When The Walking Dead premiered in October of 2010, I had no interest in watching it. I’d seen plenty of zombie films. In the first grade, pretending I wasn’t scared while watching the original Dawn of the Dead at my friend’s birthday party, I felt like I got the gist of the zombie genre. And to be honest, I didn’t think there were really any stories left to cover.
Now, while the stories may no longer be whole-heartedly original, they can still be put together to create a solid film. Danny Boyle did this with his 28 Days Later (and I’ll partially include the non-Boyle-directed sequel 28 Weeks Later, but it doesn’t nearly live up to the predecessor’s standard). And some fun comedies have shown up along the way as well—Shaun of the Dead and Zomebieland (which featured the most-epic of cameos).
But with the first season of TWD, I had no desire to check it out. I ignored the advertisements and after it’s short, six-week run, I forgot it even existed. But sure enough, come fall of 2011, the ads started revving up again. I thought, “Why the hell not? It’s only six episodes.” Flip on Netflix, watch the pilot and … hooked. Wow. That was one hell of a show.
One aspect that grabbed me was the overall look of the show—in particular, the casting. I hate watching dramas on the traditional networks because they all look the same—bland, artificial, actors who look too much like … well, actors. The Walking Dead did the opposite. I felt like I was watching actual human beings dealing in this post-apocalyptic world: Andrew Lincoln playing Rick Grimes (what a great name for a hero), Jon Bernthal as the maybe-antagonist Shane, just to name a couple. Fantastic job of casting.
I also greatly admired that they did not rely on jump scares. If anything has destroyed the horror genre, it is this cheap trick. There is nothing genuinely scary about a face quickly popping up on screen as a cymbal crashes in the background. Intense, perhaps, but not scary. In fact, I believe the first season of TWD played on this now-clichéd trope by building up lots of suspense by using similar shots from recent films imploring the jump scare, only minus the actual jump scare.
On top of all that, there was genuine emotion, great music, beautiful settings, and a plot that races along. I watched the entire six-episode season in about a day and couldn’t wait for the second season premiere—advertised at 90 minutes long. This was going to be great! So fall 2011, the day comes, I’m all pumped, push play on the DVR and … what? Surely there was a mistake. 90 minutes of that?
It was nothing more than watching the characters run around the forest. Then, we have a six-episode arc looking for a girl (with lots of running through the forest), followed by a six-episode arc meticulously debating whether to leave or stay at a farmhouse (I remember Twitter blowing up with “Can we leave this *expletive* farm already!?”). Throw in some soap opera-esque storylines and the mandatory “Ahh! Zombies! Run! Shoot!” scenes and we have the entire second season in one small paragraph.
We all know that showrunner and Hollywood veteran Frank Darabont was fired (or asked to resign) during production of the second season. Prior to that, Darabont himself fired the entire writing staff. He respectfully hasn’t commented on these many personnel adjustments, so we are left to speculate. But those two events clearly indicated trouble was brewing, and the manifestation of which was one stinker of a product.
So maybe it was the musical chairs of writers and producers. Perhaps going from a six-episode season—where writers are forced to propel the story quickly—to a thirteen-episode season was just too much to handle. And to be fair, they had some decent scenes thrown in: the Merle hallucination, Shane and Otis at the school, among a few others.
This leads us to the season three premiere. It’s essentially the season two premiere, but instead of the characters running through the forest, they’re running through a prison. Lots of running. Lots of zombies. Lots of shooting. Nothing else. At least this one was only 60 minutes long.
But I haven’t given up hope yet. The introduction of some interesting characters promises good storylines–I’ve been hearing great things about this Governor. And yes yes yes, every week we hear how this show has broken another record for basic cable viewership–and I believe it is warranted. The show still looks great from a production value standpoint, and the characters still look like actual people. However, the ratings may be more about the current state of television programming than about The Walking Dead being a superior product.
So, as Bill Murray’s only dying regret was “Garfield, maybe,” let’s hope that The Walking Dead’s cast and crew only regret the second season, instead of everything that followed an impressively solid opening.