Note: Allegedly, the showrunners have claimed that they’re sticking much closer to the graphic novels’ plot lines for this season. As a result, the NO SPOILER rule is in full effect. Comments with spoilers — warning or not — will be deleted without exception. Thanks.
Welcome back to our weekly love/hate sessions with AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” Season Three is being met with great anticipation — and more than a little anxiousness — by fans, given the strength of Season One, the woeful inconsistency of Season Two, and the powerful, terrifying storyline that this season parallels in the comic book. The first episode, “Seeds” was mostly solid, if unspectacular. It introduced some interesting new elements, showed a smidgen of character development, and moved us into some locations with vast potential for undead mayhem.
What worked best was exactly what was missing from much of last season — a palpable air of desperation. The episode picks up an undisclosed amount of time after the conclusion of Season Two, and every harsh day shows on their faces. Our intrepid group is bedraggled, hungry, frustrated and desperate, and it’s at these times when “The Walking Dead” is at its strongest, when the characters are forced to fight and scratch and claw for their lives. None of the stolid, farm-set dullness of the dreaded farm was present, and instead it was a struggle from the opening shot. The opening segment was particularly strong, with the entire scene shot without a single word from the cast.
Yet what also made it interesting is that it also showed how the group dynamic has changed in the past few months. In some ways, this smacked of lazy writing — instead of showing the development and evolution of the characters, we simply see their new selves. Rick’s resentment of Lori, Daryl’s stronger sense of loyalty, Carol’s subtly changing relationship with Daryl and her change of heart about Rick — all of these developments felt natural, yet I couldn’t help but feel a little cheated for not having seen the journey that brought them there. Yet in the end, it’s a minor quibble because the changes felt organic and sensible, something that was occasionally missing in prior episodes. But most critically, their actions and reactions have changed — they move and fight as a single, unified unit, each knowing their role, each understanding their purpose. They have, at last, developed a sense of cohesiveness and moved away from the constant, petty divisiveness that was so artlessly manufactured in some of the prior episodes. Hopefully this new found cohesiveness and will lead to less “OMIGOD WHERE’S CARL,” because seriously, enough already.
Sadly, we’re only given a couple of quick glimpses of the other faction, namely Andrea — suddenly sick and full of despair — and her unnamed savior (Michonne, since that one we probably all know by now), played by newcomer Danai Gurira. We’re shown just enough to be intrigued — a samurai sword wielding wanderer certainly throws a unique new curveball into the game and is a strong potential addition to the mix. And not for nothing, but hopefully we can finally get a strong black character who will wash the taste of T-Dog’s “aw hell naw” out of our mouths.
Yet what the episode was really about was just how desperate they’ve become. It shone through in little bits — the exhaustion, the frustration, the temptation to resort to eating expired dog food (or errant birds of prey), the bitterness — these pieces were all well executed, although ironically it felt like Rick and Lori were the weakest pieces of the puzzle. Andrew Lincoln’s newfound tough guy act isn’t quite ringing true, and Lori continues to be the one-dimensional shrew that she’s been all along. Even her fearful sobbing about the possibilities of a stillborn child — and those possibilities are terrifying — felt somehow both flat and forced.
The prison, of course, is what it’s all about, and that aspect did not disappoint. The viciousness of the group’s assault on the prison — stabbing through fences, harrying, unflinching close-quarters combat that they’d have been reluctant to do before — is a new and engaging dynamic and another example of their growing desperation. Rick’s push to take over more and more ground is intriguing, and clearly more than a little reckless, and Hershel is forced to pay the price (although one can’t help feel like history is repeating itself — Carl’s injury brought them to the farm, and Hershel’s will doubtless affect their stay at the prison). The scene of the group anxiously creeping through narrow, darkened corridors was one of the stronger parts, and watching the group’s slowly increasing panic as the onslaught grows and the tension is ratcheted up was gut-churning fun.
Sure, we could nitpick it more — Carl is suddenly a sharpshooter, making headshots from 200 yards (with a handgun, no less). Rick’s refusal to let the group catch their breath before charging ahead. None of them realizing right away that maybe you can’t stab through a riot helmet (a development that, while clever and logical, felt like the next level of villains in a video game). But I’m willing to temporarily forgive the faults in the hopes that the show will once again remember what made it great. It’s those moments when the writing can make the characters feel real, removed from the senseless bickering and petty jealousies that, while possibly realistic, were handled so ham-fistedly before. “The Walking Dead” is strongest when the stakes are at their highest and the ragged group is pushed to their limits. So far, so good.