Monday, April 1, 2013

Fight The Living: The Walking Dead Season Three Finds Its “Others!”

The Good: Excellent serialization, Great acting, Good plot, Mood, Special Effects
The Bad: Soap opera quality to many of the character interactions and plot progressions, Several episodes that are drawn-out plots with little actually happening
The Basics: In the third season of The Walking Dead, the living pose a greater threat to Rick and his band of survivors than the undead who roam after the viral apocalypse.

When I reviewed the second season of The Walking Dead (that review is here!), I noted that the show had a strange analogous quality to Lost (reviewed here!). Lost had very distinctive seasons – establishment, the “Hatch Season,” the Others Season, The Rescue Season, The Time Travel Season, and the Resolution season. The Walking Dead has not only fallen into such distinctly different seasons each time around, but it has found a pretty disturbing way of mirroring Lost in its plot interactions. After a season of establishment (reviewed here!), The Walking Dead was limited largely to a farm, its version of the Hatch. The third season of The Walking Dead would be the season where they have to interact with The Others in order for the analogy to hold . . . and they do!

The Others in The Walking Dead are the residents of a nearby town, called Woodbury. After the second season of The Walking Dead, I began reading the graphic novels upon which the television series is based and I knew that this would be an intense and dark season of television. And it was. Season Three of The Walking Dead ties up a number of dangling plot and character issues from the first two years, while advancing the plots and characters exceptionally well. But, this is a season that is more psychologically dark than it is filled with zombie gore. While the television series does not contain the extreme repeated rapes and dismemberments of main characters, it is packed with enough troubling moments to give one pause as to whether or not they want to watch it. For my money, the third season – which is in many ways a slower, more ponderous season with a few whole episodes where virtually nothing happens – is an investment season and one I endorse more on the faith that it will pay off in the near future.

That said, season three of The Walking Dead introduces some wonderful new characters and puts the survivors of the zombie apocalypse in a pretty cool new setting. And, to be fair to the season, for all the problems with how some of the individual episodes (fail to) stand on their own, the season is a remarkably cohesive and heavily serialized season of television that plays well when watched as a single sixteen episode movie. In fact, one of the only big leaps the viewer has to make is that the prison – which was seen in the final shots of the second season – remained undiscovered by the group of survivors the next morning when they awoke and reconnoitered the area!

Picking up months after the loss of the farm at the climax of the second season, Rick Grimes and his small group of survivors have become a cohesive fighting force. They go house to house scavenging for what they need and when the horde of walkers finds them, they pack up, move out and evade to survive. In this way, they managed to survive the long winter, but with the spring thaw comes more walkers. Unfortunately, Lori’s pregnancy is also nearing its climax and she and Rick have not exactly reconciled over the winter. When the group discovers a prison, they decide to break in, secure it, and take up residence there. In the process, they lose T-Dog and Hershel becomes the first person to survive a bite when Rick amputates his leg after he is bitten and they see him through the illness that follows.

But taking the prison does not lead to a happy ending. In addition to inmates who Rick and Daryl are wary of, Lori’s pregnancy comes at the worst possible moment for her and Carl. Andrea, who survived the winter with a mysterious survivor named Michonne, fell sick and in evading walkers, the pair end up in the hands of Merle Dixon. Merle brings the women back to the nearby town of Woodbury, which is run by a seemingly gentile man who everyone calls the Governor. Andrea falls in with him, but Michonne is instantly suspicious of him and his motives.

When Michonne leaves Woodbury, she is hunted by Merle and she witnesses Glenn and Maggie abducted by Merle when they leave the prison to pick up baby formula at a store near the prison and Woodbury. While Andrea finds herself in a relationship with The Governor, The Governor has Merle torture Glenn and Maggie to find where they came from. With information from Michonne, Rick and his people mount a rescue of Glenn and Maggie, but that puts Daryl in direct conflict with Merle and the two go rogue for a time. But the Governor, now knowing about the prison, covets it and after he is wounded (his eye is sliced in half by a piece of glass) and his walker daughter killed, he marshals the people of Woodbury to take it. The conflicts that follow put Rick, who is not entirely mentally capable any longer, and the Governor, who is far more callous and bloodthirsty than he initially seemed and now is determined to get revenge upon Michonne, on a collision course that will cost lives and stretch both men to the point of insanity.

The third season of The Walking Dead is ponderous in many ways; it takes a long time for a lot of important things to happen. In fact, one of the most significant aspects of the third season – in character terms – is the remarkably slow build-up to the Governor actually developing, or being exposed, as an evil guy. Unfortunately, given how good the Governor initially appears, one of the best lines from the graphic novels – “Why, Stranger, we feed them strangers.” – is not utilized in the television season. Instead, Michonne’s initial paranoia about the Governor seems more paranoid than the result of any genuine threat he poses. Even after his collection of severed heads, his walker daughter, and the “games” he has for the citizens of Woodbury are exposed, he is played off as just a guy running a town. It is not until he is shown raiding a nearby military depot and lying to the people of Woodbury that the viewer gets the sense that Michonne was actually right.

The third season of The Walking Dead is one where the tragedy is quick and then long stretches pass and the conflict in those parts is mostly between characters struggling with sanity and their personal affiliations. Andrea remains ignorant to her people being holed up at the prison for much of the season and Daryl and Merle fight about which survivors group to stick with, while Rick deals with the fallout of the death of Lori (it’s not much of a spoiler; by the end of the fourth episode, Rick’s daughter is born at the cost of her life). By contrast, when the outright conflict begins in the second half of the season, following the Governor being wounded by Michonne and the subsequent attacks on the prison, the season has a lot of action (save “Prey” which spends an inordinate amount of time with Rick and the Governor sitting down, drinking whiskey, and trying to negotiate).

