Monday, March 18, 2013


Forget Vanna White. A job on the writing staff of THE WALKING DEAD must be one of the best gigs in the world, for the money. Only the participants, their paymasters and perhaps the stray fly on the wall knows how much time the present team actually spent designing the ongoing third season of the zombie hit, but we can say, for certain, that a team of the least ambitious writers in the world could have put together this season's entire story arc in less than 5 minutes. TWD's premise sells itself, and once this realization allowed this theoretical team to dispense with trying for anything particularly challenging, complex, or, heaven particularly forbid, original, the rest would simply involve throwing together a bunch of awful, worn-out clichés from soaps and bad movies. They'd have the entire season arc in the can in less time than any one of them spent on the toilet before coming to "work," and the only difficulty, from that point forward, would be concocting the details of the filler needed to stretch the 3 or 4 episodes worth of plot they'd assembled thin enough that it ate up the full 16 episodes. As "Prey," this week's dreary TWD installment, further testifies, this season's story arc gives every impression of being assembled in just that way.

Nearly all of "Prey" is one extended chase scene. Andrea finally decides GINO is a treacherous menace, leaves Woodbury to return to the prison, and GINO pursues. And that's it. After an entire ep devoted to one of the least suspenseful screen chases in recent memory,[1] GINO catches her, brings her back, and we see her strapped to a chair in a torture chamber GINO had designed for Michonne. The end.

I write a lot about the wasted potential of TWD. A group of writers with talent who understood it and had an enthusiasm for it could turn it into an awesome storytelling machine. They'd generate more material at any given brainstorming session than could be used in multiple seasons. Squeezing it all into only 16 episodes would have been impossible, and deciding what to leave out a major challenge (and painful). Instead, we get the soap treatment--a few episodes worth of utterly unambitious, hack-work-level plot stretched to cover the entire season.  Shortly after Glen Mazzara was fired as showrunner, it was reported that his regime had provided such a sparsity of material, particularly in the second half of the season, that the show was running out of things to shoot, and production had to be repeatedly shut down because of it.[2] The last six episodes, which have featured only around a single episode worth of relevant plot, certainly attest to that. For a lot of this time, the TWD team was apparently just shooting anything it could, just to fill time.

Because the writers don't properly plot TWD, they're forced to employ a series of absurd contrivances in order to stretch out what little plot there is. This does an incredible amount of damage. The treatment of Andrea is probably this season's loudest example. She's been stuck in place the whole season. After she and Michonne are taken to Woodbury, Michonne begins to figure out there's something rotten about it and about GINO. She tells Andrea as much, and says they need to leave, but, because the "plot" calls for Andrea to stay in Woodbury, she never shares with Andrea any of the actual evidence she's accumulated, not even when directly asked. So Andrea won't leave. This repeats, then repeats, then repeats again, while both Michonne and the audience are shown something is very wrong with Woodbury. It makes Andrea look terrible. Then, when Andrea starts to realize Michonne was right, it's another holding pattern. Andrea sees GINO's private fish-tank of human heads and the zombified creature he kept on a leash in his closet. She sees GINO put Daryl and Merle in a death match. She's horrified, but she's stuck in Indecision Mode. She learns the extent to which GINO is a lying psychopath, and she's still stuck. In one ep, she starts to kill GINO in his sleep, but can't bring herself to do it--still stuck. In another, she just can't imagine going back to Woodbury after the "peace conference," then does it--still stuck. And so on. While the writers do these things just to drag out their perpetually underplotted story, the effect is that her character has been assassinated far more completely than if they'd just made her an outright villain. A viewer could at least enjoy a good villain. Through this, Andrea became a grown woman in her 40s who, even when it's a matter of life and death for perhaps dozens of people (including all of her living friends), just couldn't get over an utterly inexplicable school-girl crush on a raving, psychotic animal who shows evidence of not a single appealing characteristic. The effect was devastating, and her decision to finally break with him this week comes far too late.

No one is sitting around writing these sorts of things based on any sort of conceptual vision of the characters. Attributing to them these sorts of decisions isn't dictated by any effort at quality storytelling. It's all just a matter of doing whatever it takes to stretch underwritten material.

It's the same reason the prison group completely lost interest in most of their new home almost immediately after moving into it. Their decision to take it was dictated by survival concerns, but those concerns seemed to cease just as soon as they captured the one cell-block. The prison is a large complex, potentially full of useful equipment and material, but they confine themselves to a single suffocating section of it.[3] In addition to a spacious and utilitarian home, the prison also offers a potentially great defensive position. Being a prison, its design would include the ability to lock down each section individually. With a little work, it could be turned into a death-trap for any invading force--a Hittite hive they could use to systematically destroy anyone trying to move through it, while fortifying various areas as hold positions. They could dig escape tunnels leading to the outside, and, for that matter, a network of tunnels and other covert means of moving about the grounds, creating hidden passages, false walls, and so on. No one in the group ever even discusses such things, and, in fact, they've left a huge, gaping hole in the rear of the place for a lot of the season. Not only have they not fixed it, they haven't even shown much interest in it. They learned about it after Tyreese and his group came through it, which is, itself, fairly damning--it means they never even surveyed the prison perimeter, even after the prisoners told them, early in the season, that the fence was down on the other side. This is a hole through which zombies pass, and our heroes simply allow these zombies to roam about most of their home. It's also a hole through which GINO could send a force that would help bury them.[4] The writers intend to use that hole and the zombies it allows in as a plot-point later, so everyone on the show itself just gets stupid for most of the season until that moment comes around.[5]

