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December 4, 2012

The Walking Dead: So That's What's Going On

Thousands of years ago, I did a post on The Walking Dead.  It’s amazing how much things can change (or not change) over the course of a few seasons.  But it’s worth noting that I not only stuck through Season 2, with the many, many, many problems therein, but have successfully watched Season 3 to its midpoint.

So.  What can I say about this show now?  Uhhhhhhhh…well, I kinda like it.  It’s not perfect -- by the nine rings of Draupnir is it not perfect -- but I don’t mind watching it every Sunday, and I certainly have more of an investment in it than I did earlier this year.

It’s worth noting, however, that my opinion of the characters therein has changed somewhat.  Namely, that I’ve been rooting for the wrong guys.

(Spoilers -- and brains, maybe -- to follow.  So I guess if you’re a zombie that hates spoilers but loves brains, tough luck.  You’re not getting my brain anytime soon.)

It’s probably worth mentioning that, in spite of what I’m bound to say next, I still kind of like The Walking Dead.  Especially this season.  I haven’t said anything about it in a while (and I probably should have as soon as the last season ended), but at times it felt like I wasn’t watching TWD because I liked it, but because I was waiting to like it.  As if I was watching out of common courtesy.  It probably isn’t a good sign for a show’s quality if the most I can remember about it is people arguing at each other -- not with each other, but at each other -- people lamenting their sorry lot in life, people generally acting stupid, people refusing to do anything intelligent to beat back the zombie advance, and nobody keeping an eye on Carl.  Side note: what the hell is up with that kid?  It’s a zombie apocalypse and his first instinct is to wander off alone and go play in the woods with the living dead?

You’ll forgive me then, TWD fans, if I was a little less than enthused about the season premiere.  I knew it could only get better from Season 2, and genuinely believed that it would (Eternal Optimist, remember?).  But I still had a little trepidation.  Imagine my surprise, then, when not only the premiere, but the entire season up to this point remained competent and even satisfying.  And I think I know what the root might be.

It is remarkable what a difference it makes having not only fewer characters, but an identifiable leader.  The moment Rick made himself the clear driving force behind the group’s survival, everything started clicking into place.  The characters spent less time arguing in a static, tension-free environment and moving forward.  Doing what they could for the good of the group.  Following orders, and contributing something meaningful from moment-to-moment -- and if there are disagreements (which there are fewer of), the complaints are much more palpable.  And you know what the best part is?  When people are cooperating -- when the nervousness comes from the outside world and the friggin’ zombies instead of people throwing hissy fits and moaning about how awful things have gotten and how there’s no hope and how this guy is bad and that guy can’t be trusted and that woman isn’t doing her part…wow, I guess I remember more from Season 2 than I thought -- they do more than just survive together. 

You believe.  You believe they can cooperate and survive.  You believe they’re beyond just arguing, and are coming together as a makeshift family.  You believe that even if the world’s gone to hell, there’s still hope to be had.  You believe in what the show and its characters are trying to prove, because there’s a better balance of hope and despair.  You believe in the show itself, because, simply put, you care.

So much so that you become a living, bro-fisting dynamo.

And that’s the biggest compliment I can give about TWD right now -- I care about it.  More so than I did before, and I’m more than willing to assume that I’ll care about it even more come next year.  But it’s because I care that I’m just as likely to point out its faults as I am to praise it.  It’s because I want the show to do well, and get even better; as a would-be writer, I do what I can to take my stuff to the next level, and I expect the same (maybe to an unfair degree) from every story in every medium.  And with that in mind, what I say next is done as a labor of love.

I’m convinced that nearly all the characters in TWD are complete assholes.

I was almost compelled to make a full post about the subject, with this show as a primary example.  It seems to me that as of late, fiction seems to be full of people defaulting to the most dickish choice of action (and are only occasionally called out on it).  Mass Effect lets you punch reporters and throw people out of windows if they don’t give you what you want.  That show Arrow has its lead hero outright admitting that saving the people with Robin Hood-esque skills doesn’t matter as long as he gets the people on his hit list -- to say nothing of the ridiculously-callous people that surround Oliver Queen, hassling him in spite of him just having returned from five years on an island hellzone.  The major theme behind Looper was letting one’s selfish whims command them; in spite of the decades of difference between them, both Young and Old Joe are foul-mouthed, hypocritical hitmen only out to get what they want.  It says a lot about the cultural paradigm when you can’t turn on a TV without finding a “hero” who’d make Gaston look like a Good Samaritan.

