A lot of noise has been made about Glen Mazzara’s oncoming departure as executive producer of The Walking Dead. “Have the bigwigs at AMC lost their feeble little minds?” fans everywhere are asking, “The man singlehandedly saved the show from Frank Darabont’s unwillingness to stick to the budget in the second season and, in the third, corrected many (if perhaps not all) of the major structural issues that have plague the series since the pilot!” All of this is true, but I must confess to being slightly ambivalent on the matter.
Three seasons in, The Walking Dead is already starting to feel like it’s turning in circles. Once again, Deputy Grimes’ reluctant authority is being put into question. Haven’t we gone through this storyline before, like every episode, for thirteen episodes straight last year? Sure, the writers have made sure to up the stakes this time around, hinting at a bloody war with the Woodbury sheep, positioning Tyreese as a potential interim Grand Poobah, and showing Rick clearly losing his marbles. However, the dynamics remain essentially the same. We’ve been there and seen that.
Consider the lengths to which the show runners have gone to turn Glenn into this cycle’s Shane (you knew I was going to shoehorn him in the review somehow), having the Governor threaten Maggie with rape, which always struck me as out of character, for the sole purpose of providing some justification for the Korean delivery boy’s newfound bloodlust. In light of the way women have previously been portrayed on The Walking Dead, I’m a bit put off by the notion of putting a female character through sexual assault just to explore how that affects her male spouse, but I’ll reserve judgment until the subplot gets in full gear.
I, however, cast harsh and immediate judgment on the season’s continuing game of black man musical chair. In “Killer Within”, T-Dog got turned into zombie yum-yum, making room for Oscar, who was then unceremoniously killed in “Made to Suffer”, presumably so that the new African American in town could show off his leadership skills. To be fair, Tyreese shows more personality in “The Suicide King” than the other two token characters combined in every episode prior. Sill, one has to wonder what it is the writers find so scary about two black men sharing a common space.
On the subject of discrimination (whether or not intentional), Merle’s left Woodbury, and it seems The Walking Dead is going to splinter its narrative even further, intercutting between the fallout of Rick’s breakdown, Philip’s transformation into a Bond villain, and the Dixon brothers road show. I understand Daryl wanting to stick with his older sibling and particularly like the way Carol rationalises his decision, linking it with her own experience as an abused wife. I could have done without the extra cheese on her final reflection though: “That man lives by his own code!” Oh, good grief.
Truth be told, the only subplot holding my interest right now pertains, of course, to the cliffhanger, which is to say Rick caving to the pressures of leadership and hallucinating ghosts left and right. Presumably a fan of NBC’s new sitcom Go On (I love it too), his dead wife shows up at the worst possible moment, prompting our exhausted hero to draw his gun and wave it around like a lunatic. As Kevin Smith points out in the shameless cash grab show Talking Dead, this seems an odd reaction at first glance, but it does makes sense in a world where people have to shoot the dead on a daily basis. Also, lest we forget, Lori is evil.
If it seems like I’m spending too much time cracking wise, keep in mind that I’m getting bored. Under Darabont, The Walking Dead gave us riveting characters in situations that, at times, may have been hard to swallow. Under Mazzara, the show’s been delivering solidly constructed drama with characters that, at times, come across a bit flat. “The Suicide King” doesn’t do anything particularly bad or clumsy, but, as I’m generally more interested in characters than in plot, I find myself growing increasingly restless with the series. Perhaps it’s indeed time someone new got a crack at this nut.