Why It's Too Soon to Give Up on 'The Walking Dead'

The second half of this season shows promise, even though it's not perfect yet.



I have not been shy about voicing my problems with The Walking Dead. As The Atlantic's weekly reviewer for the zombie drama's first and second seasons, my articles have included titles like, "The Walking Dead Still Has an Identity Crisis," "The Walking Dead Lurches On, Unevenly," and "Five Ways to Fix The Walking Dead." Numerous readers have written in to ask why we bother covering the show at all. Some of those readers love the show, and disagree with my complaints. But the majority of emails come from people who have given up on the show altogether, and who want to know why I'm still bothering to write about it.

Despite my frustrations, I'm not ready to give up on The Walking Dead, because its problems are in execution, not in concept. Now as always, the series has terrific production values, a strong central concept, and a long-running comic series to mine for story ideas. The show may suffer from clunky dialogue and rote, repetitive characterization, but every episode is theoretically a chance to turn that around (if an overachieving zombie took out Dale, Carol, and T-Dog, we'd be halfway there already). In light of the second season's failings, there's a question I've taken to asking myself while channel-surfing: If zombies were added to this show, would it make a better zombie series than The Walking Dead? From Mad Men to Parks & Recreation to Downton Abbey, the answer is virtually always yes. Why? Because virtually every show on television features better writing and characterization than The Walking Dead.

The creative team behind The Walking Dead is aware of these complaints. In a candid interview with Vulture last week, showrunner Glen Mazzara addressed The Walking Dead's failings head-on - conceding that the show had been "a little insular" with its cast of characters and has "without a doubt" been moving too slowly. Mazzara's comments are particularly relevant in light of last night's midseason premiere, "Nebraska," which was the first episode fully produced under Mazzara's creative control after the much-publicized departure of former showrunner Frank Darabont. Does a new showrunner make a new The Walking Dead?

Alas, not entirely, though there are hopeful signs that the series is heading in the right direction. "Nebraska" opens immediately after the previous episode, "Pretty Much Dead Already," ended, after Rick and company had dispatched a hoard of penned-in zombies that turned out to include "little girl lost," Sophia. It's clear from "Nebraska" that The Walking Dead was banking on us caring about Sophia's death - a tall order, since she'd had nothing but quiet, unmemorable screen time before her disappearance, and kept our heroes from leaving the farm to do something more interesting after. But if the show's viewers aren't mourning Sophia's death, its characters are, with reactions ranging from striking (Daryl's impotent, barely contained rage) to melodramatic (Carol sobbing and ripping up Cherokee roses, in a none-too-subtle callback to an earlier episode).

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Scott Meslow is entertainment editor at TheWeek.com.

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