The Walking Dead So Far: A Review.

the walking dead
Fanmade “Walking Dead” Title card by snarkyphilo with permission.

Show: The Walking Dead.
Developed by: Frank Darabont.
Season: 1-5.
Released: October 31, 2010.
Running time: 42-67 min.

The Walking Dead is an ongoing successful American Horror Drama television series from AMC based somewhat off a graphic novel/comic series of the same name by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard about a post-apocalyptic world invested by reanimated corpses and those who are trying to survive in this new world, centering mainly around Rick Grimes in the beginning, a police officer who was shot while on duty and goes into a coma only to reawaken to find the world not how he left it.

This is going to be a long review folks, for convenience sake I will be dividing this review into obvious sections: Technical, Characters, and Story. We have 5 seasons of material to sift through so brace your eyeballs!

The Technical

Season one did a good job with special effects, setting up this corner of the world that is pretty much shot to hell quite believably, with Atlanta in particular a well rendered city that’s essentially as pulverized by cavorting corpses and napalm as one can get.

Season 2, there was less special effect as, most likely due to the hacked budget by the powers that be during that time; there was less grand show of eye candy destruction and gory mayhem. Some of the undead were still relatively decent costume-wise, though there was the odd ridiculous one that kind of makes you roll your eyes a bit, such as the walker in the well who had been in the water a little too long, and reeked of trying a little too hard to give the cast and plot something to do.

In Season three, things pick up again with better scenes involving more shambling corpses investing abandoned sites of civilization, getting the cast out and about with the scenery and the refuse of a bygone modern society. The introduction of the prison for the first time in the series provided an interesting contrast of overbearing gloomy grey confinement, into a dubious haven of stark safety that also had zombies shambling amok around the whole area. This was the best of the stationary settings so far, giving room for possibilities action-wise, and its very nature as a prison contrasted with its new status as a safe haven drama wise, particularly later in season 4. a setting should both engage the plot, the characters, and the emotion.

Season 4 we have larger light shows with creative uses of the mise-en-scene with the cars and corpses as well as more explosions to delight that little pyro in a lot of us without going overboard, though the head smashing has become so common by this point it’s lost some of its visual impact.

Season 5 had some of the better rendered scenery for creepiness and gore. The sanctuary known as Terminous, with the butchered human bodies hanging from meat hooks and the almost church-like setting of one particular room against a backdrop of this deceptively wholesome meet and greet was perhaps one of the most deliciously macabre scenes of the show thus far. This setting provided the tension for this sequence brilliantly well, and was able to convey the motivations of Terminous without outright having to say what they were in the beginning.

Sound was better utilized this season, upping the sense of the perilous nature of the environment (using the sound of cicadas as the group stumbles through the hot sun, low on water) and the heightening of tension such as the different sounds of Walkers, animals, and other humans in forest settings.

Seasons 3-5 had the best of the cinematography, the camera work providing great point of view shots and framing shots that enhanced the suspense, drama, and tension, As well as good overhead shots that were particularly effective during a scene in Season 5 Episode 5 “Self Help” when the group at one point are confronted by the sheer massive size of the wall of zombies between them and Washington. The camera pulled back into this overhead shot that gave the viewers a scope of the numbers, and its then that it really hits home just how screwed the world and the people left in it have become.

The Characters

The characters in this show is where it both some of its greatest aspects and its greatest faults. Because of the sheer number of characters that have been on this show, I will use a sampling to explain the good and the bad about overall characterization on this show.

Protagonists:

Rick Grimes played by Andrew Lincoln (This Life, Love Actually, Teachers) as the main lead character, was for the most part in the first two seasons, the standard cut and dry hero-leader that you find with shows, nothing made him stand out as anything worthwhile for a focus character, but then after season 2, and throughout the rest of the seasons, he is challenged as a person who used to have a definite sense of right and wrong, suddenly finding himself with his moral compass made increasingly off kilter as the new world wares away the niceties of common morality. You see him struggle with his sense of Self vrs. Survival, being a leader and a family man trying to get his children and his group through it all. You see his internal and external struggles and you see what he loses and what he becomes, shaped and defined through the various situations he undergoes without magically forgetting the lessons he learns as some characters do on other shows (Falling Skies for example) making him a believable character to focus on.