No one crunches the heads of women between his muscles like Gaston.

In a story where everyone is unpleasant, nothing is pleasant.  That’s pretty much a given, but I suspect that TWD masterminds have yet to figure that out.  Put two unpleasant people in a conversation with one another, and you get to see how nasty they can be -- which would work if there was something worth arguing about, but without that there’s nothing to compel.  Again, things have gotten better this season, but it’s unbelievable how many times characters will give each other crap for things that they don’t really need to.  Question: what is the point of Carl storming off in a huff when Lori reprimands him -- and tries to apologize, but he leaves anyway while she’s in mid-sentence -- especially given that his wandering off has led to the death of one of their own?  What was so dangerous about that guy in that woodland cabin that Rick couldn’t just show him his badge and calm him down, and to add insult to injury they flung him into a horde of zombies?  Would someone like to explain to me why Rick immediately decides to antagonize the prisoners with his own set of rules and provisions -- an act that ends up leaving his wife (but more importantly, T-Dog) dead?

That last one is particularly important.  Even though I speak in jest -- somewhat -- it’s worth noting that Lori’s T-Dog’s death may be the karmic retribution needed to spark a change in Rick, and the other characters as a whole.  That, of course, depends on whether Rick learns a lesson from what happened.  If he thinks to himself “T-Dog is dead because of my inability to compromise and short-sightedness”, then he’s more likely to make better decisions in the future.  If he thinks “T-Dog is dead because ZOMBIES!  And everyone’s out to get me!” then both his group and the audience is in for a rough time.  Or at least we would be, if not for this show’s new-found saving grace…

Qui-Gon Jinn?  Is that you?

Honestly?  I think The Governor is the best thing to happen to this show since I first started watching it, and in spite of his status I’m about ready to declare him my favorite character.  I know that’s a surprise coming from someone who adores the idea of straight-shooting heroes (and just finished reprimanding fiction for its general menagerie of jackasses), but hear me out on this. 

First off, I want to start by bringing up a scene in a recent episode.  Glenn gets taken by Merle and given the good old interrogation treatment, with all the hospitality you’d expect.  So after getting fed a few knuckle sandwiches on rye bread, Merle sics a zombie on him while he’s tied to a chair and beaten bloody.  Convention and instinct suggested that Glenn would make it out all right, but even so I couldn’t help but gasp a little. He would probably make it out alive, but it was in that scene that I realized, hey, maybe he might actually die.  (His relationship with Maggie may have tripped a few death flags for one or both of them after all.)  It wasn’t as much a matter of “How will Glenn get outta this one?” as it was “Will Glenn get out of this one?”  It added a level of tension I hadn’t felt in the show in a long time…and then I realized this was one of the few times I actually felt tension from TWD.

Don’t take that as an insult to the show, but rather a problem with zombies in general.  According to the Dead Rising school of thought, zombies are stupid and slow.  TWD’s zombies are no exception; they shamble across the land in search of flesh, have no strategy besides rush anything with a pulse, and are flimsy enough to get limbs pulled off with sufficient effort from a young man with average physical capabilities.  Oh, sure, they’re dangerous in huge mobs, and you can consider their attacks to be a one-hit kill, and they’re definitely not something you’d want to mess with if you’re strapped to a chair (and even if you aren’t, you’re better off avoiding them), but still…when it comes to being a genuine danger, I have a hard time putting my faith in creatures that are thwarted by the average fence.  That goes double when the people they’re trying to munch on are so freakishly capable of taking them out; Rick, Shane, Daryl, Lori, Maggie, Glenn, Andrea, Herschel, T-Dog, and even Carl have taken out zombies with ease, many of whom have used impossibly-flawless shooting ability.  It’s hard to take the conflict seriously when their biggest threat is one that they spent the better part of a season picking off from hundreds of yards away.