If TWD's writers were only to be judged as ordinary working guys and gals, I suppose it would be hard to fault them too harshly when it comes to this sort of thing. Times are tough. TWD has a premise that does sell itself, and will continue to do so for at least a while. It's a hell of a lot easier to spend a few minutes constructing, from a bunch of worn-out cliche's, a thin plot to stretch over the entire season than to spend long hours creating something original that would actually fill a season. There's no motive to put the kind of hard work into the project the latter would require--the pay would be exactly the same, and so would the ratings. So ride the gravy-train until people get wise and derail it, and if there is a twinge of shame in being paid so well for so little, salve one's conscious later. When one judges them as creators, though, what they've done is is a disgraceful waste of what could have been the finest project of their respective careers. I suppose the proper judgment lies somewhere in between. Readers will have to decide where.



[1] As usual, I watched the ep with a friend who likes the show, and the clichés were so heavy and so telegraphed that I was able to tell him exactly what was about to happen moments before it, indeed, did happen on four different occasions (but, to be fair, I missed on one).

[2] Unfortunately, this was overshadowed by salacious, tabloid-style "reporting" of rumors about TWD comic creator Robert Kirkman allegedly wanting Mazzara gone. Mazzara himself has cited "creative differences" with AMC as the reason for his departure. If the reporting about production shutdowns is accurate--and, given the last six episodes, that certainly seems to be the case--those "creative differences" could have just been the final straw.

[3] And, in fact, there's no real reason for the group to stay there after Woodbury became a problem. Part of this is further fall-out from the ill-advised decision to begin the current season eight months after the end of the last. The group spent those 8 months on the road, moving from place to place. We weren't shown how hard they had it, but what we can say, unequivocally, is that, at the end of that time, they were all in great shape, and no one had been killed or seriously injured. Their move into the prison was dictated by the idea that it would be a safe-haven, but keeping it has killed a few of them, now, and it has proven a horrible place where they live in filthy, cramped conditions, and now face a war with a madman bent on destroying them. In the comic, the prison was a great place where the group built a community. That's why the Governor wanted it. On tv, it's a dark, zombie-infested shit-hole, and they have absolutely no reason to stay there once GINO--who wants to destroy them in his tv incarnation solely because he's the designated villain--became a problem.

[4] Such a force could enter totally unobserved, because that section of the building isn't watched, and as long as it didn't give away its presence, it would have unlimited time to work its way to our heroes' living area. Once this team was in place and GINO places a larger force in front, our heroes would be Spam in a can--nowhere to run or hide.

[5] A few episodes ago, Glenn was in war mode, and, with Rick out chasing ghosts, was trying to get the rest of the group in action to prepare for an attack. He angrily noted that no one was on watch; subsequently, no one bothered to take a watch. He was trying to come up with a way to deal with that hole in the prison. He and Carl tried to survey the situation from inside, but there were zombies and they abandoned the effort. As Plan B, he was going to check out the hole by driving around the prison from the outside. Maggie, whom he wanted to accompany him, angrily slapped him away so she could lay on her bunk and do nothing at all. He set Carrol and Axel to putting up some barricades; they laughed and joked the whole time they plodded along, doing as little as possible and taking as much time as possible to do it. Hershel gave Glenn a lecture on how his hyped-up state was going to get hm killed. Glenn tried to get them to take their situation seriously, and the entire thing was written as if he was the one being a dick.

ADDENDUM (21 March, 2013) - To continue on that last thought (but somewhat outside the context of that footnote)... In the world of TWD, basic survival concerns should always be on the minds of all of the characters, but the writers act as if they resent this, and such concerns are routinely put into contexts that make them look inappropriate. Glenn, in that ep, was trying to get everyone to prepare for war, and he was presented as if he was being a jerk. Back in season 2, when the search for Sophia had become protracted and was endangering those taking part in it, the idea of possibly calling it off should have been soberly discussed. Instead, the writers put the idea in the mouth of Shane, who they'd turned into a cartoon villain (they made him the mouthpiece for other survivalist concerns as that season continued). Just last week, Rick and GINO had their "peace conference," and there was absolutely no reason for Rick to do anything except kill GINO on first sight. It would have solved all of their problems in an instant. Instead, the writers had Rick do his supine little sit-down with the psycho, and even seriously consider turning over Michonne, while putting the idea of using the encounter to kill GINO in the mouth of Merle, yet another cartoon villain.


  1. Im glad someone else noticed the have no direction for this series, dont most shows plot out events, charecters, and plot seasons in advance. The writers all seem to be hacks. Get some experienced sci-fi writers that know how to take fantasy settings and weave genuine human stories out of them.

  2. Everything else about this show is awesome,
    The special effects are insane. Brutal killings. gore. The scenery and props, even the actors have had shinnimg moments of brilliance but the writting is whats killing this show. Every episode is becoming a wasted opportunity. I usually think your reviews are biased and you enjoy hating ths show but this review pretty much hit every nail on the head. Hopefully season 4 can recover and yeaes from now we can look back and say how seasons 2 & 3 were the goofy "finding your vision" great sci-fi shows have always had