This week the least interesting character sacrificed his life to save the second least interesting character, while the most despicable character died in order to bring a new plot device into the show. This thinning of the herd of unlikable, irritating characters on The Walking Dead is welcome, and is another sign that the third season is the best so far.
It wins that accolade almost by default. The short first season started strong before descending into total idiocy; the second season was a tedious slog that should have been completed in two hours. This year, though, the zombie action keeps coming and, even if the characters still suck and there is still a lack of credible drama, at least shit happens. The show is still bad, but now it’s watchably bad.
The death of T-Dog was ordained the moment the show got a new black character, but it was truly set in stone in the opening minutes of this week when he had actual lines, and even a character conflict with dunderheaded group leader Rick. As lame as T-Dog has been so far, his death was strong as he heroically gave his life so that What’s Her Name could continue hanging around in the background of shots in future episodes. If I were to ever be killed in a zombie movie, I’d like my death to be equally as latexed out, with the Savini-esque ripping and stretching of flesh that T-Dog had.
Lori’s death is sweet relief. The character was emblematic of the show’s bad writing; unwilling to make her a true Lady MacBeth, the writers instead made her a shrew. This season they overcorrected the course, making her sulking, moping bore. None of it worked. I don’t know how much of it was the writing and how much of it was actress Sarah Wayne Callies, but Lori was a dead end character. Her passing will lead to the unfortunate side effect of having to spend much of next week dealing with the ‘fallout,’ but in general this is all for the best.
Meanwhile the show seems to have tackled a question I have long had: is Rick a complete incompetent boob or not? This week’s threat to the survivors came from the prisoner that Rick tried to kill in an oh-so-cool way back when they first found the prison. He got his revenge (and made the audience happy), and it was all because of Rick’s shoddy handling of the situation. In fact the only reason Rick is still alive is because his bad decision to exile the other two prisoners didn’t come to fruition.
While reading Robert Kirkman’s comic I always wondered if he realized Rick was a terrible leader. He makes bad decisions, he’s a big jerk all the time and he offers no sense of inspiration to his people. He’s really about the shittiest leader possible. This episode highlights that, and I hope that the rest of the season’s conflict comes from everybody in the group realizing The Governor is a real leader.
Speaking of The Governor: he’s the new Shane. The hotheaded, rapey character of Shane happened to be the only interesting character in the show’s first two seasons. Now the new villain is the only interesting character, and the fact that he’s a villain is annoying. Last episode’s reveal of the floating heads in his secret lair actually irked me, because I’d sort of rather the show be about this guy, just like I always wished the show would be about Shane.
In the meantime, someone needs to pull showrunner Glenn Mazzara aside and introduce him to the idea of comic relief. The show’s relentlessly dour tone is not just a drag, it’s a storytelling problem. Lori’s death should have been the big emotional moment in the episode, but since everything is played extremely grim and griefy it actually took me a moment to realize the C-section would mean her doom. The show is painted all in one color, and so nothing pops. Even when there are lighter moments - like Herschel hopping around on one leg - they’re so obviously set ups for grim turns of events that they have no weight. Oh look, another bad thing happened to another character I don’t much like. I know someone's going to pop into the comments with some hard-earned survivalist thoughts like 'It would be really grim in this situation,' but who the hell cares what it would be really like? Besides, I've been through enough tough shit to know that people resort to humor - the blackest of humor - in the most trying times.
At the end of last season I was about to quit the show, leaving the reviews to Meredith and Henri. This season has shown me that at the very least the show figured out how to be tolerable. Is it too much to hope that it continues to shed dead weight and figures out how to be truly good?