Who else thought “TS-19,” the final episode of The Walking Dead Season One, was kind of terrible? I’m not going to complain about it too much, but it was like a preview of an alternate universe where The Walking Dead was on Fox network — a weirdly slick one-off episode where character development takes a backseat to high-concept tomfoolery. The Walking Dead as The Human Target.
Rather than write an entire essay about the myriad problems of this flawed but super-duper-popular TV show I’m going to look to the future: The Walking Dead Season Two, the season where they better get it right lest humanity has another Heroes on its hands. As a genre show in its infancy, there’s always room for improvement. Look at Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which followed a charming but not-so-good first season with a killer second season that revealed to us a Joss Whedon who was finally telling a story on his terms.
Here’s what the show needs to work on to make for a great second season.
Develop Maybe at Least a Few of Your Characters Before You Kill Them Did you know Black Lady’s name without Googling it? Did you know she was apparently in a relationship with T-Dog, one that was only acknowledged in the last 10 minutes of the last episode? I didn’t. I should have.
I know when you’re dealing with a big group like those of the zombie apocalypse survivors it’s hard to develop every single character. But give us something to work with here: some character trait or quirk or little moment to tell us who these people are before a monster eats them. Kirkman worked real hard to give Amy a bit of pathos before killing her off, but it was a case of too little, too late. Characters, not driving force, should be the show’s priority.
That’s the one thing The Walking Dead has over Lost. While viewers of Lost often put too much emphasis on the overarching mystery, writing off pure character development episodes as filler, The Walking Dead is mostly about these characters and how they interact. Survival is their main goal, but it’s not like they’re going to find what they’re looking for (if at all) until the series ends. There are no clues, only character. Use that.
It’s what Kirkman’s comic does best: when he makes the zombies disappear for issues on end, not only do you get to know the characters a bit better, but you get really, really nervous because there AREN’T any zombies around.
And when the zombies finally show up — hoo, boy.
Um, Give T-Dog a Name A REAL name, I mean.
Quit Dicking Around and Serialize the Thing The first season of The Walking Dead was only six episodes, which may seem like too little time to do anything, but for one thing it allows you to craft six really right, really well-constructed episodes. That’s why, among other reasons, shows like Mad Men and The Wire are so great. Given half the episode order of the average season of Law & Order, you not only gotta put a lot into your episodes, but you only get 12 chances to win over your audience, so you better make the best 12 episodes you can. What’s that, you have a six-episode season? Well you gotta work even harder, then.
After an ace pilot episode that signaled a potentially great season, The Walking Dead blew most of its goodwill in Episode 2 with characters that ranged from cartoonish to cipher and some horrendous dialogue and general character stupidity (Glenn driving all the way to camp with the car alarm blaring? Surely nobody’s that dumb) and slowly tried to recover it with decent episodes (“Tell It to the Frogs”), poorly-conceived episodes that somehow ended up pretty good (“Vatos”) and oh, hey — a near-great episode (“Wildfire”) before the aforementioned “TS-19.”
I wouldn’t say there were any “filler” episodes, but even “Vatos,” which I liked, felt like that alternate universe Fox network Walking Dead — “This week the survivors meet a group of urban Hispanics holing up in an old folks home! Next week the survivors come upon an elementary school where the kids rule over the adults!” I don’t think the material — which involves a group of people with no home and corpses eating them — really justifies an episodic structure.
So, serialize it. It worked for Lost, 24 and — more importantly — the Walking Dead comics. Have you read the single issues? Kirkman barely concerns himself with ending issues because he knows not only are people going to blow through them in trade form, but so it can flow seamlessly, too. We’re not READING STORIES, we’re FOLLOWING these characters’ LIVES.
Granted, a TV show you watch every week is different from a series of trade paperbacks, but the Walking Dead comic sold beautifully on its own for a reason. The show is going to be the sort of thing people follow from episode to episode, so reward them instead of attempting to court latecomers. If it’s good enough, they’ll jump in midstream and hang on for dear life.
If You Introduce Michonne, Maybe Downplay the Ninja Shit a Tad Fans of the comic know and quite possibly love Michonne, the zombie apocalypse’s very own Clint-Eastwood-if-he-had-a-katana (seriously). She works fairly well in the comic, especially once Kirkman gets her to open up a little and make her more than a cool idea.
Now, Walking Dead the TV show can’t-not introduce Michonne since (as I understand it) she’s a bit of a fan-favorite and the show is already straying from the comics already. However, a lone figure roaming the wasteland with a ninja sword and a pet zombie will seem oh-so-silly when made a physical reality with actors and props and stuff. So far in the series she’s been unkillable in a series where characters are extra death-prone. It’s fun, but hardly believable in a comic where we’re meant to believe things.
And even then I’d recommend waiting a while before introducing her. Especially since the season ended a season with a talking computer and an exploding building. I think the samurai thing will be the last straw for a lot of viewers. Give us some room to breathe in between ridiculous stuff. You’re not Community.
Keep Shane Around a While He’s not only a good foil to the do-gooder Rick, but unlike Rick, Shane is way more fun to watch. Right now they’re setting up for Shane to be a huge problem for the survivors, which is a shame because their method mostly involves making him seem as unnaturally crazy compared to the survivors when in fact he seems to be reacting fairly sensibly for someone trying to survive a world overrun with zombies.
He’s a good guy, and way more nuanced than the Shane of the comics. Let’s not waste him, huh?
Avoid CG AT ALL COSTS The big CGI explosion at the end “TS-19”? Yes, it was impressive and fairly well-rendered for something made on a TV budget, but a base exploding is not exactly what we signed up for, is it? Apparently the show’s budget is a problem, which it really shouldn’t be because it doesn’t NEED big explosions. This is a show about people trying to survive in the face of ongoing apocalypse, not high concepts and 007-esque command centers.
The Walking Dead should feel real, not artificial and computer generated.