pretty sure he was driving but maybe not. Either way, they coulda capped him. Easily), not one of them are able to quickly draw a gun and accurately take him out before he has a chance to let go of the wheel, draw a weapon, and shoot all of them while not hitting a tree. Instead they will just look uneasily at each other while they go along for the ride and follow this guy blindly (see what I did there? PUN INTENDED), knowing he could go off and kill all of them because he feels like it. Yep, sounds about right. I don’t see any logical reason for them to off the guy real quick, take his body to Rick and offer it as proof that you want to make things right and join his crew. I’m sure they feel they have a much better chance at survival sticking with this one-eyed crazy man who’s plan just blew up in his face.
Anyways, the rest of Woodbury decide to move into Rick’s old folks home that he’s opening in the prison. Oh and Rick decided to reach out to these people because he saw Carl turning into a total badass that was completely holding everything together and handling his business. Rick couldn’t have his son become a fun and likable character, he can’t let his son become too ‘cold blooded.’ Even though that is exactly what he needs to be growing up during a ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. But it’s cool because Lori’s ghost doesn’t want Carl to be focused on surviving and she was the definition of being kind-hearted before her own kid took out her zombified corpse. Oh and because he did something nice for other people, his whole ‘Rick is going crazy’ story just went away, because that isn’t something worth developing any further.
OUTLOOK FOR SEASON FOUR
The Governor will be back, but what’s the point? The scary part about him was his cult-leader personality. What made him dangerous is that he had an entire town buying what he was selling. He had hundreds of people at his disposal, following him blindly because they trusted his leadership. Now he’s just a pissed off lunatic hell bent on revenge. Still might be fun to watch, but it won’t be the same. He was a pissed off lunatic hell bent on revenge BEFORE his town left him. The only thing that’s different now is that he’s outnumbered instead of having that advantage. Yawn. Knowing this show, they will build up his return for several weeks while padding the plot to save him for the mid-season finale, only to have him pop up, get shot immediately, and move on with the story. Because Walking Dead, that’s why.
I will say kudos to AMC for casting D’Angelo Barksdale AND Cutty from The Wire as main characters. So there is hope that things will pick up. Still, I’d rather watch reruns of The Wire for the 15th time. Yep, I’m hooked. It never gets old. Ever. “Ayo lesson here, Bey. You come at the king, you best not miss”
WRAPPING IT UP
I could ramble on for hours and hours so let’s wrap this up. Let me be clear; The Walking Dead is an okay show. It’s not bad, but it’s not as good as people say it is, and it definitely doesn’t deserve the hype it receives. Believe me, its all relative. If you watched Jersey Shore or True Blood, then yes, this is phenomenal writing. But there are too many far superior shows past and present for this to get the reputation that it does. The story is poorly written, the characters outside of a few are severely underdeveloped, and the pacing is probably the worst I’ve seen in a major network program.
So if you like Walking Dead, why? Is it the bland, generic characters that catch your fancy? Is it the poorly paced, unfocused story that holds your interest? Is it the big, bad zombies that are an afterthought after episode four? Is it that Lori is finally dead? Actually, I’m with you on that one, right on! I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this, and that’s fine. Tell me why I’m wrong. I’d love to understand what most people apparently think they do. But for me, like I said.. I just don’t get it.
– L M