His son, Carl Grimes played by Chandler Riggs (Get Low, The Wronged Man) is another interesting character, starting off as your classic mildly annoying child character that is tossed into the show for the sake of variety and plot convention. Many child characters have a reputation for not being well liked by fan bases, and you can see that he is likely going down that route at first. In Season 2 however, arguably the best part about season 2, Carl goes through some major character development, and you see him mature into the situation beautifully as a real badass.

In later seasons, you get a real sense of his development in contrast when he is placed around other children and adults (particularly in season 5) and the fact that he is vastly changed and jaded, in no way a naïve innocent, even a little creepy at times between season 2-4, is made all the more stark, though they pull later on thankfully before it became a little to creepy (said creepy child/budding sociopath archetype exorcised through another child character). He has become one of the better loved child characters for his more realistic portrayal of a child growing in a world of intense survival situations.

The best character award for this show though would have to be Carol Peletier played by Melissa McBride who unsurprisingly won multiple awards and nominations for her role as well as critical acclaim. In the beginning of the series, she was nothing much of note at first, a victim character that had a douchebag of a husband and a little girl. In season 2, she developed a bit more as most of the plot hinged on finding her lost daughter to give the show something to do, taking Carol out of the role of mother for a change, giving her a bit of leg room to begin to develop. During that time, the dynamic between her and Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), an ill-tempered red neck survivalist stereotype who also develops out of his archetype through the show. Through this interaction, when Daryl becomes the main character to search for Sophia, they bond over the consequences of the Sophia story arc through her resignation to her grief and Daryl his grief of failure, both developing throughout the show one of the best developed friendships on television.

The biggest developments for Carol though start during and after season 3. You see Carol develop from a victimized wife stereotype into someone who goes through loss and comes out the other end stronger for it, and eventually a rather ruthless bad-ass treading a unique line without tipping over completely into villain ruthlessness. She does retain a core of care for her fellows, though you get this fascinating erosion as time goes on, able to make the harder decisions for the group that even Rick isn’t able to face, and usually one of the first to do what is necessary. She definitely obliterated the last of the prevalent sexism that existed on the show, particularly after the disappointment of the Andrea character who’d shown some earlier promise.

Speaking of Andrea, that leads us into the weaker half of our protagonist category.

Andrea (no last name) played by Laurie Holden (The X-Files, The Mist, The Majestic, The Shield, Chicago Fire) held the most promise in the beginning as a strong character. She goes through the standard character developing loss with her sister in season one, has a strong engaging personality, and good dynamic with many of the characters on the show. In season 2 in particular, she shows an aptitude with shooting, being the first of the female cast to step out of (or because of) the shows blatant sexism of the first season. Her best episode in particular was season 2 episode 10 “18 Miles Out” providing a very sobering and realistic view on the notion of suicide, particularly after her own experience form season one.

The unfortunatness of the character comes in season 3 when Andrea betrays her friendships, independence, and overall likable personality traits for a man she barely knows. This was a disservice for her character and dropped her believability as a strong female character at that point when they tossed all that character development out the window.

That leads us to the weakest character that ever graced the show, Lorrie Grimes played by Sara Wayne Callies (Prison Break). Lori Grimes, Rick’s wife lasted part way into season 3 with reappearances as a hallucination of Rick’s after her death upon occasion. Lori was supposed to be the emotional core of the show, from what is understood from how others describe the character from the comics, though unfortunately it didn’t translate over onto the show well.

Season 1 Lori started a relationship with Shane (Jon Bernthal) best friend of her husband, which is understandable since she thought her husband was dead and Shane took care of her (not exactly the epitome of survivability herself) providing emotional support for both herself and her son as a father figure. That is all well and god, but when her husband turns up, alive after all, she drops Shane like a hot potato, showing no emotional struggle at all with the quandary of her previous lover and husband in the same camp except to not talk about it. She brushes Shane of, telling the poor guy to leave her and her son alone; the two don’t even have a conversation about it. This makes the character come across as a cold and callous beyoch, there is no better way to put it really. It makes Shane’s rage and later insanity over the issue understandable, though he perhaps should have directed it more towards Lori then Rick (though he was a bit of a dick towards Shane to).

