Sunday, April 07, 2013

The Walking Dead Season 3 Review

A week ago, the third season of AMC's incredibly popular series, The Walking Dead, came to a close.  The premiere episode picked up months after the second season's finale with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his group constantly on the run from walkers, moving from place to place without any safe haven.  Andrea (Laurie Holden), who was separated from the group when Hershel's (Scott Wilson) farm burned down, is in the hands of the mysterious new character Michonne (Danai Gurira), who's looking out for her while she's ill.

Rick's group stumbles upon a prison and is able to clear it, making it their safe haven with high fences that keep the walkers out.  Michonne and Andrea stumble upon another group of survivors lead by a man who calls himself the Governor (David Morrissey), who captures them and takes them to his fortified town of Woodbury.  While the Governor seems all polite and generous at first, he soon proves to be anything but and becomes the primary antagonist of Rick's group.

The third season of The Walking Dead is the longest one yet, comprising 16 episodes, and I think most will agree that the first half of the season was spectacular.  The inconsistency that plagued Season 2 is gone, and Rick is far tougher and no-nonsense than he's ever been before.  Hardened by the betrayal of Shane (Jon Bernthal), the manipulation of his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), and her pending pregnancy, Rick knows they must find a sanctuary or die, and survival at all costs becomes his only driving force.

The third season starts off desperate, violent, and with the illusion of hope for many.  Set backs and adversity occur, and some tragedies happen, really pushing characters to their limits.  Make no mistake, here, we're watching a very dramatic rendition of the zombie apocalypse, and we finally get to see one of the most entertaining and dangerous aspects of the medium:  the cruelty and savagery of other survivors.

"Fear the living" is one of the primary tag lines for this season, and it shows.  The walkers are most certainly present, but the characters in the show know how to handle them now, and while they respect them and their lethality, they're no longer terrified of them.  The walkers are predictable, they're a known quantity, but what people will do when pushed to the brink or faced with the chance for power, that is the unknown.

Originally Rick's group stumbles across a few inmates in the prison who survived, and things need to be hashed out with them.  At some points it's tense, at others touching, and at others it becomes very desperate and violent, and consequences are had.  Characters who we've been watching from the start of the show die, some in better ways than others, and this has far reaching consequences for all, most notably Rick's son Carl (Chandler Riggs).  Carl begins to truly understand the world he now lives in, and what must be done to survive.  Essentially, though this season, we begin to see Carl finally grow up, but he will become, what he will do with his new found sense of maturity, we'll need to see.

And then the Governor really gets into the mix.  At the end of Season 2, people talked about how we were going to see a Ricktatorship, and while he certainly got tougher, Rick's no dictator.  He is, at his core, a good man, and we still see this throughout.  The Governor though, he has his little fiefdom, his grab for power, and he wants to expand that.  He manipulates, he murders, and he terrorizes those who oppose him, and his character is the best thing to happen to the show period.  He is a man who is not afraid.  He's not afraid of walkers, as he has them captured and turned loose on his enemies.  He's not afraid of responsibility, as he brings to heel anyone who gets in his way.  And most disturbing of all, he believes that he is right.  He's not just a villain for the sake of being one, he's a character who believes that what he is doing is absolutely the correct thing to do in this post-apocalyptic world, and it's that belief that makes him as terrifying as he is charismatic and captivating.

The conflict, the suspense, and the drama really capitalize with the mid-season finale, and then at a point where loyalties are truly put to the test something odd happens when the season picks up again:  The Walking Dead goes back to the inconsistency we had before.  It didn't drop to the extent that Season 2 did, but once again we have characters making very poor choices, odd coincidences, and the overall quality declined.  Don't mistake me, there were still some really great episodes through the second half (I'm looking at you, "Clear."), but it did become a mixed bag, which is a real shame.

By the time last week's finale aired, we got to see some redemption, some tragedy, and good intentions gone awry.  The finale itself was definitely one of the weaker episodes of the season, as we were hyped up for a large conflict that didn't really happen, but the fallout for it was quite shocking, and the implications it means for Season 4 leaves a lot up in the air.  There's lots of possibilities that can happen next season, power's definitely been shifted, and I'm hoping the creative team behind the series takes advantage of that and really ramps things up again.

Overall however, I believe this was the best season the show's seen to date.  It captured the gritty realism I'd expect from a zombie apocalypse:  the desperation of just trying to survive to tomorrow and from trying to carve the illusion of safety out of chaos.  Bet of all, perhaps, is that it's really deviated from the comics now, and the story's gone in a rather different direction.  The TV series is it's own now, and it's wide open and anyone's guess as to how things will play out.

Fans of the show, overall, should be quite pleased with Season 3 and looking forward to Season 4, and new comers should be inspired to check out what they missed in seasons past.

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