Tuesday, March 19, 2013

It's WALKING DEAD Time Again

One of the most popular of my many articles about THE WALKING DEAD--presently, only a few hits away from becoming the most hit-upon article on this blog--was a piece I wrote about the series' many timeline problems. When it comes to constructing a standard linear narrative in which no exoticism in the use of time is intended, a coherent timeline is one of the most basic elements. As that original article made painfully clear, this is just another of the features of minimally competent storytelling ignored by TWD. "Prey," this week's unfortunate episode, has brought this issue to the fore again.

"Prey" begins in Woodbury, the morning after GINO's meeting with Rick in the previous episode. GINO has his thugs cleaning out an armory, preparing for war. After episode after episode of fence-sitting, Andrea finally decides to break with GINO and return to her former comrades. She slips out of town and hightails it for the prison at a full gallop. TWD has never established exactly how far the prison is from Woodbury, but only a few episodes ago, in "I Ain't A Judas," Andrea walked the distance in a short time while wrangling a zombie. So it ain't far. This week, Andrea leaves Woodbury, presumably fairly early in the day, and heads for the prison at a dead run. In the forest, she has a brief encounter with some of TWD's patented teleporting zombies, and as night starts to fall, has to detour into an old building to give a pursuing GINO the shake.

The "as night starts to fall" part would sort of say it all--she appears to have ran all day, but can't get to a prison that was previously established as a short walking distance--but it gets even worse, because after giving GINO the slip just after nightfall, it takes her the entire night and part of the next day to get to the prison. A large chunk of time, perhaps 20 hours or more, was simply made to disappear from the timeline.

This was a chronic problem in TWD season 2, and old habits, it seems, die hard.

I intended to write about this in my initial article on "Prey," but simply forgot about it. This is something that happens more and more often lately. The series wears on me, and it's hard to pay too much attention to it when its creators themselves pay so little. The other timeline issue with the episode was one I entirely missed. It was brought to my attention by "spectre." Not the terrorist org in Bond pictures, but a long-time comrade in TWD criticism over on the Internet Movie Database's TWD board. He notes that it's suddenly fall on TWD.

In my original article on TWD's timeline problems, written last year, I noted how, after having nearly the whole series set in the summer, the writers had tried, in the last few episodes of season 2, to shoehorn in the coming of winter. The characters started wearing jackets, the weather was colder, fall was definitely in the air. It was impossible to make this match the episode-by-episode timeline. Rick had awakened from his coma at a time when, the 1st season established, daytime temps were in excess of 100 degrees. Less than 3 weeks of storytime passed between then and the point at which the writers started trying to turn things into a deep fall, where the daytime temps made Carl visibly shiver and complain that he was "FREEZING!"

A little over eight months passed between season 2 and season 3. By the time TWD returned, dialogue established that Lori's pregnancy was overdue. If we assume that season 2 ended in October--and given the incompatibility of what was presented, the only reason to assume this is that the writers clearly wanted us to assume this was roughly where it was set at the moment they were writing it--that puts the beginning of season 3 at some point in June. The characters still had most of the summer before them.

The season 3 chronology isn't as tight as the earlier two seasons, but even by the most liberal estimate--say, that provided by the timeline at the Walking Dead Wiki--less than 3 weeks of story time have so far passed in season 3.[1] That would put events, as of this week's episode, in July, the hottest part of summer. Instead, "Prey" is clearly set in the fall, in October or November. Everyone is wearing jackets again, and the fall foliage is readily apparent, and blown over every road we see. Once again, months of time have simply been made to disappear.[2]



[1] And that's a very liberal timeline. It has the events of season 3 taking place over only 19 days (20, including the most recent ep). There are some serious problems with that. For example, the timeline assumes, without basis, that there are three days between the events of "Sick" and the initial encounter between Andrea and Michonne and the Woodbury gang in "Walk With Me"--this is pulled from thin air, and nothing on the show even suggests it. The timeline also assumes a further gap of five days between that and the events of "Killer Within," for a total of 8 days between "Sick" and "Killer Within." The problem, there (other than the fact that, again, nothing in the show even suggests it), is that the latter appears to be happening the day after "Sick." As it opens, the prison group hasn't even cleaned up the bodies of the zombies they'd killed in "Sick" (they're preparing to do so), and they're only just moving their vehicles on to the prison grounds. Did they really just hang around the prison for 8 days amidst reeking, rotting bodies in the heat of June while doing nothing at all? For the Wiki timeline to be accurate, the brainlessly vengeful prisoner Andrew, chased away in "Sick," would have to have survived for over a week outside the protection of the prison. Also in "Killer Within," Michonne inspects the military vehicles GINO captured and discovers the blood of the Guardsmen GINO killed in "Walk With Me," still fresh enough to be wet. That absolutely precludes 5 days having passed since the slaughter of the Guardsmen, and it seems pretty obvious that the later episode was originally meant to occur the day after "Sick," as is the custom on TWD. This conclusion is, however, complicated by a stray line by Oscar--perhaps inserted late in the script process and certainly clumsily--in which he says he and Axel had been hauling out the dead bodies from their cell block "all week." So it doesn't make any sense, but, as usual, the Wiki timeline errs on the side of (indefensible) generosity.

[2] The writers made a plot-point of the prison group's intention to use part of the prison grounds for planting crops. Eric Pallen, a reader who also noticed the radical time jump, notes that the sudden, inexplicable onset of fall means "they missed an entire growing season." Food and fresh water are, in a survival situation, the primary concern. Skipping a growing season is a huge deal, and should have a major impact on what happens as TWD goes forward. It won't.

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