Starring Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Sarah Wayne Callies, Steven Yeun, Laurie Holden, Lauren Cohan, Chandler Riggs, Melissa McBride, Scott Wilson, IronE Singleton, Emily Kinney, David Morrissey, Danai Gurira, Michael Rooker
Directed by Various
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
As a longtime fan of Robert Kirkman’s Image comic The Walking Dead (been with it since its first year and still eagerly await every issue each month), this writer finds the AMC television show adaptation to be an occasionally frustrating watch. Sure, it’s an undeniably well-made series, populated with talented folk both in front of and behind the camera. But in choosing to disregard the comic’s narrative choices at times (or simply to flat-out subvert fan expectations), the TV show has elected to make some rather boneheaded choices in attempting to shake up the storylines as they travel from page to screen. And, in the three years since the show has begun, those changes have never rankled more than they did in the past year’s Season 3, now out on Blu-ray and DVD.
Picking up some time after the shocking events which closed out the second season, Season 3 opens with our ragtag team of survivors now under the rule of a now slightly unhinged Rick Grimes (a returning Lincoln, great as always). The group eventually finds shelter in a nearby prison, which has been mostly abandoned (some walkers and a few inmates have stuck around). Even as our heroes clear the prison to make it habitable, tragedy strikes early on – further damaging Rick’s already fragile mental state. His ability to lead his people and keep them safe is called into question, even as a greater threat looms in the distance.
Meanwhile, a second storyline follows Andrea (Holden), who was separated from the group and saved from certain death by a katana-wielding badass named Michonne (Gurira) at the end of the previous season. The two find a safe haven in the form of Woodbury, an idyllic little town closed off from the rest of the zombie-plagued world and presided over by a man known only as The Governor (Morrissey), a charismatic leader with a small group of foot soldiers at his disposal. Woodbury seems perfect, even though Michonne detects an underlying menace in the town and its leader and eventually attempts to strike out on her own once again.
Of course, these two storylines eventually converge – sometimes in exciting ways, sometimes… . The acting and direction are rock solid, as is usual with this show, but the writing is often hit and miss throughout. Some episodes are just brilliant – full of tension, horror, and heart. Others have characters making the most boneheaded of decisions in service to the plot, while nullifying any drama which is inherent in this post-apocalyptic tale of desperate survivors in an increasingly hostile world.
And then, there are the changes made to the source material’s story. Now, this writer isn’t too terribly picky when it comes to following the comic to the line and letter. If the series hadn’t elected to deviate from Kirkman’s book, we might never have had original creations Merle and Daryl Dixon (Rooker and Reedus, both deserving of the considerable fan adoration they receive). Nor would we have had such shocking moments throughout each season (certain characters outliving their funnybook counterparts, while others bite it far in advance of their originally planned exits). This approach keeps the show exciting and fresh for fans of the comic, and I applaud that decision.
However, some of the changes are far from being for the better. For example, the show’s take on Andrea is often infuriating. Kirkman’s Andrea is a great character, a dependable sharpshooter who uses her personal tragedies to drive her to be a loyal and courageous team member. AMC’s Andrea is… not that. Laurie Holden is a damn good actress and arguably a perfect choice to portray the Andrea of the comics. But instead, she’s saddled with a character who’s merely a shadow of her inspiration – a maker of infuriating decisions that serve little purpose but to antagonize both our heroes and us, the viewers.
SPOILER ALERT – SHARK ALARM – LOOK AWAY IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW – I MEAN IT!!!
Andrea’s premature death in the show means that Holden will never get the chance to fully portray the character from the books, while the fans are cheated of witnessing all the great moments the comic character has had (and continues to have, as Andrea is still alive and kicking as of the current issue). Shame.
Another disappointment is the presentation of The Governor. Don’t get me wrong; Morrissey is a fine actor, and his take on the early days of that character is pretty fascinating (if a bit removed from Kirkman’s maniacal douchebag). However, while the comic’s Governor is THE iconic villain in the book (one that Kirkman still struggles to replace from time to time), a man that you absolutely learn to loathe and fear at the same time, the television version is merely… a heavy. A bad guy, sure. One who’s a bit cracked and does some terrible things. But he in no way rises to the villainy of his line art counterpart, always falling shy of the heinous acts the other Governor wouldn’t give a second thought to. Ah, well. Here’s hoping the show has Morrissey cut loose in the upcoming fourth season.
And don’t get me started on some of the season’s poorer eps (including a drama-free time waster involving an adversarial sitdown between Rick and The Governor) or even the season finale – which followed up a damned great penultimate ep with an hour of anticlimactic tedium. Bah!
Still, the show’s problems aside (all of which are hopefully addressed in the upcoming season), “The Walking Dead” is still must-see television for genre fans. It’s a well made, grim, gory drama with enough heart and tragedy to move most any viewer. While it often stumbles, it’s always worth tuning in for the moments when the show strides assuredly. I would hold up several moments from Season 3 against any other critically-acclaimed drama currently on television (just you try not to be moved by Lincoln’s amazing reaction to the loss of a group member early on in the season). In fact, I could go on and on with what the show does get right (Michonne, the evolution of Carl, several characters’ final moments, the unrelentingly grim tone). Suffice it to say that “The Walking Dead” succeeds as appointment television in spite of its flaws.
Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray treatment of Season 3 is on par with its previous releases, sporting a beautiful (if occasionally soft) image and a punchy Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio track. There is also a nice selection of bonus features to be had here, including a set of deleted scenes (most featuring some great character moments that probably should’ve stayed put) and a handful of audio commentaries (on the episodes “Killer Within”, “Say the Word”, “Made to Suffer”, “The Suicide King”, and “This Sorrowful Life”). But the bulk of the extras is a collection of featurettes that focus on various aspects of the show.
These are: “Rising Son,” which takes a look at Carl’s arc from whiny annoyance to hardened badass; “Evil Eye,” an eight-minute piece on The Governor; “Gone, But Not Forgotten,” which focuses on a fallen character; “Heart of a Warrior,” a great featurette on Michonne; “Michonne vs. The Governor,” which takes a peek behind the scenes at one of Season 3’s baddest brawls; “Safety Behind Bars,” a brief bit on the season’s prison location; “Making the Dead,” a great piece on KNB’s brilliant FX contributions to the show; and “Guts and Glory,” which sends off three of Season 3’s biggest casualties. All in all, a pretty solid package.
Ultimately, you likely already know if you’re a fan of this show or not (and given the show’s numbers, you probably are), and as such, you already know whether or not you’re planning on picking this season up. If you do, here’s hoping you enjoy. If you’ve given up on the show at some point, maybe give it a look again sometime soon. Because while “The Walking Dead” can be downright annoying at times, it’s damn good television when it tries to be. Which, in this writer’s opinion, is still often enough.
– Rising Son
– Evil Eye
– Gone, But Not Forgotten
– Heart of a Warrior
– Michonne vs. The Governor
– Safety Behind Bars
– Making The Dead
– Guts and Glory
3 1/2 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5