Almost a year ago, I inaugurated this column by doing a lot of bitching about AMC’s The Walking Dead. I called the zombie gore-fest “the most maddening show on cable” because, well, no serialized drama about a world overrun by the flesh-eating corpses of the undead should ever be as boring as its first one and a half seasons were. At the time, it probably seemed like the ramblings of a disgruntled fanboy. After all, the show was doing monster (ahem) ratings, so what the hell does it matter if it doesn’t measure up to one dork’s artistic standards?
Well, somebody must’ve been reading. Three episodes into its third season, the show has thus far undergone a significant turnaround. The action moves faster. The characters are more likable. Best of all, the frequent, long-winded monologues that often slowed the program down to a decomposed shuffle have been largely replaced by actual, meaningful dialogue.
I’d like to take credit for it, but of course that’d be inaccurate. I wasn’t the only person complaining. If you had perused the Internet 11 months ago, you’d have come across plenty of viewers logging the exact same criticisms on message boards and blogs. If anyone deserves recognition for the improvements, it’s probably Glen Mazzara, who replaced Frank Darabont as show-runner going into the second season and is now fully at the reins.
In truth, The Walking Dead’s rise in quality actually began at the end of last season. At its halfway mark — when I wrote the column — the group of survivors at the center of the show had wasted an ungodly amount of time sitting around on a farm, searching for a missing girl no one even knew existed until she disappeared, and doing much more lip-flapping than zombie decapitating. Things appeared to get slightly more interesting when the girl finally emerged, fully zombified, and ended up getting shot in the head. But then, there were several more episodes of the cast hanging out on the farm, debating the reconstituted moral standards of the post-apocalyptic world without, y’know, actually living it. I said the show needed to start killing off characters, to create a sense that anyone can die any moment. And that’s what happened. Both Shane and Dale — increasingly psychotic and increasingly annoying, respectively — bit the dust. Then the entire farm was overrun by a shambling horde, creating a feeling of desperation and, even more importantly, movement sorely lacking in everything leading up to that.
That left me with cautious enthusiasm going into Season 3. Then, in the cold open of the first episode, Mazarra spoke directly to us — the people who’ve been desperate for the show to live up to its potential — by reintroducing the characters and having them not speak at all. With formerly namby-pamby Rick emerging as a true leader and the recent introductions of sword-wielding badass Michonne and a potentially great villain in the Governor, The Walking Dead is finally starting to run. If they can just find a way to get rid of T-Dog and Lori, we actually have a great show here.
I Need Media is a biweekly media column. Matthew Singer watches everything from PBS documentaries to Community and Showtime’s Gigolos, but mostly he’s just happy Breaking Bad is back. Follow him on Twitter@mpsinger.