There's something foul about this third installment of The Walking Dead and it's not the stench of the stumbling zombies or the body odor of the stressed out survivors.
With two of the most interesting and complex characters killed off during its second season, you’d think that Walking Dead wouldn’t stand much of a chance in its third installment. And you’d be (mostly) right. True, the show doesn’t tank in a significant way; it’s still better than a number of popular serials and occasionally rises above its own mess throughout this third wave of episodes; there are a number of ways to describe the show that you’ll find spread across this new DVD/Blu-ray release of the show but “amazing” and “brilliant” are not two of them.
Yes, this is the zombie apocalypse and yes, there’s going to be some blood and guts and killing, but much of the nuance found in the first two seasons goes out the window by the time the opening credits of the first episode here come to a close. All the creepy tension between Shane (Jon Bernthal) and Rick (Andrew Lincoln) in bygone episodes made us shift uncomfortably in our seats and wonder how long it was before one knew what the other knew and when he knew it and when all of that would be revealed. Gone too is Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn), a man whose intellect and experience resonated with the other characters and the audience.
And you can’t help but miss them. There are at least three occasions in this season when you wish like hell they’d turn up and straighten the whole mess out. There’s no real convincing baddy this season and Hershel Greene is old, sometimes wise, but no substitute for Dale.
Maybe it’s appropriate that as the characters become increasingly savage and inflict greater brutality upon their enemies (we’re not just talking zombies here) there’s less a need for the kind of profound ideas that Dale would summon. Less need for the drama that having two men in love with the same woman creates. But, frankly, the first two episodes (“Seed” and “Sick”) are about as interesting as watching water boil and filled to the brim with gory zombie sacrifice, blood and guts, etc. and so forth to the point that you actually begin to wonder if its isn’t all a bit over the top.
A bit, well, comic book-y, eh?
The real gift of those first two seasons was that the show reminded us what a great source graphic novels and comics could be for film and television programs, how smart the writing and characters could be. “Could we seem some more writing of this caliber, please?”
And then, poof.
We get this, which upholds just about every cliché of those genres that you could imagine (down to cardboard villains and a twist here and there that’ll leave you scratching your head).
As for the plot? Well, that’s kind of a dead end as Rick and his band of followers (on the run from Hershel’s farm, where they were holed up during season two) wander into a prison and take it over as their own. They clear out the corpses and cobwebs and even get rid of some leftover riff-raff who have managed to survive. What they don’t know but are about to find out is that there’s another colony of survivors, led by a man everyone calls The Governor (his real name’s Philip Blake and he’s played by actor David Morrissey; Morrissey’s a decent actor even if the character he’s portraying isn’t all that interesting).
Andrea (Laurie Holden) has left the group and, along with her new companion, Michonne (Danai Gurira), is brought to the village, told she can leave, then convinced to stay. She becomes a kind of go-between, bouncing aimlessly between the world of The Governor and Rick and his posse for long enough that you begin to wish the writers would kill her off and so when they do, albeit way too late in the game, you sigh with exhaustion having endured some of the most aimless character waffling in television history. (Seriously, the scripts in the final episodes keep her busy doing this and that, most of it nonsense, that you wonder why someone didn’t just throw in a musical number.)
At times the writers, characters, and actors seemed confused enough about what’s going on that the show resembles a parody of Lost during that show’s darkest hours. (In fact you may begin to wonder how they’re all gonna get off the island and worry about encounters with The Others.) There are a couple episodes during which Rick seems to lose his mind (Lincoln doesn’t pull this off) and times when rock songs are brought in to carry the plot through treacherous waters that the writers cannot apparently be bothered to explore with their hearts and laptops. (It’s a lazy device, one that was hack by the end of the first season of Sopranos. Why is anyone still employing it in this day and age?)
There’s also the loss of another major character and, truth be told, it makes about as much sense to let go of said person as it would to introduce Big Bird as a major character in Season Four. Of course, said character becomes increasingly annoying and/or absent before their death so that when it finally happens you kind of don’t notice and/or kind of don’t care. Rick also has a kind of change of heart at the end of this season that again, seems to come from nowhere (either because of weak writing or because Lincoln can’t pull it off; bets seem more on the former) and has about zero lasting impact. (You’ll better remember the grit from the bottom of a popcorn bowl.)
If the writers are trying to suggest that some of these beloved characters are devolving into thoughtless savages, that’s fine. But you don’t have to make it stoopid along the way.
No, the really good things about this show’s first two seasons––the emotional complexity, the nuanced plots, the way the audience was treated as though it were comprised of intelligent sentient beings -- are missing in season three. This is just comic book fodder, a way to see heads get smashed in, bullets fired, and hear some primordial grunting that has replaced strong dialogue and reason.
Walking Dead is still decent entertainment. There are laughs time and again and the episodes zip by fast enough that you can’t help but keep watching, though for what you’ll have to decide for yourself.
Extras include several featurettes, audio commentaries on five episodes and a handful of deleted scenes.