Post-Apocalyptic Parenting in 'The Walking Dead'

Our TV Roundtable on Season 3, Episode 10, "Home"

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Goldberg:

Man, wasn't that surprising, when those gunshots fired by the Governor and his henchmen loosed Rick from the clutch of hallucination?

And how surprised were you that Merle and Daryl appeared just in the nick of time to save our beleaguered heroes from certain death?

And how astonished were you to learn that the Governor broke his promise to forgo retaliation for Rick's raid on Woodbury?

And shocking that the harmless, sweet-tempered Axel would lose his life just as Carol, who oozes haplessness, is nearly ready to sleep with him.

The show is at its best when the survivors are on the road, in part because the road holds the promise of a better future--or at least of radical new circumstances.

As the ratings for The Walking Dead keep rising higher and higher, the show becomes more and more predictable. I'm sure Scott will rebut this -- he's far more sympathetic to the predicament TWD's writers have created for themselves than I am -- but I spent most of "Home" trying to understand why I'm finding this recent run of episodes so dreary. Poor character development is one: Glenn, in particular, isn't making much sense to me anymore. Maybe it's just that his dark turn is depressing me; as Scott pointed out last week, he has reasons to be grim. Still, I don't find this grimness convincing. And the Governor has become uninteresting, in the way that monochromatic psychopaths become uninteresting. His perversity is utterly reliable.

I don't mean to go on, so I'll quickly suggest two hoped-for fixes: The first is movement. TWD is much less flaccid when the survivors are on the road, in part because the road holds the promise of a better future -- or at least of radical new circumstances. The second has to do with Rick: The writers had two choices, post-Lori. Derangement was the more obvious choice, and it's the way they went. But I would like to see Rick -- who was built up, over two seasons, to be the most capable hero in all of television -- actually be allowed to adjust to a new, complicated, and dramatically interesting role, as a father in a post-apocalyptic environment. Post-apocalyptic parenting seems like an fascinating subject to me (as well as a great name for a magazine), and I'm waiting for him to meet the challenge. Mainly, I'd like to see our merry band escape, because what I'm not interested in seeing is yet another skirmish between Woodbury and the prison.

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Gould:

Yes, the TV Roundtable -- or at least two-thirds of it -- continues to struggle with The Walking Dead.

At its best, this has been a powerful show that's taken the zombie genre, whose campy take on a primordial kind of horror is now familiar to almost anyone with access to American pop culture, and used it to tell an elaborate story about day-to-day life in a possible human condition that's spiritually accessible to almost no one with cable TV: the end of civilization. But TWD has never succeeded as drama -- or as serial entertainment, anyway -- by realism about the idea of post-apocalyptic life alone. And the genre has always implied more than brain-dead cannibals as culturally recognizable representations of that idea; it's implied dramatic expectations about plot and action. One of the central challenges the writers face is keeping their story and their characters emotionally authentic to the reality of post-apocalyptic catastrophe while keeping the story moving. Which it's not.

Jeff, I like your two suggestions here -- though I'm less sure about the necessity of the first. It may be that the story will pick up when our survivors literally pick up and leave, but those two kinds of pacing can be independent. For now, though, Jeff's right; no one's really going anywhere, and we're going more or less nowhere with them.

The zombie genre has always implied more than the idea of post-apocalyptic life; it's implied dramatic expectations about plot and action.

But I agree entirely about Rick: Let him adapt, or in any event change / be changed in meaningful ways. (For now, I prefer this to Scott's ruthless alternative of killing Rick off.) Writers, heed Goldberg: You have pretty much one shot, max, at the perilous Derangement Option. If you take it, do not try it again. The ringing-phone thing was okay, but Rick's sudden visions of his dead wife in a white dress? This just de-powers the story. A distinct, straightforward "hallucination" feels to viewers like the writer's device it is; and the white dress itself is an annoyingly vague visual cliché. (Or, I mean, maybe if she'd been wearing her wedding dress, that would be weird and possibly interesting; but no, Rick's mind gave her some kind of satiny evening gown, cut low in the back, because ...?)

And I love the idea of post-apocalyptic fatherhood as a theme. Since the end of Season 2, Rick seems mainly to have resigned himself to Carl being forced into premature adulthood. There have been alternative treatments of the theme, meanwhile: Hershel, resiliently, with his daughters and now his adopted son-in-law, Glenn; the Governor, pitiably, with his unparentable zombie child. There have been parallel treatments of related theme, too: the idea of post-apocalyptic leadership. There is Rick, among our survivors; anti-Rick, over in Woodbury; and now Glenn, who is earnestly asserting himself in Rick's psychological absence, as well as Andrea, who last week spontaneously asserted herself in the Governor's physical absence -- with a bad but, by fiat of our writers, somehow effective speech reassuring an doubting group of town extras. Now the Governor is playing her up for it, apparently on the neo-Machiavellian maxim: Keep your friends close, and make your enemies think you're promoting them. Let's see what happens there.

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