I like the fundamentals of the Walking Dead a lot (zombies and extreme cynicism, what’s not to like?) but found the 2nd season, though enjoyable, not without its considerable flaws, chiefly some annoying characters, some treading of water, and a lot of attempts to squeeze drama from extreme stupid. I’m pleased to say they cut out the dead wood, brought in some strong new characters, and amped up the tension considerably for a largely gripping 3rd season as the Andrew Lincoln-led survivors – leaner, meaner, more hardened, and with ever-dwindling reserves of humanity – take refuge in a zombie-infested prison and come into deadly conflict with the nearby town of Woodberry and its sinister Governor (a chilling performance from David Morrissey). The dead are less and less the true danger, but the living always to be feared.
There’s still a slightly stagey sense about things – action mostly occurs in a couple of distinct locations with a lot of non-specific woods in between – but those locations have become bigger and more interesting than last season’s farm, at least. The technicalities of zombification, and why some areas remain dramatically empty, others dramatically infested, are perhaps not best thought about too closely. But they don’t make Battlestar Galactica’s mistake (or at least haven’t yet) of trying to explain what’s better left as the unexplainable threat, and instead concentrate on the effect on the characters of the constant pressure to survive.
Some of the weaker cast members (including one I thought would be with us for the long haul) are quickly and ruthlessly purged, and a lot of the stupid behaviour has been purged with them, the whole made tougher and more believable as a result. There’s a welcome return for redneck troublemaker Merle and a great addition in emotionally stunted neo-samurai Michonne. Some of Andrew Lincoln’s moral quandaries do feel somewhat contrived (if your struggle is between a realistic option and a moral one your realistic option has got to actually make sense), but in general the show is admirably hard-headed, unpredictable, unsentimental, and savage with its cast and audience.