Our TV Roundtable on character, plot, and politics in Season 3, Episode 11, "I Ain't a Judas"
Since the series returned from its midseason break two weeks ago, I've been our roundtable's resident Walking Dead apologist. As you guys have fired shots at The Walking Dead's lazy writing and slow-moving storyline, I've praised the show's meticulously staged action scenes and contrasted its relatively minor flaws with the major flaws of season two. And last week's episode ended on a terrific note of tension, as the Governor's army unleashed a salvo on our heroes that begged for an immediate response. For the first time in a while, The Walking Dead had ended an episode on a cliffhanger that actually had me hanging, and I couldn't wait to see this week's installment.
And now that I've actually seen it, I've officially come around to your way of thinking.
What happened here? Tonight's "I Ain't a Judas" was a dreary mess that recalled the glacial pace of season two by doing almost nothing to move the show forward. We harped on The Walking Dead's writing plenty last week, so I'll be brief, but Rick is a borderline-unhinged dictator, like he was last week. Everyone is worried about it, like they were last week. Andrea is torn between the Governor and our heroes, like she was last week. Daryl is torn between Merle and our heroes, just like he was last week. The only thing in "I Ain't a Judas" that even resembled forward momentum was the acceptance of Tyreese and his friends into Woodbury, but that's some pretty lean plot development for an hour-long drama -- and we have absolutely no stake in those characters anyway.
The Walking Dead's priorities are fundamentally misplaced. The show can't spare a minute to give Tyreese -- played by the magnetic Chad L. Coleman, who's been utterly wasted in the role -- a scene that hints at any semblance of personality. But it can spare the time to show, with loving detail, the process by which Andrea and Milton disarm and defang a wayward zombie. It's maddening to think about how much better The Walking Dead could be if it was as committed to character development as it is topping its own gory special effects, and I keep hanging in there because this show's problems are so eminently fixable: Kill off the poorly conceived, badly written characters, and introduce new ones that are more interesting from the start. The Walking Dead certainly has the first part down, but it needs to work a lot harder on the second.
I could go on, but to keep this response from turning into a full-on rant, I'll leave you with a question: For all of the characters that The Walking Dead has killed off, is there anybody you really miss? Even Shane, the most interesting of the show's deceased characters, overstayed his welcome, which telegraphed his death a half-dozen episodes before it actually happened. If Lori had been a better character, we would have felt some of the same joy and relief that Rick felt at "seeing" her again last week -- and not just the annoyance we expressed at what we all agreed was an unconvincing plot device. There are characters I would miss on The Walking Dead -- yes, even Rick -- but the more I think about it, the more I'm struck by how little the show's abnormally high body count has actually affected for me.
We are now facing yet another predictable development in the Walking Dead saga: Scott's unhappiness with an episode axiomatically means, of course, that I will like it. I am not embracing "I Ain't a Judas" wholeheartedly, because I can't deny its underlying banality and incoherence, but at least it makes an attempt at character development, and it seems to move the story along incrementally. Hope filled me early, as the monochromatic Carl confronts his father: "You should stop," he says. Rick asks, "Stop what?" Carl responds, "Being the leader." A wrenching thing to watch, but a portent of something excruciating and complicated to come? No, of course not: This moment is left unexploited by the writers, who allow Carl's words to cure his father instantly. This is apparently an extremely convincing kid.
It's not easy to for me to argue against this miracle cure, because last week I suggested that this most recent run of episodes would be more interesting if Rick would actually be allowed to parent in an apocalyptic environment (what, for instance, does a father say to a child after the world has ended? I would like to know), and now we have been promised an episode in which Rick and Carl (and Michonne) are going to be doing some zombie-land bonding. But still, imagine for a minute what a David Chase could do with this father-son relationship, and then despair at the missed possibilities.