But as I said before in comparing TWD to Smallville, the show is not about zombies.  It’s about the effect zombies have on the world -- on society at large, and the makeshift families therein.  And that’s fine.  I get that.  But if the conflict is going to come from the “humans are the true monsters” angle, there has to be something more to work with.  Something compelling beyond skirmishes about enemies that are only dangerous when the plot needs them to be, or there’s a red shirt the writers can off to give the illusion that the zombies are deadly.  Having a squadron of squabbling marksmen is not the way to be compelling.

But again, things have gotten better this season.  The survivors have gotten better and more defined (thanks in part to the thinning of the red shirts), and things are actually happening regularly -- at a once-per-episode rate, no doubt.  But the biggest and most valuable addition to the show is the introduction of a real antagonist.  Someone who not only tests the survivors, but puts the themes of the series at the forefront with aplomb.  Someone who, by mere presence alone, transforms the days of faffing about into an effort to mobilize against a ferocious foe.

That’s right.  We have our villain.

Oh, I’m sorry, did I mislead you?  My apologies; you see, I’m wholly convinced that The Governor is the good guy, and Rick and all his friends are the bad guys.

Up to this point, all efforts to paint The Governor as a villain are illusory at best.  Okay, so he has his cronies open fire on the National Guard, and he’s not above lying to the people closest to him, and he could have done some horrible things to Maggie if he wanted to.  And given that he kept his zombie daughter on a leash, he’s more than a little unstable.  But remember, he’s The Governor for a reason.  He’s the leader of an entire city, a society that in spite of the apocalypse has regained some semblance of their original lives.  He’s been incredibly proactive for who knows how long, amassing enough survivors to repopulate a town, delegate orders and jobs, and build a defensive array against zombies.  It’s because of his efforts (shady as they may be) that there’s hope for the people -- more so if Milton’s experiments continue.  If he was allowed to continue without enemy interference, can you imagine what he might have done?  What if he had his people work on ways to cure the zombie outbreak?  Or what if he started spreading outward, advancing and meeting other survivors and working to rebuild the no doubt-shattered society?  He may have some secrets, and some issues, and some blood spilled, but damn it, he’s accomplished something that should have been impossible. 

It's like I always said -- you can't trust a man with a hefty sheen of sweat.

Compare that to Rick and the others.  Rick’s hands aren’t much cleaner, especially at this point in the show (and inevitably, they’ll only get dirtier).  In the grand scheme of things, what has he accomplished?  Survive?  Escape?  Scrounge up supplies?  Hide away?  As the de facto leader, Rick’s only accomplished short-term goals -- and even then he’s done a pretty shoddy job of it, considering how many people he’s had to bury.  But nowhere is his group’s mindset clearer than when he has a conversation with Herschel, in which the old man says “There’s nowhere left to go.”  Bullshit.  First of all, if society as you know it has crumbled, you can go anywhere and build new lives there.  Second, I think it’s pretty damn arrogant to assume that your group is the only one that’s been able to survive the zombie apocalypse just because you were holed up on a farm.  Third, you have a caravan of working vehicles, so you can travel quite a distance.  Fourth, you went from a farm to a prison and holed up there pretty nicely (and would have done so more easily if not for Rick’s boneheaded antagonizing).  Fifth, you’ve met with survivors before; if they can carve out a living somewhere unconventional, so can you -- and multiple times, at that.  If Rick’s people would look at the bigger picture, they could at least TRY to move toward a better lot in life, rather than lament the one they have now…and better yet, NOT do what they can to worsen the lots of others.

Maybe all of this is a signal that I wouldn’t last too long in a zombie apocalypse.  As I’ve said, I’m the Eternal Optimist; in a situation where society has broken down, I’d try to work towards rebuilding it, or helping to do so however I can (admittedly after I get my own affairs in order, but you get the idea).  I guess you could say that in terms of order versus chaos, I err on the side of order -- because really, that’s the best offense against zombies, isn’t it?  If the problem isn’t so much that there are zombies walking around but the end of the civilized world as we know it, then wouldn’t trying to repair the civilized world be the best course of action, ESPECIALLY since there would be a united front against the slow, stupid, easily-thwarted hordes of the undead?  Practicality -- and the pragmatism needed to survive a zombie outbreak -- aside, The Governor brings some important ideas to the table.  I assume that he has the bigger picture in mind.  He has order, and is working to spread it.  I find him significantly more interesting than Rick or his team (in spite of my reservations at season’s outset that switching perspectives would dilute BOTH camps), because he’s doing something Rick and his team won’t begin to try.  The conflicts The Governor and his group faces are unique; we’ve seen the “ragtag group tries to survive undead hordes” angle repeatedly, but it’s refreshing to see this guy try something different.  I’m more eager to see what he can and will do next instead of the Ricktatorship.

