Those of you who have been reading my reviews this season know that I have a very tentative relationship with The Walking Dead. It is, perpetually, a show I like but can never quite love, stuck eternally in that frustrating limbo where it always feels like it's just about to get good.
Part of the problem, as I've said before, is that the show still hasn't figured out how to develop its situation (zombie apocalypse) into a story. The characters are not driven by any goal or purpose other than basic survival, so, from week to week, they are either trying not to get eaten, or they're just sitting around enjoying the fact that, for the moment, no one is trying to eat them. There's a reason zombie movies, or slasher films, don't last 14 hours: there simply isn't enough plot to be found in an endless siege story.
(There are times when The Walking Dead reminds me most of the film Open Water, in which a married couple find themselves alone in the ocean surrounded by sharks. It's an admirably simple premise for a horror movie, but even at 90 minutes it more than exhausted the narrative potential of its situation. There's just nowhere to go, and nothing to do: all you have are long periods of bickering boredom, punctuated with occasional shark attacks. After a while, all you're doing is treading water.)
The Walking Dead compounds this problem by insisting on a plodding, incredibly linear form of storytelling. Returning from its mid-season hiatus this week, the show picks up exactly where it left off last November: with the debacle at Hershel's Zombie Petting Zoo, and with Rick standing over Sophia's body. While I understand the desire to deal with the immediate fallout of this devastating event, I can't help but feel this choice was a mistake: if any show could benefit from a little narrative flexibility, it's The Walking Dead. How exciting would it have been to tune in this week and find ourselves somewhere new? To find that several months had passed, and the survivors were somewhere else, and that the events of "Pretty Much Dead Already" had changed dynamics and relationships in ways we'd have to piece together for ourselves as the story unfolded?
But no, instead we find that we've been away for three months, but Rick and the gang are still on the goddamned farm. They are still in the exact same place, still having the same exact same debates they were having during the first half of the season, still treading the same narrative water. The only difference is, we've lost what little narrative momentum we had—the search for Sophia—and so we're right back where we started, only things are a little bit suckier. Rick is questioning his own leadership (yawn), Shane is being a borderline-psychotic pragmatist (still), Lori is being shrill and unreasonable (inevitably), Maggie and Glenn are squabbling about their relationship (always), and Daryl has retreated back into hostile self-reliance (again). It's all just getting a little old. (It would be difficult to underestimate how much I care that Lori crashed her car.) Continue reading