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'Walking Dead' needs to pick up steam to match past seasons' intensity

When it comes to The Walking Dead, the AMC phenom that lurches into its fourth season tonight , I like my zombies fast and my survivors faster, the living and otherwise on the move. The ratings-chompin' hit — which pulled in 12.3 million viewers during last year's big-body-count finale, a fat number for a cable show — thrives on velocity, on chaos, on aggressively taking lives and chances.

I don't need grisly kills.

But I do need momentum.

Based on Robert Kirkman's graphic novels about a zombie apocalypse, The Walking Dead suffers when it stretches, when it delays; if it weren't for the Sophia Shock of Season 2, they might never have left Hershel's barn. Last season, for all its sinister touches — the Gov's aquarium, the Gov's munchy daughter, the Gov's bye-bye eye — things got too chatty, too navel-gazing at times. The good guys' ominous prison home became metaphoric. Get me out of that place.

Dead can be exhilarating, unforgettable television one episode; turgid, arduous, frustrating the next. I can take only so many tender moments between milquetoast lovers Maggie and Glen. Is it wrong I'm hoping one of them becomes a Lunchable?

Maybe new showrunner Scott Gimple — taking over for the great Glen Mazzara, who took over for the even greater Frank Darabont, the guy who launched the TV series — will speed things up. After all, Gimple penned last season's "Clear" episode (with gone-loco pal Morgan and his zombie traps), which may very well be the series' finest hour.

The last few episodes of Season 3 were jacked on tension, doom and, for the most part, decent payoff. Rick's crew, including quickly maturing, possibly remorseless son Carl, did dutiful battle with power-hungry foes led by the One-Eyed Governor, a psychopath who makes Breaking Bad's Walter White look like Walter Disney. Yes, there were zombies — there are always zombies, at least one clever kill per hour, natch — but the threat, more than ever, was the living. Can't we all just get along? No. Absolutely not.

Antihero Merle Dixon (the intense Michael Rooker) tried to save the day, was zombiefied for his efforts and then was finally, fatally felled by "baby brother" Daryl, the show's stand-out action stud. Polarizing pain in the tuchus Andrea, she of the permanently nice hair and bed-hopping ways, went down with a dramatic gunshot. And in perhaps the show's most heinous act of violence yet, half of Woodbury — the show's closest thing to an idyll — was massacred.

And yet things aren't that much different than when Season 3 started. So now what?

The prison — a.k.a. the West Georgia Correctional Facility — will almost certainly remain a looming, if unstable, presence. Rick's sanity and leadership are still in question. There's much indecision and in-fighting on what to do, where to go next. The Governor is on the loose.

Blah blah blah.

I'm tired of the prison.

I'm tired of Rick's visions.

I'm tired of the Governor still being, like, alive.

I'm tired of waiting for Michonne and Tyreese to become full-fledged butt-kickers — although samurai-sword-wielding Michonne's dispatching of walkers while kidnapped by Merle last season was one of the show's most tremendously rah-rah action sequences.

It's unfair to compare any show, no matter how good, to Breaking Bad. But Vince Gilligan's dark meth fantasy was a brilliantly written character study that, for all its nuances and layers, never failed to drive plot lines like runaway trains.

Tell a story; don't sit on one, especially if it's juicy. That's the lesson Gimple and The Walking Dead need to take. And if you also happen to smoosh a zombie's head in the trunk of car along the way, so much the better.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@tampabay.com. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.

Watching 'Dead'

Season Four of the The Walking Dead premieres at 9 p.m. tonight on AMC.

Recapping 'Dead'

Sean Daly will break down the Walking Dead season premiere on the Feed blog at tampabay.com/blogs/media.

'Walking Dead' needs to pick up steam to match past seasons' intensity 10/08/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 9:46am]
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