Cast: Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Stephen Yeun, Norman Reedus, Chandler Riggs, Lauren Cohan, Danai Gurira, Scott Wilson, Michael Rooker and David Morrissey
This review could get quite long. I may also digress into a critique of the second season, because to fully deal with the quality of the third season, I think it is necessary to compare it to the previous season, which is pretty unanimously disliked.
The Walking Dead’s biggest failure is one of the main successes of the third season. We would have taken anything, as long as it improved on the previous episodes. When the third season begins to dip or the story begins to lose its way, all it takes is a quick reminder of the endless hours spent on Hershel’s farm to make the viewer feel grateful for what we are watching. And it isn’t even as though the third season is bad. No, we are back in the great zombie-killing territory that we have always wanted to be in, ever since AMC brought out the gripping pilot for this beloved series.
When we left the gang at the end of season two, Rick was a broken man. With a baby on the way and his trust in his men broken, he declared himself dictator of the gang. He isn’t a bad character, but now his word is the law, making his character so much more impressive. The best thing about the gang now is that some of the lesser characters have become more developed. Emily Kinney’s character was pretty much just the nameless blonde on the farm, who we assumed was just another character to be killed off. However, now she feels more like another part of the group. While not the most exciting character, there is room for progress and if she was to be killed off, I think it would cause some emotion. Carol, Melissa McBride’s character, has come on leaps and bounds, becoming one of the moral rocks of the group. Even some of the major characters feel more complex, such as Glenn. I loved the character, but until this season, he felt pretty two-dimensional. In this season, he hits a moral grey area and it is exciting to see his character grow. This is a much smarter cast of characters and the season benefits from this.
The first four episodes of this season are fantastic. Some of the best episodes yet (an argument could be made the pilot still holds that trophy). These opening four episodes almost play out like an apology for the last, bumbling season. Right from the bat, we are introduced to the group as a new set of survivors. They have survived the winter and now are pretty adept at fighting off the Walkers. They are always in a close formation, make their kill in a single shot and never waste ammo. The fourth episode, in particular, is an emotional rollercoaster, taking the story to new levels. In a way, the season suffers from the same fate as the first one. It starts on such a high the rest of the episodes can never meet that initial glory, no matter how good the action gets.
The important thing to note throughout this season is that the writers have learnt from their mistakes. There is absolutely no problem having an episode focused on building character (hell, what makes the Walking Dead so great is character), but this time around, it doesn’t sacrifice that for action. The second season was so focused on the whole Rick, Shane and Lori plot that it seemed to forget that it had a large cast at hand. The trick with this kind of show is to have one of the side characters go off and fight some Walkers for whatever reason (a supply run, a breach… it really doesn’t matter), and while that is going on, some of the other characters get their backstory developed. Just because Rick and Lori’s relationship is an issue that needs to be addressed, that doesn’t mean it needs a whole, slow-paced episodes devoted to it. The introduction to Andrea and Woodbury could have been a long-winded one (it kind of still was), but the writers were smart enough to cut the action back to Rick’s group, so the viewers never got bored of the new characters and their introduction to the cast.
Let’s talk about those new characters. First off we have Michonne, the mysterious hooded figure who saved Andrea at the end of the last season. She is dark, silent and most important, pretty deadly. No matter how unstable her sanity is, she is till the character you want at your back, when you are wandering into unsecure territory. Another good thing about her character is the dark mystery that is surrounding her. We know she has had a dark past, but the season never embellishes on it. Preferably, the viewer will never find out. Her character feels so much more cryptic, when we are not aware of what exactly happened; our minds can probably create the worst scenarios ourselves. I know the writers will probably leave no stone unturned, but I can’t help but hope they will move on to exploring the character’s future, rather than her past.
The other new major player in the season was the villainous Governor. He is where the majority of my problem with this season lies. Not that David Morrissey (another British actor to join the ranks), plays him badly. He is pretty much the anti-Rick and that is always pretty clear. We get the impression that Rick is a few bad decisions away from turning into this character. He is the right balance or charismatic and ruthless, creating a parallel between the two camps: which one is really in the right? However, despite the actor trying to hold the character together, like Shane, it is the writers who lost control of the script. The Governor just feels pointlessly evil. Sure, when Michonne slaughters his daughter, Penny, we get why he begins to lose his sanity, but before that, he seemed oddly evil. He shot down the military survivors in his opening episode for little to no reason. Sure, he is scared that could try and take Woodbury, but so could Andrea (heck, she nearly does). The writers never seem sure how to use the character and he gets lost in the confusion. There was a real chance here to make his character a good character who has lost his way, yet that opportunity was passed by.
There were other points in the season, when the writers lost control of the script. I didn’t like Rick’s character losing his mind. Sure, he was allowed to have emotional grief and a small breakdown (it did allow some of the sub-characters to step up and develop), but the whole hallucination side of things seemed too surreal for me. I disliked the episode, where Rick imagined phone calls from all of the dead survivors. It was the point where the season seemed to lose its way again and begin to veer towards the same mistakes that season two wouldn’t stop making. This was a storyline that could have been best served subtle.
Thankfully the direction never seemed to slip. I like the fact that there is always a Walker in the background now. In Season Two, we began to forget that Walkers even existed, but here, the characters are used to a zombie shuffling in the distance. It really captures a feel of this crumbling world. I do think that the directors need to wind this in a bit though. The series is in danger of slipping into the point, where zombies are no longer scary. Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there became a point that the characters were so tough that we weren’t scared for them anymore. That threat of being grabbed by a passing zombie needs to be ever present.
The finale felt underwhelming. It gave us everything we asked and little more. There was a big showdown between the Governor and Rick’s groups as promised, but it could have been more explosive. I expected more and it didn’t match anticipation. We were given a sample few deaths, but only one of them really came as a shock; there were a few characters who couldn’t really work with the on-going story. Again, the first four episodes were so great that the later ones failed to match the standard expected. Also, it was very obvious that the writers were keeping their options open for the fourth season. The ending was sudden with too many questions. At the very least, we cannot wait for the next load of episodes.
Final verdict: A steady improvement, yet there is still a lot of work that needs doing, before it reaches the zombie action series we all want it to be.