The Walking Dead ‘What Lies Ahead’: Lessons in Tracking

The Walking Dead returned from its lengthy hiatus last night with a 90-minute episode full of zombie hunting, talking in a church, and (suprise!) a plot-twisting ending. It wasn’t as action-packed as most thought it would be (and as the teasers they’ve been showing for six months suggested), but there wasn’t any shortness of zombie kills (screwdriver in the eye, anyone?). However, a whole lot of unnecessary scenes, and a complete absence of any meaningful plot advancement made watching Dead’s way-too-long premiere (with way too many commercials) a chore, and left me feeling as cheap and shortchanged as I did through the first season’s six hours.

What bothers me the most about The Walking Dead is their insistence on creating drama out of implausible situations. Was I really supposed to believe Rick and Dale would spend all that time looking for zombies, only to notice a massive horde staggering towards them mere moments before they showed up? The show’s reliance on implausibility to drive the drama of the show continues to be a major annoyance. Since when did zombies possess reasoning and patience (as we saw with the zombie on the hunt in the RV)? A mindless, emotionless creature isn’t going to display the ability to reconsider, or re-examine something, displaying analytical reasoning and patience. And in the SAME scene, we have Andrea hiding in a closet, trying to put a gun back together noisily when all she has to do is be quiet? It’s idiocy in motion, and the poor writing only magnifies the holes in these plots, rather than amplifying the importance of the larger issues on the show – which, 7 episodes in, we still really aren’t sure of.

Honestly, what is this show about? Survival? Faith? Community? Dead spends so much time walking characters around in circles with their emotions, they have no chance to establish any dimensions within the characters. Instead, we have a group of constantly sweating and nervous-looking faces we are supposed to care about, while they run through this empty world of nothingness. While there are a few moments (Andrea’s speech to Dale about ‘having a choice’ was the episode’s only strong minute) scattered throughout, its mostly a show living on the premise of having cool zombie make up and violence, and a following of rabid fans (the same who spent their money going to see Thor, Green Lantern and Captain America this summer) who love the comic so much, they aren’t willing to observe the shortcomings of the show (for the record, I haven’t read much of the series, merely a few excerpts here and there).

With no coherence in theme or characterization, what’s left of The Walking Dead is a goofy exercise in classic network dramatics: note T-Bone’s useless story of cutting the shit out of his arm, only to hide from zombies easily and be fine the next day. Such useless threads of stories should be ignored, along with the moments of my least favorite apocalypse genre plot device: moments of remembering humanity. After an entire episode of searching for a girl (and with some poorly written scenes of the mother acting conventionally angry at the people trying to save her), we finish with a moment as Rick’s child Carl pauses to admire a large male deer in nature (PUKE at the weak father/protector/powerful being symbolism here), and pauses as if he’s never seen one before (although the zombie apocolypse was only a couple weeks ago temporally). Then, he gets shot by someone we can’t see, and the episode ends. Seriously, what is this? At least when LOST did it (in the early seasons, at least) it was at a compelling moment, after an important discovery. All we have here is a cheap ending, designed primarily to make sure they kept their audience steady into the second week.

Hopefully as The Walking Dead moves farther away from the production issues during the last nine months, the episodes will grow into something more than a TV version of a zombie movie, because right now, it’s not a very good one. Give us something more compelling to hold onto. Honestly, if the little girl doesn’t come back, I think it would make the show better. There needs to be some price to be paid among the main cast of the show sometime this season, because the show is not doing a good job reinforcing the hopelessness and constant danger of the world around them. We’re seven episodes into the show, and not a single important character to this point has been injured, or even really in what felt like a genuine place of danger.

(Note: the fact AMC has admitted to signing all the principles to contracts spanning multiple seasons doesn’t bode well for this idea, and only stands to suck more tension out of the dramatic moments).

It may have started its new season with a whimper, but there is still plenty of time for redemption. The group is obviously going to be splitting up soon, and there will be an opportunity with a full 13 episodes for the show to grow thematically, and really try and get into some compelling character development (no, I don’t think Lori’s whorish behavior will remain interesting for very long), and leave the constant threat of danger mostly off-screen. I’m tired of watching blood and gore, followed by looks of nervousness, hugs and apologies. That’s not great television, not in any sense of the word.

What did you think of last night’s premiere? I’m not giving up on Walking Dead just yet, so stop back next Monday for a recap of the next episode.

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