How The Walking Dead's Third Season Went Wrong
Laurie Holden and Andrew Lincoln
[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the third season of The Walking Dead as well as the comic books upon which the AMC series is based.]
It's been one week since the dust has settled on The Walking Dead's third season finale and we're still scratching our heads.
The AMC series took a bold and surprising turn in the finale by killing off Andrea (Laurie Holden), a beloved comic book character whose TV persona ended up being a polarizing figure to say the least. Andrea's third-season journey and ultimate demise marked one of the biggest departures from Robert Kirkman's graphic novels to date, which made us re-examine some the writers' others decisions with one question in mind: Did The Walking Dead make a mistake with Season 3?
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After a decidedly slower-paced second season, the first half of Season 3 took off with a head of steam. It took our band of survivors to the infamous comic-book setting of the prison and introduced the katana-wielding fan-favorite character Michonne (Danai Gurira) and the town of Woodbury's sadistic dictator The Governor (David Morrissey). Tensions in the idyllic Woodbury quickly grew and culminated with Michonne stabbing The Governor in the eye after killing his zombie daughter. Things were even more intense back at the prison, where Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and T-Dog (IronE Singleton) died early in the season. As the loss piled up, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) began losing his grip on sanity, which ultimately left the prison group severely outnumbered and weakened. The first eight episodes were unquestionably the show's strongest run since the series began.
But the second half of the season, which presumably was building to the two groups — and more specifically The Governor and Rick — finally coming to blows, was pretty much anything but exciting. Instead, more time was spent preparing for war instead of actual fighting, all of which reeked of the writers delaying the inevitable battle as long as they could. (Did AMC not learn from The Killing's mistake?!) Rick and The Governor didn't even come face-to-face until Episode 13, when they met to discuss a peace treaty. (The Governor didn't even use the secretly taped gun under the table!) By the time the finale rolled around and The Governor and his men bumbled around the prison before quickly fleeing, we were wondering what had happened to the war we were promised.
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We can understand the Dead writers wanting to keep The Governor around — especially considering Morrissey's superb performance, which evolved The Governor from a somewhat-ruthless leader looking out for his people to a completely deranged dictator. (Readers of the comic never saw that progression since The Governor was introduced at the height of his craziness.) The thought of having him out there in the ether, able to attack at any point is interesting, but with Morrissey staying on as a series regular in Season 4, The Governor will once again probably be the big villain next season. Been there, done that.
But what's most frustrating about The Governor escaping unscathed is the effect it had on Andrea, who many viewers grew to hate after she squandered every chance to kill her merciless former flame by foolishly hoping for peace. Instead, she was left to die in the torture room after The Governor stabbed Milton (Dallas Roberts) and turned the soon-to-be-zombie loose on Andrea. (Aside: Learning how to pick up pliers with our perfectly pedicured toes is now on our apocalypse preparedness checklist.) After a lot of exposition about why Andrea ended up with this fate — She saw potential in Woodbury! She wanted everyone to live! — Andrea said goodbye to her dear friend Michonne.
The problem, of course, is we never really got to see why they were friends. The potential to explore more of that relationship and how it evolved is now wasted. Even more, Andrea had great upcoming comic book story lines with Rick (Warning: comic book spoilers coming), with whom she eventually starts a romantic relationship. We had already been cheated out of certain Andrea story lines — including her sexual relationship with Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) and how awesome she is with a sniper rifle — so why not mine what was left?
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All in all, it just seemed like the show sputtered out of creative energy at the end — even to the point that the writers left very little indication of what's to come next. Sure, The Governor is still alive and kicking and several new characters have been upgraded to series regulars next season. And we're a little worried about Rick, who lost a lot of fighters this season. Yes, he gained a slew of new folks from Woodbury, but it's basically all the old folks and the children too young to hold a gun. That means more mouths to feed with fewer people to protect them. And they're apparently going to stay at the prison, that place that's still overrun by zombies and short a few fences and watchtowers. Totally safe, right?
Despite the increasing changes from the comics and the breakneck speed at which the series has burned through story lines this season, Kirkman doesn't regret a moment of it. "There's definitely some improvements to be made on how we did things in Season 3, but I don't necessarily regret anything because it's all part of learning and moving forward and trying to make the best show possible," he tells TVGuide.com, noting that he could change his mind on how he feels about this season five months down the line.
"Knowing what's coming next helps justify a lot of things," he continues. "Moving through the story quickly is something that is essential to this show. You want to keep viewers on their feet. You want to keep telling as much story as possible in each episode and keep the story moving forward at a quick pace. I think that's what the audience wants and that's something that will continue into Season 4. I think we've perfected things a little bit more. The show is a learning process to a certain extent because it's such a different kind of television show."
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That learning process will apparently pay off in Season 4, which will be executive-produced by Scott Gimple, who replaces departing showrunner Glen Mazzara... who replaced original showrunner Frank Darabont. Usually, that much turnover wouldn't instill much confidence for a genre series, but the audience doesn't seem to mind. Walking Dead's Season 3 finale delivered an all-time high of 12.4 million viewers and 8.1 million in the adults-18-to-49 demographic, up 36 percent and 31 percent, respectively, from last season's finale. But the question remains whether, after a lackluster ending to a once-promising season, those droves will return for Season 4.
"I think Season 4 is going to be our best season yet," Kirkman insists. "I think we've finally gotten a handle on how to explore this world in the best way."
We certainly hope so.
The Walking Dead will return for its fourth season in October. Will you be back? Hit the comments with your thoughts on the third season.