"The Walking Dead" remains the most successful cable drama currently, and ever, on TV. The series continues to add new characters from the comic book, to develop the characters we've followed through the zombie apocalypse for three and a half seasons now, and to be willing to kill off even a major, beloved character every once in a while.
Still, there have been some grumblings …
From complaints that the show is moving character and plot developments along too slowly and showing too much of a certain teenage survivor, to suggestions that characters are making too many foolish choices, and that characters outside the core group are introduced only to be killed off, here are a few trending "TWD" Season 4 criticisms … and why we disagree with most of them.
I don't like episodes that focus on just one or two characters, instead of the group. Why did we need more than one Governor episode in the first half of the season?
Ah yes, "Live Bait" and "Dead Weight," aka the Governor episodes. While it's true that not every character warrants his or her own episode(s), or even significant portions of multiple episodes (raise your hand if you thought Andrea's story dragged on for far too long in Season 3), we'd argue the Governor eps from the first half of Season 4 are examples of "Walking Dead" character development at its very best.
He had become a villain of almost cartoon proportions, but he was also too deliciously evil to simply kill off without wringing every layer of apocalypse-driven crazy out of him beforehand. Hence these installments, which saw the Gov/"Brian" take another shot at building a family he could protect and love, only to realize, straight from the midseason finale's title, he was too far gone.
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The episodes, like Season 3's "Clear" (aka the Morgan episode) and the recent midseason premiere, "After" (aka the Rick and Michonne smile episode), were powerful glimpses into characters we're already invested in. They provided follow-up (in Morgan's case), much-anticipated backstory (on Michonne in "After"), and a deeper portrait of how "the turn" has affected the one person from the core group who's maneuvering walker world without the perspective of having experienced adulthood (aka Carl and his teen angst in "After").
The run-and-gun adventures are great, too, but we need to care about these characters to care about their survival. And the fact that 15.8 million viewers (viewership for last week's episode) are hanging on in Season 4 to learn even more about the humans we've already spent three-and-a-half years with proves those character development episodes continue to resonate.
Speaking of Carl … he's annoying. And remember when he went psycho and killed that Woodbury kid in the Season 3 finale?
Imagine being Carl … all the confusion, angst, need to rebel, and other emotional turmoil of being a teenager, with an ever-present threat to the basic survival of you and your loved ones to deal with. Dude had to shoot the man who had been like a father to him … when he thought his actual father was dead. He had to kill his own mother, to prevent her from reanimating and trying to eat him … immediately after she'd given birth — a very painful, sans-drugs birth — to his sister. He's always hungry, he has precious few creature comforts, and he's alternately been trained to kill and then been told he can't have a weapon.
And all of this was summed up nicely in "After," which saw him make some harsh declarations of independence to his father, while also lighting up when he walked into a teenage haven full of videogames, cool posters, and fresh reading material. He thought he was ready to take on groups of walkers on his own, but sat like a little kid on the roof of a house as he gobbled down a giant can of chocolate pudding.
Despite telling his dad he'd be fine if Rick died, Carl realized just how much he needed Rick when he thought he might have to kill him. It was not only a nice summary of Carl's experience, but a nod to his resilience, and it's a perspective worth examining.
OK, but what about how all the characters keep doing things that are out of character? Tyreese is a very protective guy … why would he have left Lizzie, Mika, and Judith in the woods alone? And Carol killing Karen and David? That doesn't seem like her. And then Rick just casting her out of the group … nah.
Yeah, we see the point about Tyreese. But remember, he was willing to leave the girls on their own because he thought the screams he heard could be other members of the prison group — like, say, his MIA sister — who needed help. Doesn't make it right that he left two little girls and a baby on their own, but you can at least see where he would have been torn.
About Rick kicking Carol out of the prison: he didn't make that decision solely as a punishment for her actions; it was a move designed to protect her, too, from Tyreese, who was out for blood, namely the blood of the person who killed Karen. And about Carol being the killer, well … there are plenty of viewers who've arrived at a different theory — see here, here, and here — that points the finger for Karen and David's deaths at a certain rabbit-slaying, would-be baby-smothering tween.
It's a fact that the characters continue to do stupid things, take risks that could get them killed. But it's a zombie apocalypse. They don't always know, or have the option of doing, the safest thing. They've learned how to navigate the walkers, how to survive, on the fly, and they're going to continue to do stupid things that make us all yell at our TV screens. But if they ever get to the point where they've figured out exactly what to do in every situation, and the dangers of the zombie apocalypse no longer exist, neither will the drama of living in a zombie apocalypse.
We do agree with one major gripe about the fractured group of prison pals: why didn't they ever agree on a rally point, especially since they knew the Governor was still out there, just waiting to pounce?
Uh-huh. About all that danger to characters, it seems like the ones in the most danger are the extras. All those Woodbury transplants, for instance, who were brought in just so they could be killed off by walkers, or by that virus, or in the Governor's attack on the prison.
No argument there — the influx of Woodbury survivors did largely turn out to be sacrificial lambs for the sake of moving several stories forward. However, the show has proven again and again that it's willing to kill off a main character or eight: Shane, Dale, T-Dog, Lori, Merle, Andrea, the Governor, Hershel … and that's just so far. Star Andy Lincoln told us last fall that the final eight episodes of the season include an installment that is "going to be the most controversial episode that we've probably ever been involved in, and that's saying something." Makes us think those rumors of another major death before Season 4 wraps are not to be dismissed as simply rumors.
Creator Robert Kirkman on Season 4:
The show's really just a soap opera with zombies.
So? If you believe that's true, why is that a bad thing? In a current storyline on "The Bold and the Beautiful," Brooke Logan is about to marry Ridge Forrester for the 784th time … you're saying throwing some zombies into that mix wouldn't spice things up? Likewise, throwing some sudsy drama into the zombie apocalypse — Betrayal! Romance! Emotional breakdowns! — has worked for "The Walking Dead." It's those elements that have made the show a richer drama, one that doesn't rely on any one thing, or any one pace, to tell stories.
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Take last week's episode, "Inmates," which was so packed with big reveals (Judith's alive!), character development (Beth, who already attempted suicide, is now barely hanging on to hope), and action that we watched it three times and picked up new things with each viewing. It's a show that consistently blends all those kinds of storytelling, while, more than ever in Season 4, reminding us why we should, and do, care about these complicated characters. If that means you can sum up the show as a soap opera with zombies … yeah. So?
There hasn't been enough Daryl in Season 4.
Yes. We can all agree on that. Which is why we can all look forward to at least one upcoming episode in the final six installments of the season that will be Daryl-centric. Daryl backstory? Daryl romance? Both? Maybe, but there's definitely at least one episode in the six remaining that will feature Norman Reedus's beloved bow-and-arrow-totin' hero front and center.
Now, tell us, Deadheads: Which criticisms do you agree with? Which do you think are right on the money? Do you love the show more in Season 4, or are you getting bored as the series heads towards the Season 4 finale?
"The Walking Dead" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.