7 Dec 2012

Screen Time: THE WALKING DEAD - Season 3 Mid-season Review

THE WALKING DEAD: Season 3, Mid-Season Review (Episodes 1-8)
Cast: Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Steven Yuen, Lauren Cohan, Scott Wilson, Chandler Riggs, Danai Gurira, David Morrissey, Michael Rooker

Potential Spoiler warning: Please note that this review briefly mentions events that occur in Season 2 of the show based on the assumption that anyone reading a review on Season 3 will have already been up to date.  There are no major spoilers regarding Season 3 contained in this review.

Stewart R: By this time last year we were all sat around, shaken by what we had seen in episode 7 of the second season of The Walking Dead. Shaken, stunned, yet also hyper-aware that until that point, this incredibly promising zombie-drama show had felt a little bloated and slow in parts, a touch saggy in the middle, just like the sort of undead you might come across at the bottom of a well....

The six episodes that followed in February of this year also rode the descending and then rising rollercoaster to end on an explosive and dramatic high note, several of the cast members not making it through to play for another year and the efforts of the studio to save money, stretching the story and slimmed budget across 13 episodes, all too clear to see. It remains an undeniable success in the face of creative shifts and personnel changes and without it being able to stand the test of such burdens we would never have received a third season.

And how thankful I am for the third season (so far)!! In my earlier review of the season’s debut episode I spoke of the anticipation that the pace of the previous 13 episodes might well act as a basis for this new raft of chapters; the opener was sombre, swift and full of zombie brains scattering amongst the leaf litter of the harsh Georgian Winter and I truly did expect things to steadily calm down as the weeks went by and the group settled into their new, relatively secure surroundings. That is certainly what happens for the most part in Kirkman and Adlard’s comic books, with the inner politics of the group carrying things along for a little while as they tried to forge something of a new life in the grounds of the reclaimed prison. In the televisual adaptation however, the creators have taken a different tack and, I would argue, ended up with possibly the most exciting 8 episodes to grace the screens for many a year.

With the prison safely established as one setting, we’re then introduced to Woodbury, an apparent oasis in the lethal wilderness and outpost defending what remains of the ‘old world’ as Andrea and the mysterious Michonne (Danai Gurira) stumble across its occupants. Led by the enigmatic Governor - David Morrissey in superb villain mode, throwing out the charming southern drawl and shifty looks whenever appropriate - it’s clear early on that something about this ‘perfection’ isn’t quite right. The growing conflict between Andrea and Michonne helps to encapsulate the driving emotion of living in this world; the hope and desire to find sanctuary pitted against the instinct to doubt and remember that humans are never as friendly and trustworthy as they make out. When then compared to Rick’s group, who are now so hardened by their time travelling in the wilds that a safer, doubt/shoot first and analyse things later approach has been adopted, it gives the show as a whole a well-rounded feeling.

With the issue of Shane having been well and truly dealt with in Season 2, the tests for Rick Grimes have certainly not disappeared and Andrew Lincoln gets to flex a little more of his fine acting mettle as the writers throw further brutal tests at the former lawman. Lincoln delivers on every level, maintaining the authority that keeps the group alive and diving into heart-wrenching emotion when called for; the guy also has a middle-distance, shell-shock stare of broken disbelief unlike any other which I thought also deserves mention here. One point to raise about his character perhaps this season is that, due to the split in locales this time around, he hasn’t stood forefront as the protagonist in the same way as he had in the past season and I’m hoping that the focus can fall back on him a little more once the Winter break has come and gone.

That said, Rick’s slight step to the fringe has led this to feel like a proper ensemble production and actors from throughout this fine cast have really found their footing and given it their all. Gurira has brought a brooding, unhinged quality to Michonne and certainly delivered when it has come to dispatching the Walkers (and anyone else stupid enough to test her) with alarming brutal efficiency. When there have been heartstrings to have a little tug at, or moments of genuine concern to be enacted, Lauren Cohan has had an exemplary 8 episodes, stirring the emotions in scenes, both delicate and stomach-churning in nature. It certainly feels to me that Maggie and Glenn’s relationship is now carrying the larger burden of being the love worth saving in this decaying world. Steven Yuen hasn’t had as much to do this season, but he’s hardening Glenn significantly and is rewarded with one of the highlight sequences in episode 7’s 'When The Dead Come Knocking' which shows just how much Glenn has grown from those earlier days of uncertainty and nervousness.

The standout award for change in character has to go to Chandler Riggs though for his remarkable alteration of Carl from annoying little Walker-bait shit to hardass kid with a gun and hat! Thanks to certain plot threads, he’s really been propelled into the limelight in moments that actually have you believing that he could actually survive and survive well in this brave new world. Well done sir!

And so we move onto the criticisms... which it has to be said really are quite negligible. Okay, so some of the newly introduced cast have proved to be a little redundant as was potentially expected and on more than one occasion the Governor’s attempts to steer or block Laurie Holden's Andrea have seemed a little on the clunky side, but that’s about all I can drum up after a good few minutes of thinking on the subject. It just hasn't been the televisual experience where you're inclined to pick at anything or try to find holes.

At the end of the day I have never sat through so many episodes of a TV show and been actually shaking, properly physically vibrating in my seat with nervous tension as the 40 minutes pass by before my eyes. I’ve spoken to other friends who have been similarly absorbed by the show and they have also experienced the same physical reaction. The threat to each and every one of the brilliant cast is constantly there and while some may seem to have a better chance of surviving longer than others the writers still like to remind us that no-one is truly safe. With the future of The Walking Dead seemingly secure for now thanks to terrific viewing figures Stateside and a growing market overseas, the upping of the budget has been clear to see with biters being scattered generously throughout each episode and the gore-o-meter’s needle constantly hitting that high mark. Television is rarely ever this consistent in every aspect, yet The Walking Dead remains the true standout of the listings presently and upon seeing the preview for the second half of the season I’d say that crown isn’t likely to be taken anytime soon! 10/10

1 comment:

Matt Clark said...

I like it how they get a new black character on the show and then have to kill off the existing black character.

Er, actually, no I don't.

A decent, compulsive show, that perhaps veers a little too close to potboiler territory on occasion, and is still plagued by characters doing dumb, nonsensical things that seem designed to fill the thrill quota (and tick the 'As Seen In The Comic' boxes even if it doesn't fit the adapted plot correctly).

They've definitely fixed the pacing issues this season, and it's generally a fun watch but am I alone in thinking it seems better off without Frank Darabont's involvement? I know that's probably sacrilege to some, but I'm just sayin'...