Or suggestions from a guy who watches a horror movie every day.
1. The death of all current “guest stars”.
One great thing about the comic is that Robert Kirkman isn’t particularly discerning when it comes to killing off characters that are “safe bets” – I wouldn’t be particularly shocked if he just went ahead and killed Rick off at some point. Unfortunately, on TV we have opening credits, so we know who’s safe (for now) and who isn’t long for this world (everyone who doesn’t get a nice picture of their character next to the actor’s name). Plus it’s just too crowded. You have a great actor like Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale) around and he had almost nothing to do until the final episode of the season, in a scene that was built around his supposed relationship with Andrea (Laurie Holden) – this would have carried a lot more weight if we had ever really gotten to see the two of them together in anything besides big crowd scenes. The sooner they trim all this fat, the sooner we can get into both stronger development for our main characters and the idea that they are in any real danger. And considering the lack of action in the S1 finale, having a S2 premiere with 3-4 big deaths (T-Dog, Carol, maybe even Daryl, etc) would be a nice ‘apology’.
2. Fewer zombies.
Hear me out. Unlike werewolf or slashers, zombies tend to congregate and attack in numbers. Thus, with CGI and such, the approach to modern zombie filmmaking seems to be always trying to top the last guy with how many zombies we see on-screen. But I actually prefer smaller scenes with just one or two zombies. Look at Night of the Living Dead – does anyone really remember any of the zombies besides Johnny who are swarming the house at the end? No – they remember the cemetery zombie, who was alone and chasing our heroine with even odds. One of my favorite scenes in Dawn of the Dead is when Flyboy is stuck in that boiler room with a single zombie “chasing” him – that stuff is a lot scarier than seeing Rick inside a tank with a hundred undead trying to get at him. Trap someone in an enclosed space with just one or two zombies, and you have the type of nail-biting scene that the show often lacked.
3. More flashbacks.
The really successful bit in “TS-19” was the flashback to Shane at the hospital. Not only was it a terrific reveal (learning how much effort he put into trying to save Rick, and also why he thought he was dead), but we got to see some of the chaos from the initial outbreak that most zombie fare (and the comic) often lacks. I’ve seen enough of the “the world is over and we have to survive” stuff over the years – but I’m always up for glimpses into the chaotic “What the fuck is going on?” part of the story. It doesn’t have to turn into Lost, but a flashback to kick off every episode might not be a bad thing, detailing story bits, how characters met up, etc.
4. Never let Robert Kirkman write an episode again.
“TS-19” was mostly disappointing because it was an anticlimactic finale– if it was a regular episode in the middle of the season it would be OK, or at least easier to accept. “Vatos”, on the other hand, was just as bad, with its Crash-esque “Hey, minorities aren’t all inherently bad people!” message and horrible new character (the guy who was in charge of the gang). And series creator Kirkman was the one behind it! Anyone who has read the comic knows that dialogue isn’t his strong suit – but at least there he’s not forcing talented actors to try to make this stuff sound like something a human being might actually say. His plotting in the book is terrific, and he’s created some great characters, but for a show as dialogue-heavy as this, they need to leave the episode writing to others from now on.
5. More guest stars.
Or, “Bring in Tom Jane!” Jane was supposedly attached as Rick during an earlier incarnation of the show, and while I’ve made peace with Andrew Lincoln, I still wouldn’t mind seeing Jane pop up for an episode or two. Or other recognizable folks. This is a hugely successful show on a fairly prestigious network, and spearheaded by a two-time Oscar nominee – it shouldn’t be hard to attract top talent for guest appearances. As our characters are constantly on the move, having them run into people is as much of a given as the fact that they won’t be around for long. Having someone like Jane or William Sadler (another Darabont regular) pop up would not only be a treat for genre fans, but it would allow them to quickly characterize the person as someone we should pay attention to, as opposed to a generic journeyman TV actor who usually plays characters like “Officer #2” on Law & Order or one of the suspects on CSI. Also, this would help open up the show’s world a bit – I don’t want to start feeling like our 8-9 heroes are the only people left in the world. Again to use Dawn of the Dead as an example – there was the isolation, but there was still a life to the world – the network folks, the cops who were heading to the island, the band of “pirates”, the rednecks in Johnstown who were enjoying the whole thing – we need a bit more of that here I think, especially if the show is going to go for a while. Even Lost had the Others, and they were on a deserted island! Plus, if the show lasts a while, main cast actors are going to want to move on - how great would it be if they could turn an existing guest star like Lennie James (Morgan) or one of those aforementioned theoretical guest stars into a regular to replace them, instead of having to introduce a new character out of nowhere?
6. A dividing of the group.
While I really enjoyed “Wildfire”, the show was at its best when there were two groups – Rick and the others in the city, and the rest of the folks at the camp. There’s a perfectly good reason for Shane and Rick to go their separate ways (something the comic didn’t explore because – spoiler – Shane was already dead by this point), so perhaps they can come to a head and split the group apart for a while. Not another “Rick decides to go into the city on another rescue mission” split, an actual dividing of the core group that lasts throughout the season. Smaller groups are more likely to find themselves in serious danger, and more ground can be covered – one group can settle somewhere (a necessity for a TV show – and the prison is likely being saved for season 3 or 4) while the others get to tackle the adventure portion of the show.
7. Sarah Wayne Callies eating something.
I was quite smitten with Ms. Callies on Prison Break, but here she looks like a goddamn zombie herself half the time. If the world really went to hell this quickly, there should be plenty of free food in the Targets and grocery stores – no reason for her to look so emaciated. If they’re following the comic, she should be feeding for two anyway…
I think if even half of these suggestions were addressed in the next season, the show would have no trouble topping its good but uneven first one. But overall I just want more consistency – it’s kind of hard to convince someone to watch a show if they see something like “Vatos” as their first episode. I’d rather a more consistently entertaining “B+” season than a constant whiplash of “A” and “C” entries. The source material is there in case they ever get stuck, and it has remained consistently compelling throughout its run. Even with some underwhelming story threads (Rick and his stupid broken phone comes to mind), I’ve always been excited to read each new issue, but a couple of stinkers like “TS-19” in a row could turn the show from appointment viewing to “I’ll catch it on DVR later this week”. And for me, “later this week” eventually becomes “some day”; hell, by the time 24 aired its series finale, I had only made it 8-9 episodes into the season. I’d be really bummed if that happened here. Anything that keeps Darabont from making feature films better be worth my goddamn time!