Top 10 Ways To Make 'The Walking Dead' Less Stupid, Revisited
This is going to include SPOILERS for the comic and the show. Tread carefully.
Back in November, when The Walking Dead finished off the first half of its second season, I wrote The Top 10 Ways To Make 'The Walking Dead' Less Stupid. It was my attempt to address the ways in which the show was completely screwing the promise of its concept.
A serialized character study built around a zombie apocalypse, produced by the network behind Breaking Bad and Mad Men, should be riveting television. The Walking Dead turned out to be the complete opposite; a mess of forced conflicts between boring characters.
The end of the mid-season finale had the single best character beat of the series (Shane hesitated; Rick didn't). It was enough to keep me watching. And when The Walking Dead returned in February, I approached it with optimism. By the end of the return episode, when Lori crashed a car and was stranded, for no reason other than to create a dramatic opener for the next episode, I nearly tuned out for good.
And yet, I kept coming back. Maybe it's because there was nothing else to watch on Sunday nights (until Game of Thrones returns). But also, in a way, The Walking Dead reminds me of Boardwalk Empire, a show that, despite it's higher pedigree, didn't seem to have any sense of direction until the final few episodes of the latest season and then, suddenly, was amazing.
Anyway, about my original ten complaints. Did they address them? Let's find out...
10. Stop with all the monologues and serious talks.
My complaint: This show should have been called The Talking Dead? Am I right?! Seriously, the show is filled with boring monologues.
Was it addressed? Yes. There were still plenty of monologues, but finally there were some good ones. When Rick lectures Shane, about him and his wife and his son, that was aces. And when Rick has the talk with Carl, about how he wishes things were different but they have to accept that this new world is dangerous and people are going to die, that's exactly what this show should give us: A tough talk between a father and son that never would have taken place, if not for the circumstances of a zombie apocalypse.
9. Hire more female writers and directors.
My complaint: The female characters on this show are bitchy, crying, weak stereotypes.
Was it address? Yes. I'm encouraged to see that Carol and Andrea are acting like people with depth, instead of broken, shivering stereotypes who can't function unless there's a man around. In fact, they're both showing signs of toughness. But Lori, oh Lori...
8. Give Lori a break.
My complaint: Lori is a terrible, contemptible character.
Was it addressed? No. She starts the second half of the season by driving into zombie-infested territory and trashing a car for no discernable reason. Then she has a long conversation with Andrea about how she's pregnant and has no choice but to have her baby, but the men will protect them, and the job of the women is to cook and do laundry. It was a monologue written by Rick Santorum. In the last few episodes I warmed to her a bit, but mostly because she just stood in the background. She did have one redeeming moment, which is when she apologized to Shane for everything that happened between them. But that made Shane go crazy and try to kill Rick, so even when Lori tries to help, she screws things up.
7. Give T-Dog something to do other than be black.
My complaint: T-Dog is on the show to fill a racial quota. Also, his name is racist.
Was it addressed? No. He shot a zombie and drove a car and carried a box. He had a dozen lines. He's still the show's affirmative action character. The writers aren't even trying, to the point where it's really sad. The worst part is, when T-Dog finally did get to say something in the final episode, he was being a jerk and trying to abandon everyone. IronE Singleton deserves better. And I still wish someone would just stop and ask, "Hey man, what's your real name?" And then everyone can call him that. Because T-Dog is a "black" name created by a white person.
6. Address this season's massive logical fault.
My complaint: The entire conceit of the first half of the season was that the survivors were looking for a little girl who, it turned out, had been zombified and locked in a barn. And yet, no one on the farm noticed...
Was it addressed? Yes! The characters said it was ridiculous Sophia was in the barn and no one on the farm realized it. Hershel explained why it happened. I know this seems like it's nitpicking, but it's not, and here's why: To completely ignore this means that the writers were willing to forgo all bounds of logic in order to create an emotional payoff, which shows contempt for the audience. I can accept that Hershel didn't know. I'm just glad they acknowledged this.
