Thoughts on The Walking Dead at the midpoint break of Season 3. Note that I’m going strictly on what I’ve seen so far of the television show – I’ve not read the original graphic novel and am privy to very little background information on the show:
- Much stronger so far in terms of pacing and content. Season 1 was uneven with some fantastic episodes (the opener and the closer were both strong) while Season 2 was redundant and an exercise in tedium until the final two episodes. Nearly every episode of the third season has been engaging with the characters much more sure footed and considerably more exposition through visuals and action rather than dialogue and forced conversations. The opening scene where Rick’s party scavenges in an abandoned house is illustrative of this approach. The desperation and fatigue of the group are clearly evident along with the characters inhabiting more assured roles – all without any dialogue.
- Andrea’s character, and too a lesser extent Michonne, has been one of the most enervating of the season so far. Unfortunately the relationship between the two and how they operated for their eight months on the run is largely assumed as Andrea is either sick or in thrall of the Governor during most of their screen time together. Thus the two are almost always seen at odds rather than the implied mutual affection that supposedly characterizes their relationship. It doesn’t help that Michonne seems to wear a constant snarl and thus has little depth at the moment–though this could obviously change with some hints of it in her observation of Rick’s group’s closeness and her initial reaction to Penny’s confinement. Andrea’s behavior seems peculiarly out of character, particularly her fall for Woodbury and the Governor in light of the evidence that something unsettling is happening behind the scenes. This is in part because the audience knows far more about the underbelly of the town than she would which unfairly raises the viewer’s incredulity at Andrea’s gullibility. The showrunners could have made the Governor’s machinations more circumspect until the final episodes of the first half. For instance, they could not have shown the Governor taking down the National Guardsmen but only shown them returning in the military vehicles and Michonne’s subsequent suspicion about what actually happened to the soldiers. They could also have revealed the Governor’s secret room of heads and Penny until the final episode almost as written (perhaps with the Governor staring at the heads and then turning to the gate as Penny begins making a commotion).
- One of the more awkward scenes was the “fight night” and Andrea’s reaction to it. Pitting two Woodbury fighters against one another in a bizarre MMA match surrounded by toothless zombies made little sense even in the Governor’s explanation that it allows the residents to blow off steam. Why is this appealing? Fights, whether boxing or MMA, were always something of a niche sport unlike basketball, baseball, football or even soccer and hockey. Moreover since the fight appeared to be real, why would Woodbury risk some of its muscle in a pointless brawl? Although another sport would certainly risk injury, this one was designed to cause it. It’s also unclear why Andrea felt she needed to be repulsed by it and why she was uncomfortable with how she liked it. With the obvious exception of the zombie element, it’s not like this hadn’t been extant in the world prior to the outbreak. Perhaps she thought it barbaric then but far more barbaric events had transpired since the world moved on which she evidently accepted and even embraced evidenced by her desire to be armed and dangerous. A possible replacement scene would have been Merle and others in some sort of contest to see who could kill the most zombies in under ten seconds, or even an exhibition of killing zombies in comical and ridiculous fashion (the scene in A.I. where humans are destroying robots in some kind of rodeo is a fair example, although Walking Dead would have needed to go less campy). Naturally such grotesque violence, particularly if participants paraded around with severed limbs or heads, would certainly justify any revulsion and make her reluctant to admit her liking of it. The Governor’s explanation of stress relief and Andrea’s concern that it made people too cavalier about the zombie threat would have carried more weight. Moreover the Governor could have explained that it was also meant to dehumanize creatures that people humanized far too much–that each person will not “come back” but rather die and be desecrated by some disease that takes over their lifeless body. This game was a ritual purification of sorts. Secondarily this also would have juxtaposed nicely with Michonne’s zombie slaughter as well as Milton’s failure to discover an echo of a former self in a walker.
- The Governor himself doesn’t strike me as a let down. Some were expecting a character more in the vain of Danny Trejo, as the comic would seem to depict him. According to Screen Rants, there was even speculation that John Hawkes might land the role, possibly reprising a version of his character from the excellent Winter’s Bone (for those not familiar). Morrissey himself is fairly neutral. He doesn’t take away anything from the character but doesn’t seem to be adding a lot either. He’s able to play psychopathic well without being particularly memorable. It is interesting that the producers went a completely different direction from the graphic novel in both Woodbury (which apparently wasn’t in the book) and the Governor, who, judging from the picture, was more of a hardcase than the refined Morrissey. Although the element of a suave and respectable veneer over ruthlessness is a compelling one in a post-apocalyptic setting, it wasn’t played terribly well by the showrunners, not only in regard to Andrea’s relationship to the Governor but also in the early reveal of his vicious and dictatorial behavior. If Andrea had gotten involved with a separate character in the village, such as Milton (perhaps a bit more self-assured–Hawkes might have been good in this role) whom she does take a liking to in the show for his compassion, the audience would observe the debonair Governor from more distance, and perhaps more through Milton’s admiration of him as Andrea probes him for more information in the course of their relationship. Naturally actors such as Javier Bardem or Daniel Day-Lewis would be strong in the role of the Governor, though obviously far too expensive or disinterested (or both). Danny Huston, given his strong performance in the similar role of depraved but erudite outlaw Arthur Burns in The Proposition, would have been a good choice. Guy Pearce, though likely more difficult to get, would have also been solid as a revamped Milton, possibly similar to his performance in L.A. Confidential.
I also had a vision of the Governor sitting in a chair surrounded by still animate zombie heads nailed to the walls and ceiling of a small enclave, as opposed to the still very creepy heads in tanks. Also using Portishead’s Machine Gun in a zombie movie montage.