It’s a shame, then, that it’s all about to turn to shit.

Think about it.  If The Governor had never taken in Andrea and Michonne, and subsequently got entangled with Rick’s group, where do you think he’d be headed next?  We may never know -- and that’s a shame.  Now everything that happens will be a response to Rick’s rescue mission.  The thoughts and opinions he had have been shifted, and no doubt sent spiraling into the darkness.  Whatever good intentions he might have had are doomed to corruption, because I’m almost certain his already-fragile mind has splintered into atom-sized shards.

And I can’t help but think to myself, “Why?” 

It didn’t have to be this way.  Now, I’m not going to pretend that The Governor is 100% in the right, because he isn’t -- but I would assume that what he’d done up to that point, he’d done for the good of his people, just as Rick would.  But along comes Michonne, who immediately paints him as an untrustworthy and evil man because…because why, exactly?  Because he got more guns from the Guard and lied about it?  It’s unsavory stuff, but with those weapons his forces can better protect the town.  Or maybe she had a problem with him having gone over the edge?  Worrisome stuff, to be sure, but he managed to be a competent and charismatic leader even without a full bag of marbles.  Or is it because he kept his zombie daughter hidden from the public?  Maybe he did, but what harm did that do?  She was on a chain, hidden from sight, and kept a safe distance from everyone but himself.  You couldn’t let him keep one skeleton in his closet?  You had to go and kill his daughter -- the one person he cared about most -- in front of his eyes, AFTER he begged and pleaded with you not to kill her?  You just had to make sure his last threads of sanity -- and maybe humanity -- were burned to ash…and then on top of that gouge out his eye?  Why?  You could have just walked away and let him do his thing.  But you didn’t.  And now you may have set something even worse into motion.  You may have made a real villain out of him.

That is not the frown of an amicable man.

My brother made a pretty astute observation when he saw the new and improved Governor: “When a man wears an eye patch, things change.”  Indeed, they have.  And they will.  At a base level, I’m anticipating changes for the worse.  The problem with making an enemy out of The Governor is that he’s not just one man; he’s surrounded by people that look up to, follow, believe in, and in some cases fear him.  And now he can lead his people as he sees fit -- if he wanted to, he could drive them into a wild frenzy and get them going after Rick’s camp.  You saw how aggressive the crowd had gotten at the sight of the terrorist Daryl (I’d use quotation marks there, but it seems appropriate given the perspective); it’s not so hard to assume that the rescue act will have some bloody repercussions.  The Governor is going to strike back, hard and fast.  And I have a hunch he’s going to steamroll anyone that stands in his way.  So yeah, good going Michonne.  You really showed him.

But with all that in mind, I’m expecting changes for the better.  There’s a good chance The Governor has gone batshit insane now that he’s effectively gone into Big Boss mode, but that can only mean good things for the show.  Rick is going to have to deal with the ramifications, one way or another -- and given how much of a presence Carl has had this season, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to assume he’ll be the next target after Michonne.  An eye for an eye, as it were (har de har har).  Whatever the case, something’s about to go down, and go down hard.  Hopefully, it won’t be another expendable black guy.

He is not expendable.  He is a national treasure.

So all in all, I’m in a good…well, good-enough place with TWD.  Even now I find it immensely flawed.  But even now I find glimmers of potential, and as I’ve said it’s only gotten better from when I jumped in.  It’s gone from a show I tolerated to a show I don’t mind following.  I just wish that the show wouldn’t paint The Governor as the villain (or at least A villain) from the outset, because it seems increasingly obvious that the good guys aren’t exactly Power Ranger material.  That much should be obvious, though; one calls himself a governor, and the other a dictator.  Not exactly tough to draw lines.

