The Walking Dead returns Sunday with a new idea: Humans are dangerous, too
How do you follow up the most surprising winter finale of the TV season?
If you’re AMC’s hit horror show series The Walking Dead, you add the one element missing from much of the program’s run as a bizarre tale about a world overrun by flesh-eating zombies.
You reveal that the people who aren’t zombies can sometimes be the bigger danger.
Fans will remember that last’s year’s spate of seven episodes ended with a shocking moment – the hardy band of survivors at the show’s center realized the farm where they had been staying held a barn filled with zombies, kept there by the owner who hoped to find a cure for his dead loved ones.
But when one of the survivors forced the door open, they had to kill all the “walkers,” as they are called – including Sophia, a young girl who had gotten separated from their group, whom everyone had hoped was alive.
As the season’s six remaining episodes kick off Sunday night, everything has changed for our survivors, left to question farm owner Herschel Greene (did he know Sophia was in the barn while the survivors spent long days looking for her?) and the group’s leader, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), who had insisted they all stay and look for her.
Turns out, the series itself faces a similar turning point.
Including Sunday’s episode, viewers will now see a run of shows entirely crafted by Glen Mazzara, the guy who had the thankless task of taking over as top producer of The Walking Dead when executive producer Frank Darabont (The Green Mile, Shawshank Redemption) was fired.
Some critics have complained that last year’s episodes, which took place mostly on Greene’s farm, were too slow, uneventful and boring. The survivors, who stayed at the farm while looking for Sophia mostly wrung their hands about their fate and marinated in sorrow (however, Grimes found out his wife, who is pregnant, had an affair with his best friend when she thought he was dead.)
In an interview with New York magazine’s Vulture blog, Mazzara wouldn’t say why Darabont was let go, but admitted that the film director didn’t want to film the episode where Grimes' wife reveals her infidelity and wanted storytelling to move slower on the series.
“The audience does get hungry for stuff and audience cannot be too far ahead of the characters,” he said. “Otherwise, they become frustrated…and they feel the characters are stupid or not worth their time.”
Sunday’s episode reveals Mazzara’s differing style, as Grimes and two friends run into two other living people, and quickly realize not everyone on the run from the walkers has the best intentions.
That is a central theme of the graphic novel on which Walking Dead is based, but a notion which doesn’t show up on the TV screen very often. Instead, producers seemed to try distracting the audience with gore and violence – in Sunday’s episode, one person shoves a scythe through a zombie’s head – diverting attention from the fact that these people too often fail to act like folks struggling to stay alive at the world’s end.
The other game fans of the graphic novel and TV show can play: What Will They Show Next From the Comic Book?
Readers of the graphic novel already knew Greene kept zombies in the barn; that’s why the weeks spent leading up to the characters’ discovery of that fact felt so drawn out (Sophia’s appearance was a shocking surprise not featured in the books).
The death of Sophia proved the show’s producers were willing to play with the expectations of fans who know the graphic novel’s story. So now we wonder if the group led by Grimes will leave the farm, as they did in the book.
Will they meet the murderous gang leader The Governor, who embodies all the worst things living men have devolved into? Will they meet Michonne, the sword-wielding woman with a talent for killing walkers? Will they give the show's only black character, T-Dog, more than four or five lines?
The outcome of Grimes’ encounter with the new people gave this fanboy hope that producers might pick up the pace a bit in episodes to come, making all the characters a bit more nuanced and -- dare I say it? – dangerous.
Because there’s really no point in watching a show about mindless zombies, unless producers give you reasons to care about the people still left alive.