In season 2, Lori is downright insufferable! She becomes the figure head of sexism during the show, almost a misogynist character during this one scene between Lori and Andrea where she berates her for handling a gun and being on watch instead of helping out with the more practical things like chores, and leave it to the men. In another scene she takes a car and drives off getting in an accident in the process for the stupidest of reasons, taking away from any sort of dramatic impact that the particular episode was struggling fruitlessly to provide. By the end of season two she was way to…well, Lori, to be likable. To give the actress credit though, she put her all in what she had, and you can tell the actress has a great deal that could have been brought to the table had she been utilized with a stronger written character.

The Antagonists:

The progression of the antagonists is actually rather well developed in the show, each successive one each season becoming more and more complex and challenging for the protagonists.

Shane was a sort of proto antagonist, more along the lines of a good man turned crazy by the situation, and his jealousy, and Lori. An antagonist with the concerns and failings of someone still stuck in the pre-apocalypse mentality. He wasn’t particularly strong as an antagonist in season 1 and 2 (more season 2), but he provided the necessary layer of character development for Rick and Carl through his dispatch. A decent internal antagonist, though without much depth, but served his purpose somewhat as symbolizing the shucking of the last of petty old world concerns.

The Governor played by David Morrissey from seasons 3 and 4 was the most well rounded of the antagonists. He has that being bad for the sake of it quality that can be annoying at times, but he has a ruthless amoral intelligence combined with the destroyed mentality of a man who has lost everything. There was a time where he actually does try to improve his ways, and his interactions with the Chambler family gave him more depth as a character in season 4. He also worked well as a foil for Rick as a threat factor that echoes Rick’s more ruthless side, particularly as a leader, providing a gauge by which viewers are able to judge Rick by in his own moral grayness during those seasons, particularly season 3, and the thin line that separates one man from becoming the other. The only quibble with his character would have to be the eye patch. Granted he didn’t start out with one, and how he got it was a great scene, but it’s such a villain trope that it makes you groan upon first sight going “really?” though his character did wear one in the comics (no excuse for either mediums though, trope is a trope, particularly tired ones).

Whether strong or weak characters, this show has more strong then the later, and of the strong they are always developing, interesting and investing to watch as the series progresses particularly against the back drop of a great story.

The Story

The narrative of The Walking Dead is very gripping; filled with enough action for the most part to keep a decent attention grabbing clip, yet takes the time to competently utilize its quiet moments for drama. Even season 2, which despite it being the weakest of the seasons story-wise, used the time they had for some needed character development, particularly in Rick, Andrea, Carl, and Daryl’s case.

There is a very realistic emotional core to the story that makes you truly feel for the people and the situations they are in, the most poignant being Caryl and Tyresse’s arc with the 2 sisters Liza and Mika Samuels in season 4 “The Grove” where facing the reality of the world around them versus preserving the deeply held fantasy of children having to always be protected and preserved, usually to the detriment of others. It was one of the most uniquely realistic and emotionally wrenching scenes on the show.

The dirt on their faces, the cracked lips, the dirty cloths and unshaven faces. You see the weariness and the trials and fortunes, both good and bad. There is investment in these people and their stories, because this is a mature story about struggle and survival and the drama and conflict of that which keeps this story going, and that is interesting.

The only problem story wise was season 2, as mentioned earlier, with its budget reduced significantly they were stuck with the ol’ McDonald Had a zombie shtick, though obviously things vastly improves season 3 and up, with better, and more creative utilization of environment and characters.

The habit of characters that are given just enough depth to be interesting before suddenly ganking them becomes somewhat irritating after a while as well. There’s nothing wrong with it, its good dramatic effect and can serve as a progression point in plot and character development, as well as keep viewers on their toes and as evidenced by Game of Thrones viewers like the unpredictability of it, but successive deaths of a particular type of character after a while it makes it can become old hat, losing its dramatic impact, and can even become predictable in turn after a while.

So in conclusion of this rather long review, The Walking Dead had its stumbling blocks in the beginning (the blatant sexism and season 2), but soon progressed and matured into something more with a mostly solid cast of characters portrayed by excellent talents, good visuals and effects (barring season 2), and a gripping use of drama, action and tension that has earned its current reputation as an engrossing favorite among its millions of fans all over. With what I have seen so far, I look forward to the soon to be premiering season 6.

*The Walking Dead season 1 trailer:

The Walking Dead season 6 Comic Con trailer:

*What you Wish Would Happen On the Walking Dead by CollegeHumour:

*The Walking Dead Parody by The Hillywood Show:

*The Walking Dead Cosplay Piano Cover:

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