To all those who begged us to take time off from Fashion Week to get a Walking Dead review up: you wouldn’t have liked what we had to say anyway. We found the midseason return to be a walk down a familiar road; one where the narrative wheels spin and Rick chews up the scenery. In other words, the prison had become a bit uncomfortably like Herschel’s farm; a place where everyone stands around and talks and talks and talks until someone goes crazy and has to be put down. Last time it was Shane, but now we’ve got Rick seeing ghosts and we can’t say we’re all that jazzed by the prospect of many more scenes like that.
And we weren’t too thrilled to see that, in the second episode, Rick is continuing his ghost tour, wandering around the prison grounds with a loaded gun, hallucinating, while the rest of the group keeps their distance and pretends not to notice. Oh, please. How silly. The minute it was clear he had lost it, they should have overpowered him and locked him in a cell. Why would they let a crazy man wander the grounds with a gun?
Other things that annoy us: Andrea is still too easily manipulated. Michonne is still mute for no good reason and subsequently remains irritatingly ill-defined. This show always works best when it moves. Wheel-spinning on a show like this is narrative death and we would have thought that the creators had learned that lesson after the poorly reviewed second season.
But then a funny thing happened around the halfway point of last night’s episode. Something actually happened. Oh sure, the Governor’s assault on the prison alternated between ingenious (the truck full of zombies) and oddly ineffective (white dude got T-Dog’d talking to Carol, but everyone else made it out unharmed), but it felt like a shock to the system; a way to jolt Rick out of his nuttiness and Glen out of his annoying macho posturing. It also handily got Darryl back in the group, with Merle tagging along.
It’s that last bit that works the best for us, even if Darryl was a bit too prissily moralistic with his older brother. Yes, the character has grown, and he never was presented as the racist animal his brother is, but it felt false to have him wincing over Merle’s casual epithets. Either way, we were glad to see him make his way back to the group and oddly, glad to see that the story figured out a way to get Merle to tag along. He really doesn’t have much of a choice and besides, there’s always the distinct possibility he’s still on a spy mission for the Governor. In fact, it’s the only thing that would explain the Governor’s odd retreat without inflicting any real damage on the group.
Still, the prison assault did what it had to: it moved the story back to where it needed to be. This shouldn’t be so hard for the creators, but it’s something they’ve always struggled with. Now, we don’t really know where things are going to go. We’re hoping that Rick is done with the hallucinating and Glen is done with the chest-thumping for now. Let’s get Tyreese and his group back and move forward, possibly away from the prison and the Governor altogether. As long as the show moves, we’re fine. When everyone stands around arguing over petty shit, we lost interest almost immediately. That may have something to do with how under-developed most of these characters are. It seems to us, the creators need to take a page from Lost and figure out a way to keep moving the characters forward while filling in their details a little better. Extended pre-apocalypse flashbacks may be a bit of a cliche and a ripoff, but the show could benefit greatly from a couple right about now. It’s great see Darryl be awesome and all, but we need a bit more at this stage in the story.