Also?  RIP T-Dog.  This isn’t how it was supposed to be, man…you were supposed to cure the outbreak!  


  1. Ahh! I cant read this yet! See... we dont have cable, and only watch stuff on Netflix. SO- though I have watched the first TWO seasons, i have not watched season 3 up to the midpoint.
    One of my best friends is watching it, and always tries to tell me what is going on... (she is for some reason madly in love with Darryl...*rolls eyes*)
    anyways. I LOVE TWD... its not the BEST show ever, but a really great one! And now... Well, I just read the last line of your post and realize that T-Dogg dies. How very sad.
    He wasnt my favorite character though...
    Oh well.
    Man... I need to get cable!

  2. I wonder if T-Dog was ANYONE'S favorite character. Outside of his final moments, I can't peg a single outstanding act to his improbably-stereotypical name. It's also worth noting that

    in the same episode where he calls Rick out for his actions and vocally disagrees with the direction the Ricktator is leading the group, he ends up bitten by zombies and forced to sacrifice himself. Not exactly a flattering way to go.
    (end spoilers)

    And Daryl is actually a pretty cool character. If my brother's preferences are any indication, it's because he wears a poncho. I'd argue it's more because he has a crossbow, though. And the motorcycle certainly helps.

  3. Gee Rhamy, I read your article and I was all like "Hey, he raises some good points, let's read on" then BAM! spoilers all over my goddamn face.

    Too late now, anyways. Good going, sirrah.

  4. Heh heh, well, I tried to warn you...besides, I feel like I can't exactly make a strong argument UNLESS I go into spoiler territory. It certainly doesn't help that I have a pretty lax spoiler policy. I prefer to know what happens sooner rather than later; schedules and release dates be damned.

  5. Yo. ZeLoz from PotionShop1e here.

    After reading this and your previous post on TWD, I think I wanna look more into this show. I've had my reservations about it, mostly because of how it sounds like, as one internet meme put it, "People Arguing (and sometimes zombies appear)." But pitting the main characters against an antagonistic force that isn't their own stupidity (or the occasional zombies) is something I'd like to see. In any case, it makes it seem like the show is becoming more about survival and less about arguing.

    Spoilers be darned, I'll probably just wiki the events up to wherever TWD is now. Given your views on the second season, it'd probably be for the best if I just spared myself the monotony and just read summaries.

  6. As much as I hate to admit it, you're probably taking the best course of action. I've got a pretty good memory, but it is a STRUGGLE to remember anything distinct about Season 2. Well, no, that's not entirely true; to be fair, there are a few brushes with zombies, and at least two major characters die. But for the life of me I couldn't tell you what they were arguing about besides, "Gee, this sure is a hopeless situation, isn't it?" And as others have noted,, they can be pretty stupid at times.

    The show still has its problems -- Michonne at this moment is problematic, to say the least -- but yes, The Governor makes this show several times better. Hopefully the writers will do something meaningful with him...or barring that, resurrect T-Dog.

  7. I too find the Governor a very fascinating character. He's not really a bad guy, just someone who's lost a few of his marbles from the get-go (and the rest along with his daughter and eye). I mean, yeah he's done a bunch of bad stuff, and the fact that he kept his zombie daughter on a leash is worrisome. Normally I'd just call him totally batshit insane, but considering that scientist is actually closing in on a cure I'm more hesitant to call the Governor out on keeping her around. And when he was pleading for her life, I really felt it.

    But nope, now everything's going to hell. Glad to see some real antagonizing from an organized group of people instead of stragglers and zombies for a change. I've been keeping up with the show more regularly this semester (as it and Adventure Time are the only things on TV right now I feel like watching), so I can't wait to get back into it February!

  8. Yeah, things are certainly going to get a lot worse before they get better. By chance I happened to stumble on the comic version of The Governor, with his eye patch securely in place; to say that he looks "unhinged" would be an understatement the size of California. It's also worth noting that the blurb on his wiki page says something to the effect of "he is obsessed with power and control, and will stop at nothing to keep it."

    So yeah, way to be Michonne. You've done some real good for the world.