As we put Season 3 of The Walking Dead into the ground, let’s take a moment to remember its predecessor. Season 2 plodded as slowly as a Lori-fed walker. Pick a scene, any scene: Most likely, you’ll be watching bored characters milling about Hershel’s farm, squabbling over barns and missing children and babies of unknown heredity.
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Season 3, on the other hand, ran like the zombies in the trailer for World War Z. And, ironically, that’s attributable to the least terrifying zombies ever, as walkers were demoted from primary threat to occasional complication. The monsters of this season were instead the survivors themselves. The Walking Dead had dipped its toe into “man vs. man” conflicts before, but the third season took the plunge. Unlike other hostile survivor groups, Woodbury posed a threat to the Grimes group that was neither ambiguous, fleeting, or hypothetical. It was an existential threat that knocked, quite literally, on their front door.
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And then Season 3 squandered the opportunity it created. Maybe the source material limited it, but The Walking Dead could have given us the drama of two well-intentioned groups struggling for resources and security. The Woodbury vs. prison fight instead devolved quickly into the standard struggle of “good guys vs. murderous madman,” a conflict that unfolds predictably in every piece of fiction in which it appears: The madman becomes self-defeating. All it took is one not particularly brilliant ruse from the Grimes group to make the Governor snap and kill the very people he needed.
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The Walking Dead has repeatedly set up conflicts based on the difference between “deserved deaths” and “justified deaths.” At one point or another one or many
characters find themselves holding somebody’s life in their hands and trying to figure out what to do with it: life or death? In all these cases, characters act as
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