Like all worthwhile shows and movies, The Walking Dead is really about characters. In the third season of The Walking Dead, the principle characters are:

Rick Grimes – The former sheriff is now not in a mental place to lead his people after he helps them take the prison. Helping clear the prison of some of the most dangerous surviving inmates and then losing Lori unhinges him to the point that he abandons his new baby to wander (mostly because he continues to hallucinate seeing and hearing Lori). But, after a period of feeling unable to bear the responsibilities of life in this new, dark world, he gets his head in the game to defend his people against the Governor,

Lori Grimes – Rick’s wife, she is still pretty pissed with Rick and how he has not forgiven her for having an affair with Shane after she thought he was dead. But when she and Carl get caught off guard in the catacombs in the prison, she must give birth, even though the process might kill her,

Carl Grimes – Cold and badass now, he and Beth seem on the verge of having a romance. Unfortunately, he has to kill Lori to prevent her from turning, though he tries to keep the new baby, Judith (whom he names) safe. Unfortunately, in trying to keep people safe, he starts to become callous about the living,

Hershel – The elderly farmer sees the prison as a chance to settle down after losing most of his family and the farm. When he is bitten, Rick amputates part of his leg and when he survives, he becomes Rick’s most valued advisor. In fact, he is the only one Rick tells about seeing Lori after she dies. He comes to respect Glenn and accepts the relationship Glenn and Maggie have,

Maggie – Now in a full-fledged relationship with Glenn, she is traumatized when captured by Merle and the Governor. Feeling guilty that she cracks and exposes the survivors at the prison, she and Glenn work much of the season to find their way back to one another,

Glenn – Beaten severely by Merle, he once again proves his resilience. In addition to assisting to take the prison, he becomes the loudest voice against allowing Merle to join the prisoners. In wrestling with the consequences of the Woodbury incident, he decides to take a big step with Maggie,

Carol – She and Daryl develop a relationship and she trusts the rogue. She also is far more confident and strong this season and she briefly has a friendship with Axel, one of the surviving prisoners,

T-Dog – He shows up . . . but not for long,

Daryl – The resident redneck, he is Rick’s right hand in this season, until he is lost in the rescue attempt on Woodbury. There, he is pitted against his brother and when they refuse to fight one another, they strike out on their own. He works constantly on Merle to reform his racist, psychopathic, older one-handed brother,

Andrea – After being rescued by Michonne, she gets romantically involved with the Governor. After Michonne abandons her in Woodbury, she becomes one of the Governor’s most trusted lieutenants and it is only when he begins to show his true colors that she realizes she may have chosen the wrong side,

Merle Dixon – The Governor’s torturer and enforcer, he is now more ruthless than when he cut off his own hand in season one. When he learns Daryl is still alive from Andrea, he becomes determined to find him. When they are reunited, he finds himself on the outs with both groups . . . and Daryl. He is actually given the rhetorical argument to stand for something better from the least likely person,

Michonne – The mysterious newcomer, little is known about her, save that she carries a wicked sharp sword and has grown protective of Andrea. Having learn to “camouflage” by having two walkers on chains – without hands or jaws – she has survived since the outbreak. Highly moral, she works to let the residents of the prison know Glenn and Maggie are still alive and where they are. She accompanies Carl on an excursion to recover a photograph of Lori for Judith,

and The Governor (Philip) - The leader of Woodbury, he initially seems like a cautious guy looking out for his people. However, his dark side soon surfaces as he uses “biters” for entertainment in Woodbury and raids any nearby settlements of survivors for supplies, most notably weapons. He sees the benefit of taking in Andrea, Michonne, and (later) Tyreese and his group of survivors. When Rick’s people fight their way into Woodbury to recover Glenn and Maggie, he becomes obsessed with taking the prison.

The third season of The Walking Dead has all of the principle actors comfortable in their roles for an entire solid season. Andrew Lincoln leads the cast and from the first moments of the season, it is clear something in the survivors has changed; they do move in a more fluid, military fashion and they have survived without casualties. Lincoln has to do the dramatic heavy lifting as Rick as the character undergoes constant stress from death and menace around him. Lincoln sells the part, with many of his performances – especially opposite an unplugged telephone – as unsettling.

Scott Wilson returns as Hershel in a way that makes him the sage character to replace the absent Dale, which is nice. Steven Yeun and Lauren Cohan continue to develop their chemistry well as Glenn and Maggie, respectively. And Danai Gurira has an auspicious entrance into the series as Michonne, who is cool, collected, and smart – even if this character is very quiet.

It is David Morrissey who makes The Walking Dead feel fresh in its third season. Morrissey plays The Governor and he gives the character layers and depth that is well beyond the writing. Morrissey plays the Governor very much like Rick initially was, making it seem like The Governor is just looking out for his people much like Rick did. His smile is winning and it is only as the season progresses that he loses it and exchanges it entirely for a cruel sneer. That progression is creepy and the mark of good acting.

Ultimately, the third season of The Walking Dead is a strong, enjoyable season of television that is worth watching, but not quite as tight as the season that preceded it.

For other horror television shows, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Twin Peaks
True Blood - Season 5


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the shows I have reviewed!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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