Why I Am Still Watching The Walking Dead
This article contains massive spoilers for Season 2 of THE WALKING DEAD.
Read on at your own peril.
Let's get this straight right up top - THE WALKING DEAD is not a good show, not by any stretch of the imagination. It is atrociously paced, unimaginatively written and features the most unmemorable bunch of characters I have seen on television in recent years outside of a Packed To The Rafters episode. After two seasons I can still barely remember the names of half the main characters. That isn't a good sign. Yet I continue to watch. Why? It's clear I don't like the show. It actively makes me angry on such a regular basis that my friends surely wonder why I bother and to be honest that's a question I frequently ask myself. The answer is not that I merely enjoy having a target to shoot snark at but rather surprisingly something much more positive.
I live in hope my friends. Bet you didn't see that coming from a misanthropic curmudgeon such as myself. I see potential in THE WALKING DEAD. Potential that may never be realised but potential just the same. I love genre work and know that conceptually THE WALKING DEAD could be a brilliant piece of long form storytelling. I see glimpses of greatness in the show and now that we are at the end of its second season I still live with the possibility that this could become something fantastic. Of course they may need to fire their entire writing staff to achieve that.
I don't think I would be overstating things if I were to say that season two of THE WALKING DEAD was a truly awful season of television. The thirteen episodes we were subjected to formed an object lesson in how not to structure a seasonal arc of television. The first seven episodes in particular were intolerably bad. The entire plot-line surrounding Sophia's disappearance not only turned out to be a red herring but also resulted in some mind-numbingly repetitive storytelling. Character goes out searching for Sophia - maybe fights some zombies - returns to farm with no new information. This rinse and repeat circular structure pretty much covered episodes 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 resulting in ZERO forward movement in the narrative. The final reveal in episode 7 that Sophia was zombified and trapped in Hershel's barn all along felt like the writers giving me a giant razz. There was literally no reason why this reveal couldn't have come in episode 3 other than wheel-spinning.
Another significant problem was that most of the character movements in these first episodes were dropped as soon as they occurred. Remember Shane and Andrea doing it in episode 6? No? Fair enough as nothing really amounted to that plot strand anyway. The writers defiantly ignored consistent character motivation from episode to episode. Lori is the perfect example of a character being treated like shit by the writers. Episode 9 ends with Lori suddenly getting all Lady Macbeth on Rick's ass and admittedly it's a fascinating moment. Psychologically manipulating Rick into killing Shane is an interesting plot movement except the very next episode it is barely referenced and then in episode 11 we get a completely unmotivated scene where Lori approaches Shane apologetically and virtually admits her love for him. When Rick kills Shane in episode 12 we then are subjected to Lori yelling at him for doing what a couple of episodes earlier she virtually asked him to do? You're right to be wondering what the hell is happening here. Over the space of 4 episodes Lori has flip flopped around more than an American politician in election season.
Daryl is another character that is treated like shit by the writing. After spending half the season fruitlessly searching for Sophia on the group's behalf he decides, 'fuck it', and separates himself from the unit. Episode 9 makes it very clear he has no interest being part of this dysfunctional community yet episode 11 opens with him torturing a man to get information to help the group. All of a sudden Daryl goes from not wanting to be part of the group to acting like their Jack Bauer, doing the murkily amoral stuff that no one else wants to do. What motivated this dramatic change of heart? This is lazy writing folks.
I could go on and on from the bizarre sidelining of T-Dog, the black character without a real name to the stunningly bland romance between Glenn and Maggie, this is a bad bad show yet I'm still watching. Season 2 has had fleeting moments of greatness. Sure they have been few and far between but enough to remind me that things still could be salvaged. Episode 8 had a truly brilliant extended scene of tension in a bar that was butt-clenchingly good, making you wonder why it took them so long to bring the threat of other humans into the mix. Episode 11 teased at the possibility of Carl becoming a psycho kid in truly intriguing ways (only to drop this idea as quickly as it was picked up. A favoured strategy of the writers is to allude to plotlines that are much more interesting than the ones they themselves go with).
The final episode of season two was possibly the greatest encapsulation of the best and worst the show can be. Narratively it was an absolute mess filled with logical holes (everyone suddenly became perfect marksmen with unlimited ammunition) and pointless sub plots (the series of scenes showing the group broken up and driving in different directions promised interesting possibilities for season 3 yet again as soon as a narrative option is offered it's as quickly dropped for they all end up having a tearful reunion merely moments later). The reveal of what the CDC guy told Rick at the end of season one is treated as if it's a big moment but really all it brought the audience was a giant 'meh'.
On the plus side this truly was an exciting episode with a sense of narrative momentum we haven’t felt since possibly the beginning of the series. The threat of the zombies became real again and the sense of 'where the fuck can we go' became palpable. The final reveal of Rick laying the smack down to the group was also exciting. I have little faith in the writers going all the way with this idea but it does promise much. Probably the most interesting thing about the episode was the Andrea subplot with the reveal of a mysterious sword wielding hooded character. This was undoubtedly a thrilling moment (I haven't read the comics so I have no idea where this plot leading) but one that seemed strangely out of tone with the realistic vibe of the show thus far. It's a powerful comic booky visual that doesn't sit well with everything that has come before it but again it promises a future for the show that offers up a more pulpy, fast paced plot.
I have mixed feelings over the ultimate reveal of the prison at the very end. It excites me to see a new location and new stories on the horizon but I'm filled with fear that the show doesn't need to get bogged down in a single location for another 16 more episodes while we bounce around stupid character motivations and boring sub plots. I want THE WALKING DEAD to be great and that is why I keep watching. I have little faith that the current writers are good enough to make it great but I live in hope that the show can let loose a little and become the bat shit crazy, amoral, dark, mess that it has the potential to be.