The fundamental problem with setting an ongoing television series in a post-apocalyptic, zombie infested wasteland is that, at some point the show is simply going to reach a plateau of depression, a kind of “Despair Event Horizon” if you will. With the drama and danger ramping up in each episode is there only so long the audience can go without throwing their hands up in the air and saying “I’ve had enough!”? As Season 2 of AMC’s The Walking Dead shambled on it became clearer and clearer that this inevitable destination was where the comic book-based show was barreling towards.
The genius of The Walking Dead Season 3 (airing over here on Channel 5) is that it actually manages to pull the story back from this abyss and the audience along with it, ironically in an affecting twist by having the show’s main character, the rock by which the audience remains grounded, go almost entirely off the rails. Helped by the phenomenal Season 2 finale, 3 kicks into high gear right from the get go, eliminating the procrastinating feel that had dogged the show previously. Our rag tag group of survivors are off the farm and have survived a harsh winter, pushing their survival skills to the limits and forcing them to grow closer as a unit. Rick is still the de facto leader and without the constant challenging from Shane has become a more effective protector, with the help of the ever-loyal stoic fan favourite, Daryl. Carl is no longer a whiny pain in the backside and has been trained by his father to become a 13-year old zombie killing machine and Glenn and Maggie’s adorable romance brings some much needed joy and humanity to the group. Even Carol has become an effective member of the squad, dealing out her fair share of zombie headshots.
Breaking from the rather group-focussed structure of the previous seasons, Season 3 is actually split fairly evenly between Rick’s group who find shelter in an abandoned prison and Andrea, who having survived the storming of the farm is rescued by new character Michonne (a fan favourite from the comic books), a katana wielding badass and expert zombie slayer. The two stumble across an entire village of survivors, known as Woodbury which at first appears to be a safe haven but in true Walking Dead fashion not all is as it seems, especially with the town’s shifty leader known only as “The Governor” and a familiar face that is best left forgotten.
The opening episodes pull no punches, almost immediately killing off a significant character that simultaneously radically changes the group’s dynamic and addresses some of fan’s biggest complaints from Season 2. Rick is slowly losing his mind, as other characters are growing into experienced fighters; bonds are forming as others are eroded and the tension never lets up. The show is dark, no doubt but there is just enough light to keep the audience engaged and not let the show slip into monotony. The characters in Season 3 don’t spend episode after episode going back and forth over decisions, they are decisive, they take action, and the explosive results create some of the most thrilling viewing ever seen on television. The characters are clearly weary from a world in which humanity is dying and their actions reflect the claw of doom that is constantly looming large over them.
Like all good zombie fiction The Walking Dead is a show about the people rather than the zombies and with it’s engaging character development, expert pacing, shocking twists, pulse pounding action and unrelenting atmosphere, Season 3 truly comes into it’s own finally living up to it’s potential, rivalling even the best zombie films.
It all builds to a truly chilling cliffhanger ending that has me and many other fans on tenterhooks until the final half of this season airs in mid-February. Fight the dead. Fear the living. Love The Walking Dead.