5. Stop making characters do stupid, illogical things in every episode.
My complaint: How have these characters survived this long, when they clearly haven't taken ten minutes to sit down and come up with a logical plan of action? They seem to believe that poor communication and randomly doing things is equivalent to a survival strategy.
Was it addressed? No. Why did Lori go into town after Rick? Why did Randall tell Daryl his people were rapists? Why did they even save Randall in the first place? Why was Shane's plan to kill Rick so needlessly complicated? Why did Dale go wandering off, in the dark, alone? Why doesn't anyone keep a better eye on Carl? Why, after so many episodes, did they wait for the next-to-last installment to actually address security on the farm? I can answer all these questions with two words: Lazy writing. If the characters constantly make bad decisions, it leads to easy dramatic moments. I do suspect this will get better, as they'll probably learn their lesson from the farm burning down and all those people dying.
4. Kill all the survivors; replace them with new ones.
My complaint: A lot of these characters are not sympathetic or interesting.
Was it addressed? Yes. They didn't kill all the characters, but they certainly made them less annoying. A lot of them have even grown on me, Carol and Andrea being two good examples. The showrunners did kill Dale, which was great, because he meant well, but he was super-annoying. I'm a little disappointed they killed Shane, because Jon Bernthal was one of the more charismatic members of the cast. But, thematically, Shane's death makes sense, and it was satisfying. The rest of the people who made it to the end of the final episode, I'm fine with.
3. Put Daryl in charge.
My complaint: Daryl is the only character on the show who has survival skills and doesn't act like an idiot.
Was it addressed? Yes. But only because Rick stepped up in a big way in the final episode--not a democracy, indeed--so now I'm cool with him being in charge. Daryl is still my favorite character, though. To me, he's the most interesting, because he has so little to gain from being with these people; they make such idiotic decisions, his chances of survival would be greater without them. But he sticks around, probably single-handedly keeping them alive. I'm fascinated to know why.
2. Introduce Michonne.
My complaint: Michonne is character from the comics, and a strong, black woman. This will solve several of the show's racist and misogynistic issues.
Was it addressed? Yes! And she got a sweet-ass intro! Her appearance on the show last night was a glorified cameo, and today we learned that she'll be portrayed by Danai Gurira next season. Between that, and the casting of David Morrissey as The Governor, there's some interesting new dynamics ahead.
1. Try to include some zombies.
My complaint: A show about zombies should include some actual zombies.
Was it addressed? A lot of people misinterpreted what I meant when I made this point last time. When I watch this show, I'm not looking for a Resident Evil-style zombie kill-fest. What I am looking for from The Walking Dead is zombies, sometimes. But the entire first half of the season included a scant few zombie moments, and a lot of scenes of people whining. The inciting incident behind the show could have been anything: Bird flu, SkyNet, rabid badgers. The lack of zombies created a lack of threat; there was no sense that they were lurking around every corner. They were tossed in, almost as an occasional reminder so that people wouldn't forget what the show is about.
And yes, they did address this. First, by including an actual zombie attack on the farmhouse that was tense and scary. Also, by doing things to deepen the mythology of the show, like the fact that if you die with your brain intact you're going to become a zombie anyway (which is a very fatalistic touch--there is no escape, even in death!). This finally feels like a show about people surviving a zombie apocalypse, and not about a bunch of annoying people on an extended camping trip.
So, did the show get better? Yes.
Is it a good show yet? No. Especially when compared to some of the other hour-long dramas we've been spoiled by over the last several years.
Depsite my enjoyment of the final two episodes of this season, they still came with a lot of problems. There were occassional sparks of brilliance countered by illogical nonsense (how do so many characters fire accurate headshots from moving cars?!?) and obnoxious character moments (c'mon Carol, stop acting like Rick hasn't kept you alive).
Maybe Frank Darabont was the problem, and the upcoming season--the first that he'll have no involvement with--will be better for it. The parts are there, and I hope everything falls into place. I'll stick around, for now.
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