(WARNING: Spoilers for The Walking Dead, seasons 2 and 3.)
I feel like my reaction to Season 3 of The Walking Dead can be best summarized by my reaction to the SECOND-to-last episode — as opposed to the finale, which I gather is the one drawing a larger amount of Internet Controversy.
The first fifteen minutes or so of the penultimate episode filled me with rage and despair, both as somebody who consumes and produces works of fiction. It was SO. GODDAMN. STUPID. On every level imaginable. After deducing — correctly! — at the end of the prior episode that the Governor’s offer was a pile of bullshit, Rick suddenly decides the Governor might be on the level (which makes him — yet again — an idiot) and that if he delivers a gift-wrapped Michonne to be tortured to death, he might be able to save everybody (making him utterly contemptible).
This is awful writing on every conceivable level. It does nothing to advance Rick as a character; indeed, it only contributes to the season-long trend where Rick flails stupidly from one half-baked idea to the next. I suspect the writers thought they were showing Rick as conflicted and struggling; they only showed him, and themselves, to be fucking idiots. It alienates the audience from a character who’s already very difficult to give two shits about; this is a Very Bad Thing when that character is the protagonist.
But what does it set up? It gives us a scene where Michonne and Merle connect with each other as human beings — and that was huge. Merle rarely rose above the level of belligerent racist dumb-fuck. Michonne was too often more an interesting idea than an interesting character — when she wasn’t a zombie-slaying badass samurai, all she did (until the final third of the season) was glower and snarl. (Hell, she managed to come off as an unreasonable asshole even when seeing through the false charms of a character the audience pegged as a villain from a mile away; it takes a special kind of tedious jerkass to pull that off.) And yet, Merl and Michonne in a car together, him about to deliver her to the slaughter, produced by far the best character moments for them all season.
And Merle’s Last Stand … my God. That was everything awesome this show is capable of all wrapped up in one tidy little package. It surprised me; I was quite certain Merle was going to get a traitor’s death after revealing himself as the Governor’s mole. It it was goddamn CLEVER. Merle assembling a mini-horde (to the tune of Motorhead, no less) and kiting them into the meet/ambush site, and using the ensuing hail of gunfire as cover to pick off the Governor’s goons one by one … FUCK. YES. I didn’t realize what he was doing until he was doing it, and it was GLORIOUS.
And finally, the Governor’s impromptu revenge, and Darryl having to put down his own brother, nailed that fiction sweet spot of something I didn’t see coming, but looking back, don’t think could have happened any other way.
Now, does a balls-out awesome final third of an episode redeem a first third that was insultingly terrible? NO. Good writers figure out a way to get to the Glittering Plain of Awesome without forcing the audience to trudge through the Reeking Swamps of Suck first. I still definitely hold that first third against the show.
But at the same time, I have to give it credit for giving me something no other show on television could.
As for the third season finale … it was all right. Not very satisfying, and actually kind of annoying in some ways, but all right. Team Rick’s plan of “Lure them into the tombs, then scare the living shit out of them with flash-bangs, alarms, and zombies” was all right, but I was expecting (and would have preferred) something considerably deadlier.
The ultimate defeat of the Woodbury Army coming at the hands of an unhinged Governor makes sense, I guess. The dude’s a murderous control-obsessed wack job, and I would expect a very bad reaction to his half-trained army being too freaked out to go back to the prison. And I suppose it ties in with the season’s unofficial theme of “When your leader is dangerously incompetent, you need to stop letting him lead you or very bad things will happen.” But it really hammered home the fact that he has Script Immunity (which was also on display the prior week, when a writer had to throw a zombie at Merle to keep him from assassinating the asshole) when he was able to gun down over a dozen people armed with automatic weapons without any of them sending so much as a single bullet back at him.
And it’s dramatically unsatisfying. The villain was defeated mostly through his own incompetence. That’s fair, I guess, given all the flaming incompetence Team Rick has to put up with from their fearless leader, but it’s not FUN, dammit. Sure, Sarah Conner could have won when the Terminator’s CPU melted down because his cheap-ass cooling fan had been manufactured by the lowest bidder, but I much prefer the ending where her bravery and ingenuity caused her to win instead of just keeping her alive long enough for her foe to self-destruct.
And the Governor is still alive as a recurring villain, I suppose. After revealing himself as so crazy and stupid that he gunned-down his own army (as opposed to, say, making a few examples of them? waiting for them to calm down a bit?), his script immunity is now the only scary thing about him, so forgive me if I’m not aquiver with anticipation for the rematch.
And Carl (who I actually liked a lot this season) got in a FANTASTIC “I learned it by watching you!” exchange with his dipshit father. Not only did I feel like yes, Carl has VERY DEFINITELY LEARNED that he who hesitates makes his loved ones zombie chow, after the show I realized he was actually far righter than he knew. That kid was taking his sweet fucking time getting rid of his weapon, and Carl didn’t know it but that’s the exact same game his father played to turn the tables on and kill Shane one season ago. (Moral of the story: when somebody you just tried to murder gets the jump on you and orders you to drop your weapon, DROP THAT SHIT LIKE IT’S MADE OF FUCKING LAVA.)
And I appreciated that neither Maggie nor Glenn got ganked, despite having the temerity to have a happy, hopeful moment in the prior episode. (And I don’t know what’s more awesome; Glenn’s method of shopping for an engagement ring, or Maggie accepting it without hesitation despite having to know EXACTLY how he got the thing.)
And I’ll buy moving Woodbury’s kids & senior citizens to the jail rather than the other way around. Yes, Woodbury is a far more pleasant place to live. When a zombie horde like the one that flattened Hershel’s farm shows up, I know which one I’d prefer to defend.
So the finale? Could have been better. But honestly, despite all the places it fucked-up, I’m willing to put it in the “Win” column.
Kind of like “The Walking Dead” in general, come to think of it.