The Boob Tube Review: The Walking Dead Could Learn a Lot From BSG by Alex Snider

The recapper at AV Club pinpointed (one) of the problems with TWD is that each episode only exists within the greater story arc — there are no smaller, episodic storylines. Every obstacle that the characters face is set within the overarching series framework which leaves, with the exception of deaths, the viewer feeling that very little just happened. Not every show needs to have single episode arcs, shows like Mad Men whose defining quality is slow burning, but big concept shows featuring more action, more cliffhangers and more violent death lend themselves particularly well to single episode stories. Think Battlestar Galactica where the main thrust of the series was finding earth after the annihilation of their planet but that also featured one or two episode-long tensions nearly each instalment. There was the search for water, for fuel, the unionization of workers, the abortion episode, their disasterous stint on New Caprica, the election episodes, the prison riot just to name a few. There were, of course, terrible mini-arcs occupying a single episode which introduced whole new character motivations, past stories, enemies and were wholly confusing and out of sync with every other episode in the series — here's looking at you, Black Market and Scar — but all the episode-long stories kept BSG fresh, tense and interesting. Episodes truly shone when there was a satisfying conclusion.

By comparison, we have The Walking Dead, a series that draws out too few plots over too many episodes. Every single decision made is preceded by at least three episodes of waffling (and shouting). The audience is forced to watch every plot development unfold so excruciatingly slow that when something dramatic does happen, it's met with both relief and eye-rolls. Every time there is a non-zombie/human danger, the threat is dispatched within minutes. No baby food? It's cool, we'll just zip over to the mall. Zombie in the well, contaminating the water supply? No worries, we've got another nine wells! Let the more minor tensions (ie non-immediate death tensions) simmer a little, otherwise all that's left is bickering and the show has had enough of that to make it an apocalyptic Everybody Loves Raymond. A show that is so grand in scale needs to have breaks from the final goal (which in TWD is somewhat lacking given that it seems to only be survival – here the show could really learn something from BSG) else it runs the risk of becoming stale and boring.

This episode, the mid-season premiere, falls particularly hard into the stale/boring. There are two reasons to be bummed that an episode is over. Either it was so good that to go for a whole week without it will be pure torture, therefore it must be re-watched ad nauseum because you want it all: terrifying lows, the dizzying highs, the creamy middle. Or just nothing happened and you can't believe that that's it. I think you know which of these categories this episode fell under. The episode was set up well by the cliffhanger in December, with Daryl and Merl being pitted against one another in a fight to the death (no doubt the victor would be facing certain death, as well). As the Governor whipped his constituents into the most bloodthirsty middle-America frenzy seen since Shirley Jackson wrote The Lottery, Andrea pleaded for the most annoying character distinction mercy on behalf of the brothers. She was ineffectual. Luckily (for us and Daryl — ugh Merl), Rick and Maggie showed up in the nick of time to rescue him. I think that we can all agree that it is a small consolation that in the (near) zombie apocalypse future, we'll all still have functioning fog machines. You can take my humanity, my security and shatter my strict no squirrel eating policy, but come Halloween I'll be throwing the spookiest haunted house party the four horsemen have ever seen. It's gonna be EPIC.

During the whole throw down, the Governor wandered through the billowing smoke, not choking and sharp shooting people in the head because he's had all of fifteen minutes to adjust his depth perception, because the Governor gives exactly zero fucks. He'll shoot whoever, whenever! Biter, soon to be biter... Speaking of, was anyone else confused by the guy who got attacked by a biter in Woodbury? It seems outlandish that biters would be able to sneak up on someone, let alone attack when there's so much room for escape. Contrasted with the walkers who were just chewing the scenery while Rick and Glenn and Daryl argued at the road, it seems realistic that after a while, expending energy dispatchign walkers that aren't posing an immediate threat wouldn't be worth the trouble, it seems likely Woodburyians are just that soft now after living in such a quaint town full of antique shoppes. They're not accustomed to zombie attacks and don't know how to gauge the threat level. It's kind of like when city folk go for jogs in the rockies while listening to their iPods and get attacked by cougars? At any rate, those people are freaked out; Andrea's got her work cut out for her as the new resident Jeff Winger-speech giver. And, sadly, Heisenberg was killed (spoiler alert?).

So, some shit went down in Woodbury, the shit that we'd been expecting because the story arc led us there. The Governor is pouting, Andrea is frustratingly refusing to take off her "I love the Governor" glasses, Milton is losing his childlike innocence, the townspeople are becoming disillusioned and the Governor's henchmen's trigger fingers are getting increasingly twitchy. Nothing to see here.

The same business-is-usual is happening with the prison gang, too, right down to Carl's sheriff's hat. Rick is still going a bit loopy which is probably the most sympathetic, normal thing he's ever done. I lose it when I spill food on myself, and that happens about four times a day, so I can really relate to Rick's shrinking capacity for loss. I'd be really happy if his hallucinations led to the group ousting him as leader but I don't think that will happen. He'll probably be redeemed and forgive himself for being an uber-dick to Lori and get back to his brand of distrusting, suspicious, wavering leadership. The reasons this group follows him so closely will forever remain a mystery to me. But maybe I'll be surprised and Rick's refusal to accept newcomers will be his undoing (bets on whether Ben and Allen are killed because they're strangers or because they make the first move?) but in a show that does absolutely nothing that hasn't been built up to for at least four episodes, that doesn't seem likely.

The most interesting things happening on the show are the more human, non-immediate-threat-of-death related. Daryl and Merl's abusive relationship; the accentuated connection between Daryl and Carol; the changed dynamic between Glenn and Maggie. I am excited to see more of Tyrese (I luv u Cutty 4ever) and I fear for Sasha. With her talks to Carl and Beth, Carol has become one of my favourites but I'm worried that when Andrea is killed, she'll get the Andrea/Lori treatment and become The Worst™. For now I'm just going to bask in her compassionate wisdom – two rare traits on TWD. I hope that the writers flesh these plots out and give the show some much needed simmering tension. With more human drama, the payoff for plots that threaten our characters will be much, much greater.

Also: Michonne line count: 0


Previous The Walking Dead recap: A Simmering Glower is Worth a Thousand Words or Not

Next The Walking Dead recap: The Walking Dead Finally Has a Big Bad

Alex Snider loves a slow burning drama. Her website is What Fresh Hell is This and her Twitter handle is @what_freshhell.


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