Single-character focus exposes character but has slowed down the zombie drama
In practical terms, that’s meant shifting from everyone banded together in a communal (if usually fractious) home environment – seeking strength and safety in numbers – to what amounts to breaking up into condominiums.
Granted, AMC’s zombie hit and ABC’s island-bound drama have some key differences. Both deal with forging societies under harrowing circumstances, but the first is essentially a battle for survival without end, while the latter, imbued with some of those qualities, pivoted on a central mystery that both initially propelled the show and, eventually, consumed it.
Still, with “Dead” characters scattered in every direction – and the producers using this season to delve into individual back stories – the show has taken on a “Lost”-like feel, which has become possible thanks to the inordinate loyalty of its audience and size of its cast.
There are, obviously, logistical advantages to being able to focus on specific actors from week to week – letting some performers have light episodes or completely sit them out.
From a narrative standpoint, it also enhances the audience’s understanding of what motivates them – letting writers drill down into a character like Carl (Chandler Riggs) or Daryl (Norman Reedus) – the key being that the audience feel invested enough so they – that having no Rick (Andrew Lincoln) or Michonne (Danai Gurira) is offset by getting to spend extra time with Daryl or Glenn (Steve Yuen).
For “Walking Dead,” that has mostly worked, thanks to an infusion of strong new actors – including “The Wire” alums Chad L. Coleman and Larry Gilliard Jr. – as well as the fact the series doesn’t scrimp on zombie-gutting action even in these character-driven episodes. (It took zombies, it turns out, to trick vast numbers of men into watching a soap opera.)
That said, the handful of episodes since the midseason break (and beware some spoilers if you’re not caught up) has felt uneven – from the high of Rick trying to escape a house filled with ruthless marauders, a genuine little masterpiece of tension; down to last week’s less successful interlude spent with Daryl and Beth (Emily Kinney). And those followed the pre-prison detour spent with the Governor (David Morrissey), catching up on what had been happening with him.
Admittedly, “Walking Dead” has been building toward something, from the arrival of Michael Cudlitz’s character to the question of what resides at the end of those mysterious train tracks.
Yet after this rather gutsy bit of idling, it’s time to start revving the engines. Because while the show has amassed enough goodwill to take its time in, one would hope things have begun to coalesce around a new direction, at the very least, by the end of this season’s remaining episodes.
Ratings clearly haven’t suffered despite a murderer’s row of competing events, from the Olympics to the Oscars. In this day and age, however, such success merely means having every nuance analyzed to death – and then clubbing the analysis some more, just to ensure it doesn’t rise again.
The compartmentalized experiment has certainly been interesting, and let’s give the producers credit for taking chances – especially with a new showrunner, Scott Gimple, tasked with keeping AMC’s gravy train running. Having played out this thread, though, it would be nice to see “Walking Dead” start getting back on track, as it were – demonstrating that whatever the similarities, all is not “Lost.”