Kyla Kenedy and Brighton Sharbino in AMC’s The Walking Dead
Here’s our take on the first two episodes of the second half of the fourth season of The Walking Dead: We don’t much care about the story being told but we appreciate the attempts to craft it as a story.
But before we expand on that, here’s our take on the entire series up to this point, just so we’re clear: There is no story here. There is no goal, there’s barely what we’d call a protagonist; nothing changes, no one experiences much in the way of growth without the reset button being hit again and again, and the only things that ever happen to any of the characters are terrible things, for the most part. It’s a tale told by a moody teenager who hates everybody. In the confines of a serialized graphic storytelling medium (i.e., a comic book), you can have a bleak, unending series of vignettes that hammer home a theme (Humans are the real monsters! For real!) and not have to worry about forward momentum or keeping an audience engaged through commercial breaks and between seasons. The Walking Dead’s nihilistic and relentlessly bleak worldview works like gangbusters in a black and white comic book, but is decidedly less entertaining on a basic cable drama. It’s just a series about traumatized people living in the worst possible conditions. And when the story tries to build something for the characters; give them goals and aspirations beyond living for the next few minutes, it tears it down every time, either because the characters are so unbelievably stupid or because the world is full of eeeeeeeevil people bent on destruction. This, to us, is boring. Imagine if by the 4th season of Lost, most of the original cast was dead, either from illness or starvation, or because the island was overrun with serial killers. And every week we watch starving, terrified people try to get water out of a coconut in order to live another hour and avoid getting their throats slit. That’s what The Walking Dead had become. In a lot of ways, that’s what the show still is.
It’s not that we want Happy Fun Time in the Zombie Apocalypse Hour. It’s just that we don’t subscribe to the view that says that humanity is so stupid and immoral that it can’t do anything but crawl through the mud looking for sustenance and occasionally getting violent with each other. People naturally want to build and form communities and make plans for themselves and for the children in the community. That’s not pie-in-the-sky thinking on our parts, that’s the whole of human history. We’re somewhere around two years post-apocalypse and no one in the entire state of Georgia (and we’ve met several hundred survivors by now, which implies thousands more country-wide, if not hundreds of thousands or even millions worldwide) can manage basic hygiene or planting a garden or building an effective wall, not for any length of time, anyway. Everyone wanders around with guns and swords, looking desperate and hungry, occasionally killing each other or any undead who wander in their path. It makes no sense from a real world point of view and it’s not entertaining to watch in the long run, which is why we’re so frustrated with the show.
(As an aside: we would, if we had the power, declare a moratorium on any scenes set in the Georgia back woods again. Enough with this particular setting, writers.)
But with last week’s episode and this week’s (but to a lesser extent), there’s a real sense of structure to the storytelling now, even if the story itself hasn’t changed. That’s encouraging. Michonne’s journey last episode, as well as Carl’s, showed that you can have hope and optimism; some sense of humanity that makes sense to us in this story, while still remaining as bleak as ever. Carl realizing he loves and needs his father and Michonne realizing she desperately needs to be part of a community or family are relatable but nothing else about their surroundings have changed. You tell several episodes like that in a row, and you’re building a real world with real characters, something the show has largely failed to do.
With last night’s episode, that trend continued, although it’s a far less focused episode than last week’s. That’s probably to be expected, since we checked in with every single character left alive and we saw that they all more or less came to the same conclusion: It’s worth it to go on. No one knows why, or where they’re going, but every character was posed the question of whether or not they could continue, and every one of them answered with a “yes.” That’s how you do hope in a hopeless landscape. The only question that should follow after that yes is “What now, then?” This is the make-or-break moment for the show, as far as we’re concerned. It looks like there’s some sort of community they’re all heading to and new people to meet. That’s good. We don’t need either of these developments to necessarily be happy ones, but we’ll get bored really quickly if the new folks in the last scene turn out to be another set of garden-variety post-apocalypse psychopaths and we’ll almost certainly check out permanently if the mysterious (and hilariously ominously named) “Terminus” sanctuary turns out to be another death trap for the cast.
Move the characters in a direction, writers. That’s what we’re asking for. It doesn’t have to be a happy one, but we need to see them move. And if you’re going to provide them with conflict, just please don’t make it a rehash of The farm/Woodbury/The prison. We’re more than played out on all the stupidity and eeeeeeevilness. Let’s see these characters work toward something other than a shitty garden, living in prison cells, and surrounded by nothing but a flimsy fence. The longer we’re away from the prison the more we’re astounded by how dumb it all was.
[Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC]
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