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TV Analysis: The Walking Dead – What’s missing?

I’ve wanted to write this article ever since the first episode of season four aired. Out of the many shows I watch, “The Walking Dead” has always been a show that I highly anticipated week after week. I’ve expressed my extreme disappointment with the season three finale, but this isn’t about that anymore. There is something wrong with this show; something missing. I’ve discussed it with many fans and have read many forums to figure out what it is. I wrote two full-pages recently (much more than what my usual articles go for), only to realize that I still hadn’t answered the question – what’s missing?

Sunday night millions of viewers sat down to watch “The Walking Dead,” it has broken records with its ratings and is put into high regard in the pop culture community. I’ve never loved it, as many do, but there have been moments (mostly in season one and first half season three) that the show has left my jaw on the floor and I was thirsty for more. I have no anticipation now, just hope, hope that whatever is broken can be fixed, and (one of) the greatest comic-series that I have personally read can have an adaptation worthy of it.

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SPOILERS FOLLOW

Now I’ll be less dramatic. There was a twist at the end of this week’s episode. Carol, one of the seemingly more innocent characters, has done something immoral. She (supposedly, I guess this could change) took two sick, innocent, people outside and burnt them alive to their death. Wow. Didn’t see that coming.

All in all, I felt the episode was an improvement upon the previous two. The faults still outweigh the merits. There was a good connection with Maggie and Beth – “We don’t get to be upset” – which was particularly touching. Along with the (much needed) characterization of Tyrese. Through his grief we sympathize with him, we connect with him, and it makes it that more sad when something bad happens to him. Hershel’s trip to the woods with Carl was a beautifully done scene. Through his maturity in an apocalypted world, Carl is desensitized, trigger-happy, and Hershel, even in his harshest moments of grief, is responsible, doing what he can with his handicapped limitations.

With all that said, what was wrong with this episode in particular? One thing I’ve noticed that could apply to the current-state of the series is logic. Does this show want to be campy or melancholic? There is an identity crisis. Hershel didn’t need to go in there with the sick people, he could’ve made the tea and stepped in briefly to give them the bucket. He could’ve spoke to the doctor through the door on how to make it. And the fence plot seems to have taken a complete backseat (or been dropped completely). Also, the doctor not knowing to cover his mouth when coughing as Hershel proceeds to smear it all over his face with a dirty rag.

There’s a suspension of disbelief that can be bought into for the duration of the episode. But questions arise afterwards about the characters’ logic. These are narrative flaws, but I don’t feel that’s what’s missing. This show has dropped subplots before and has had characters make dumb decisions. There’s something else.

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There is something really wrong with the character development in this show. We don’t need to know these characters’ life stories. But, I realized that, at this point, I could care less about any of these characters. Audiences connect with characters differently through their life experiences and ability to empathize, I can’t connect with these characters. And after much thought, I think it is because there is a lack of character reflection in the show.

Season one of “The Walking Dead” didn’t have this lack of character reflection. Some complained there was almost too much of it. A character died, the friends, the family reacted. Andrea’s response to the death of her sister was very poignant and gave the audience a sense of the emotional chaos around these characters. Some complained these moments made the show too slow, and that they need more of one thing – zombies.

Season three had a fantastic start, mostly thanks to a good season two finale. Rick was at a breaking point as he drove a blade through the skull of a reckless prisoner, a living person. Even though Rick had hit rock bottom, the story arch threw a curve ball at him with the death of his wife. He went insane, and we saw that insanity, the show aloud us to reflect on his insanity. His wife’s ghost, the telephone, he was losing the one thing he had to always have – control.

The_Walking_Dead_season_4_episode_3We’ve seen some of these characters endure tragedy, but not reflect on it. Darryl endured the tragedy of the loss of his brother. Reedus gave a great performance and we felt his pain in that moment, but how did that change him as a person? From what we’ve seen, it kind of, didn’t. We’ve seen some dramatic reflection with Micchone this season, but we haven’t really got a sense of why she is feeling this way, is it because of the death of Andrea?

I’m sure many people were surprised when Carol admitted to killing those people, it is unlike her character. We have seen very little reflection with Carol, despite watching her husband and only daughter die in earlier seasons. She may have very well hit (or surpassed) the insanity that Rick had, we didn’t see it coming though because we weren’t shown enough of what she was going through, her reflection.

Another problem could be the current conflict. What was the point of Rick’s generosity at the end of Season three? Bringing all this people in, if all they are good for is to be expendable characters. They are there just to die, so the fans of zombie-gore can watch a person be chewed on.

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There’s a repetitive occurrence in the comic series. The characters garner a sense of security, they find a place, they rebuild; a sense of what things use to be clouds their harsh memories. Then they are brought back down to reality suddenly by tragedy; the death of a friend, family member or multiple people. What the comic series is really good at is challenging the already emotionally unstable characters’ will to survive.

While this sickness is a pressing matter, our core characters (with the exception of Glenn and Hershel) aren’t showing much emotion about it. The tragedy in the comics is often sudden, this sickness is a gradual tragedy. It’s tough on the characters’ sense of urgency, but it’s not challenging them emotionally. They’ve been through so much, put them through more. Challenge their will to survive, their faith, their hope. Push them to the breaking point and then reflect on their state-of-being.

So what’s missing from “The Walking Dead”? Some people who still love the show would argue that nothing is missing. I think it is missing character reflection and an emotionally challenging conflict. “The Walking Dead” has such strong potential with a strong cast, large audience, and fantastic source material; it’s difficult to see it fall into a repetitive state.

Once we learn more about what these characters are going through and how they are reflecting upon it, we will empathize with them, we will root for them. Then challenge them with a conflict that surpasses any emotional stress they have endured. The world is gone, loved ones are dying left and right, how much can a human being take? I would love to see this show meet its potential; I’m crossing my fingers each Sunday night, and maybe soon it will.

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