Well, thank God that’s over.
The Walking Dead, in its first season, wasn’t a terrible show. It was something far, far more frustrating than that: an okay show that had the potential to be an incredible show. The series premiere was a wonder to behold– beautiful and eerie, humane yet brutal. And every episode since then did nothing but squander the promise of that first installment.
So I was very fucking relieved to hear last week that director Frank Darabont had fired all of his writers. I’m taking it as an acknowledgment on his part that the show hasn’t been everything it could be, as well as a sign that he has some idea of how to fix that. Much as I’ve complained about the show’s big flaws, I don’t think it’s irretrievably fucked up yet. In fact, if the first ten minutes of Sunday night’s finale proved anything, it was that the show can still be fascinating when it wants to be.
In the spirit of optimism, here are five things I’m hoping Darabont and his freelance staff will do for us next season. (Spoilers for the first season of The Walking Dead ahead.)
1. Introduce us to Rick, Shane, and Lori. I mean really introduce us.
Who the hell are these people? Oh sure, we know what they look like and what role they’re supposed to fill: the hero, the anti-hero, the female love interest whose job it is to keep the male leads from getting too bromantic. But as the main characters, shouldn’t they be more than two-dimensional types? There are occasional flashes of more compelling people there, as when we see Shane goofing around with Carl or Rick confessing to Jenner that he’s falling apart. Unfortunately, the show generally abandons these more intimate stories in favor of ones about the men yelling a lot and killing zombies. A couple of smaller, more personal moments could go a long way toward establishing what actually makes these characters tick– and why we should give a damn about them.
2. Bring back Morgan and Duane.
On a similar note, it’s killing me that the only characters I’ve connected with so far– the father-son duo from the pilot– have yet to reappear. I haven’t read the comics, so I don’t know if whether they’re planning a dramatic re-entrance or whether we’re just supposed to assume they’re dead by now. But I, for one, am still dying to find out what happened to them.
3. Do something about the laughably cheesy dialogue.
Sometimes, things that read cool on paper don’t sound cool when spoken aloud. Frankly, I’m not convinced that the obvious, overblown crap spouted by the characters on this show looks so wonderful on the page, either, but I’m willing to give the cast and crew the benefit of the doubt. At any rate, someone in the writers’ room needs to go back to second grade and learn about the art of showing, not telling. The characters on this show explicitly announce the themes of the episode and their motivations, which is hilarious some of the time and boring most of the time. There’s a place for dramatic, utterly stylized speech onscreen– no one talks like the characters from Sports Night, either– but the dialogue on The Walking Dead is both unrealistic and artless.
4. Show us some of the brutality that supposedly resides in the comics.
I haven’t read the books, but the one thing I hear from everyone who has is that they’re brutal. Like horrific, cruel, I-know-you-said-you-like-harsh-BUT-SERIOUSLY-ANGIE-this-is-off-the-rails brutal. The television show doesn’t reflect that at all. We’ve seen some human-on-human violence, but the scene with Lane’s dad on Mad Men was at least as disturbing than anything we’ve seen here. The Walking Dead clearly has aspirations toward being something original and meaningful, but has yet to show us anything we haven’t already seen in a thousand zombie movies or cable shows. Demonstrating a willingness to occasionally take the gloves off and bruise the characters– emotionally or physically– would add a welcome unpredictability to the proceedings, and might even provoke an emotional reaction from the audience, i.e., me.
5. Don’t ever bring up the Vatos again.
Seriously, what the hell was that?