The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Television Collision: The Walking Dead Is Treading Water

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer


SPOILER ALERT! If you have yet to see the midseason finale of Season 2 of AMC’s The Walking Dead (which aired on Sunday, Nov. 27th), then don’t read on.

The Walking Dead is a hit show, with the highest ratings out there on basic cable right now, and if there is one thing critics love, it’s tearing into a hit show, trying to make people see how terrible it is and trying to convince them to watch other, better, smaller shows instead, like Fringe or Community or…

Well, this is not one of those posts. I won’t try to convince you that you shouldn’t be watching The Walking Dead, because while I am more than aware there are better things to watch out there – particularly on Sundays *cough* Homeland *cough* – I can’t stop watching The Walking Dead either. But that doesn’t mean I have to love it unabashedly, which is an approach I know many people take towards television anyway. It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be good enough.

The critical consensus of Season 1 of TWD is that it started and ended strong, but it was weak in the middle, where it lost a lot of speed and didn’t really know where to go. And this seems to be the same dynamic that is playing out in Season 2 as well. The season started with momentum – being propelled by the huge explosion at the Center for Disease Control – and tension but then quickly delved into philosophical issues and God rambling that were of little interest to anyone. Don’t get me wrong, I think a show like TWD is the perfect venue to ask some of the questions the show is asking – Does humanity deserve to survive? Why do you go on surviving if there is no hope for things ever getting better? And who decides what is right or wrong when all “order-giving entities” have been destroyed? –, but eventually you have to let your characters find answers to these questions as well. And these answers have to make sense for the characters alone, not the audience. I get the sense that the show is deeply afraid of taking a firm moral stance, because the – switching – showrunners don’t want to risk alienating any members of their numerous viewers.

But any TV show ultimately benefits from the creators taking a stand, whether we agree with it or not. Disagreement can at least spark passionate arguments. The constant wavering of the characters on TWD however inspires little more than frustration and polls asking “Which character should die next?”, with the answers to this question being very varied, because almost all the characters are so annoying right now, you wouldn’t mind seeing them die.

Let’s get into specifics: Lori and Rick had a wonderfully poignant debate when Carl lay dying about whether or not it was worth risking other people’s lives to save him if all they could offer him was the world of horror they lived in right now. Lori was the one arguing that maybe he would be better off dead and Rick was the one desperately trying to cling to some sort of hope. When Lori found out that she is pregnant – with a baby that may or may not be her husband’s – this is exactly the debate that echoed in her head again, but instead of making a choice and standing by the consequences, she dragged poor Glenn into her dilemma, then made a choice by swallowing a bunch of morning after pills, and then reneged on that choice by throwing them up. Whether or not Lori was actually stupid enough to think that swallowing these pills a few weeks into her pregnancy would actually terminate it, is beside the point. Since she had been through the pros and cons of whether or not the world is still worth living in for a child and decided that it was, which is why she agreed to save Carl, she should never have considered abortion, because she had come down on the side Rick was arguing, that life is worth fighting for.

This is not a pro-life argument I am making here. I am a firm believer in a woman’s choice. I am saying it would have made sense for her character development to have her lay her thoughts of abortion to rest when she decided that her son’s life was worth saving and hence life itself was still worth living.

I don’t even want to get into the issues with gender roles I have with TWD. It is bad enough that Lori follows the wishes of her husband whenever he decides to actually share them, but most of the women on TWD are reduced to nothing more than potato peelers and laundry ladies, which is worse than what Mad Men is portraying and at least that show is set fifty years in the past. It doesn’t help me that people keep reassuring me that “in the comics, Andrea is really bad-ass”. I haven’t read the comics and I don’t care what happens in the comics, the show still has to be able to stand on its own two feet and be coherent and compelling in its own medium and message and the Andrea of the TV show is useless, moronic and not at all bad-ass. And when she attempts to be bad-ass, she ends up shooting Daryl, one of their own. The women of TWD are infuriating and more often than not, I find myself wishing they were the ones catching a bullet to the head instead of the Walkers.

The twist reveal in the midseason finale, that Sophia was actually a Walker already trapped in the Walker Barn, did little to alleviate the fact that we have spent weeks with these weepy characters on a farm, looking at fields of grass and nothing else. While they brought up an interesting moral issue here and there, real character development was sparse. Shane moved a little further into “Black Hat territory”, Daryl gained a few more sympathies, and Rick is no longer a Sheriff, but still the driving force behind the entire group, because he tirelessly tries to keep them safe, by compromising any way he can (which can very easily get all of them killed, but he is trying to hold on to the little morality and humanity that is left in the world).
If anything, the Sophia reveal only makes this first half of Season 2 feel like even more of a waste of time. Partly because the logic behind it also doesn’t make any sense.

If Sophia had wandered into the barn to seek shelter, it would be far more likely for any trace of her to be gone, because, you know, Walkers eat people. Given how starved the Walkers in the barn were, I doubt they would have just scratched Sophia and then let her go through two days of fever until she finally turned into a Walker herself. So it is far more likely that Sophia became a Walker outside of the barn and was wrestled in by Hershel and his crew, in which case it is beyond reprehensible that Hershel didn’t tell Rick & Co. about the fact that there is a little girl Walker in the barn. The two defenses I have heard on this front are
1.) that Otis was the one, who usually brought in stray Walkers (as revealed on The Talking Dead feature after the episode aired). But even Otis knew that the group was looking for a little girl, hence he would have mentioned if he brought a girl Walker in, even in the whole chaos surrounding Carl. Even if it had been his dying words. It’s not something you forget if you are as morally righteous as Otis was.
2.) That Hershel didn’t tell them because he knew Rick & Co. think of the Walkers as threats and would have killed them all, including Sophia, when he still believed he could save them eventually. This makes no sense because Hershel’s prime objective was to get Rick & Co. off his land as soon as possible, so the best thing for Hershel to do would have been to lie and tell them that they found Sophia, that she had been infected, they had killed her and hence Rick & Co. can be on their way. (Or he could have told the truth, showed them the barn and Sophia in it and said “Hey, if you leave her here, maybe I will find a cure eventually, In any case, you can leave now, she is dead to you anyway.”)

See, this is my problem with TWD. It builds up tensions and sets up scenarios and twists, but then when things unfold, they never make much sense when you dig anywhere deeper than the surface. The reveal is cool for a second, until you turn your brain on and realize it’s moronic. And while the general devastation and hopelessness of the world of TWD might work for a horror movie of 120 minutes runtime, it is getting awfully hard for a TV show to sustain any kind of momentum beyond the few seconds of “Ooooh, cool!” kicks we get out of the few violent tricks the show can pull. Also, has anyone noticed the abundance of Walkers but the lack of corpses, picked clean by said abundance of Walkers? Where are all these Walkers coming from and where are the remains of all the stuff they must be eating?

You can tell, I have a lot of issues with TWD, but they are not severe enough for me to give up watching, because the show does inhabit a unique space in television, precisely because it is set in a hopeless world and we are unlikely to get any big victory with swooping, glorifying victory speeches afterwards. I am not saying TWD inhabits this space particularly well, but at least it is no longer vacant. If some of the characters could get a firmer grip on where they stand morally, and if preferably not all of them turn out to be such goody two-shoes as Dale is always trying to be, then the show could be as compelling as many of us want it to be. And give the women some guns, for crying out loud!