So I checked the calendar on my Palm Pilot today and WOW The Walking Dead returns for Season 4 on Sunday! How did I not know that? It snuck up on me just like all those times zombies have snuck up on the survivors when they clearly should have seen, heard, and smelled the bastards coming. But in this case, instead contracting some virus that will turn me into a biter, I have to remember what happened in Season 3 and write up some hopes for Season 4. (Hmmm, maybe I'd prefer the zombie virus... J/K I love writing about this show!)
Don't get me wrong, I like The Walking Dead, but the show can be a pretty frustrating watch at times. So here we go, a quick wishlist for Season 4. Hopefully it's not too late for AMC to read this and schedule some reshoots if the episodes that are already filmed don't comply with my requests.
I remember Season 3 being very all over the place, with some great episodes ("This Sorrowful LIfe," "Clear") sandwiched between some real stinkers ("Prey," "Welcome to the Tombs"). Which brings me to my first wish:
BE MORE CONSISTENT
Three seasons in, there two things I'd say when describing the show to people who haven't seen it: 1.) It's about zombies, and 2.) It's wildly inconsistent. It seems like The Walking Dead can't sustain excellence for more than a couple hours, and I tend to have an uneasy feeling going into each new episode. Will it be great, as the series has proved it can be from time to time? Or will it be a deflating disaster, ruining momentum by chasing Andrea around the countryside as she runs between Woodbury and the prison? The Walking Dead isn't under the strain of a full 22-episode network TV season; this is a 16-episode run with a break in the middle. Clearly, The Walking Dead could be one of television's finest dramas if it ironed a few things out, and achieving a consistent level of quality is the first step.
Some of the inconsistency of Season 3 could be attributed to The Walking Dead's fractured storytelling. Half of it took place at the prison, and half of it took place at Woodbury. To which I say....
KEEP THE GROUP TOGETHER
Not only do we want to see the survivors turn zombies into pieces of zombies, we also want to see how they deal with the stress of survival—and more specifically, how dodging flesh-eaters impacts the way they interact with each other. While Andrea's cushy life at Woodbury made for an interesting contrast relative to the struggling prison folk, that's about the only positive thing that came out of her storyline. Removing someone from the group for almost an entire season doesn't add drama to the core of the show, it splits it up, and guess what? The Woodbury side of things wasn't all that compelling. A lot of people hated Andrea for everything she did in Season 3, but the writers deserve a lot of the blame for choosing to separate her and making her act that way. I bet we would have been equally disappointed if any other character had been in Andrea's place.
While the Woodbury story did introduce the Governor as the main threat to Rick and friends, and while that storyline had its moments, is a human threat really what want from The Walking Dead? It's not what *I* want...
MAKE THE WAR HUMANS VS. ZOMBIES, NOT HUMANS VS. HUMANS
There's a Catch-22 with The Walking Dead and its ambition to be a never-ending zombie movie: It can't only feature people running away from zombies (or can it? I'd still watch). So it's tempting for the writers to explore how humans can be the real monsters, and to create a really bad dude who's power hungry in this lawless new world. But the Governor vs. Rick was too black and white and easy. It was them vs. us, their clubhouse through the woods vs. our fort over here. The Governor was a terrible crazy person who kept his zombie daughter in a tiny closet, for crying out loud, yet he spent all his time trying to prove he wasn't crazy when we already knew the truth.
We don't need an outsider to add drama. Because the show will be much more efficient is it can just...
KEEP THE DRAMA WITHIN THE GROUP
The real drama is going to come from in-fighting within the group (miss you, Shane), so let the zombies push the gang into a corner and watch as their different stances on survival bubble to the surface and expose deeper problems. Yes, that already happened in Season 1 and Season 2 thanks to Shane, but how great was it to have a "bad" guy you could root for? That way we all got our man vs. undead fix, and the tension between survivors was always present—as opposed to what happened in Season 3, when we were waiting for a war between two different camps that never happened.
What's more, we need to see some more personality within the group. The Walking Dead has a fairly large cast of characters, yet only a few of them are defined enough to really stand out. So, please, The Walking Dead, I beg of you...
STOP WASTING CHARACTERS
Heading into Season 4, we still don't know much about Carol or Beth, other than one of them needs some manly attention and the other one sings. Both of them are just hanging around waiting to die, and in the meantime they'll taking turns holding Lil' Asskicker. But many of the show's other characters aren't in much better shape. The Walking Dead has always put more emphasis on situations than on the characters who experience them; when the show does try a character-centric approach, it ends up with Rick crying or taking phone calls from ghosts. There's plenty of room for The Walking Dead to define its characters within the throngs of survival stress, and the show needs to figure out how to do so. Remember how much we learned about Carl, Michonne, Rick, and Morgan in the excellent episode "Clear"? More of that kind of development, please. Otherwise all we've got is a group of horror-movie characters biding time until they're eaten. That should be the main difference between The Walking Dead and Generic Zombie Movie, because the medium of television allows more time to make us care about these people before the show turns them into zombie chow. Make us like 'em, and then stand back and watch as we cry our eyes out when a zombie bites their nose off.
There's one character on the show who's perfect for an arc like this, and I have high hopes that his story will really develop this season. So, finally...
MAKE CARL THE BADASS HE DESERVES TO BE
In the past, we've seen glimmers of The Walking Dead taking Carl in a direction we've always anticipated. He's an impressionable kid who's likely to adapt to this world quicker than others because he doesn't know any better. But his roller coaster ride through the show's first three seasons has dipped and looped through lots of parental nuisance ("Stay in the house, Carl!") and brooding brattiness, with only an occasional meaningful trigger pull in between. Now is the time to push his arc hard and let him mature into whatever dark survivalist he's going to be. Actor Chandler Riggs is growing up fast; if The Walking Dead doesn't do this soon, he's going to be TV's wussiest 18-year-old.
And there you have it, folks, a couple of changes I'd like to see The Walking Dead make in Season 4. Follow these easy steps and watch the Teen Choice Awards roll in, AMC!
What's on YOUR wishlist for the show?
AIRED ON 3/30/2014
Season 4 : Episode 16