The Walking Dead has been a popular and critical success over its four seasons, with its basic premise that the world as we know it has ended and zombies roam the land. The narrative follows a cop named Rick Grimes who stands with his group of survivors against the surrounding chaos. The choices they make in order to survive is the central device used to drive the plot.
The show had quite a few advantages. First, it had a built-in and loyal audience from the comic book it was based on. Second, high-profile talent like Frank Darabont (writer of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile) and Robert Kirkman (creator of The Walking Dead) were involved in the project from the start. Finally, AMC, bolstered by the success of shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, was able to provide strong funding and a large TV audience.
As a result, the first season was both hugely popular and powerfully captivating. It was one of the rare television achievements where quality and popularity coincided. Sadly the following seasons have seen a decline. The second season was blasted for simply having no story whatsoever. Indeed, the characters spent 90 percent of their screen time debating courses of action but never taking any. The narrative gears never seemed to turn.
Season 3 represented hope for all of the comic’s fans due to the introduction of The Governor, a notorious villain who brought levels of depravity few television shows are willing to tackle. But AMC and the show’s producers blinked. They pumped the brakes on how evil they made The Governor, instead allowing him to be just bad enough to be a typical antagonist. The results and the featured characters who died were predictable. It was an improvement over season 2, but failed to meet the high-paced and well-acted first season.
Season 4, the current season, has fallen even further. It is sadly reminiscent of season 2 except now our group of survivors is trapped in a jail. Worse still, the plots of individual episodes are repetitive. Random characters are introduced and given a backstory, only to be killed halfway through the episode, upon which the main characters shrug their shoulders and move on. Meanwhile, none of the main characters are developed. Rick is still the conflicted cowboy, his son is still the child growing up in horrible conditions, Daryl is still the outlaw, and Glen and Maggie are still the show’s one romance. Nothing has changed for any of them since season 1.
Now, the show represents nothing more than a somewhat amusing intellectual exercise in what the view would do if modern society faltered. For it to continue to succeed critically, they’ve got to get back to examining how these awful circumstances are shaping these great characters.