Saturday, February 7, 2015

Catching up on The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead picks up with the second half of season five this weekend, and it occurs to me that I haven't mentioned it since all the way back at the mid-season break of season two (episode reviews: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). There's a good reason for that - or, at least, a decent reason. I moved that following February, to a house that didn't have cable TV, and so I got behind on The Walking Dead until I could convince my roommate to start watching it with me on Amazon (she's as obsessed with it as I am now). I also started reading up on the comics, so that marked the significant point after which I was no longer a completely blind show-watcher, and was instead informed of the show's overarching trajectory via the original material it's (more or less) based on.

Spoiler Warning: The rest of this post contains information from both the TV show and the comic, so if you only partake of one (e.g., you only watch the TV show and don't read the comic) and don't want spoilers, then I suggest you skip the rest of this post.

Spoilers: Seasons 1, 2 (TV) / Chapters 1-2 (Comic)

The second half of season two was good, and comparable to the first half, though the climax was slightly less devastating than the Sophia-barn scene (which I still rate as the most devastating moment in the whole series). Some viewers have said that the show drags a bit in spending a whole season at the farm, but it's not too bad, and it's even less noticeable if you binge-watch the episodes.

As far as the first two seasons of the show go, I think they did a great job of adapting the comic, both with the comic material and the original stuff (like the season one finale at the CDC, which was very good). I like that they kept Shane around longer in the TV show, because even though he wasn't the most sympathetic character, he added some good drama and conflict to the group. The season two finale with the herd and the fire was also a great way to end the season on a bombastic climax that upped the stakes (considerably) from what happened in the comic.

Spoilers: Seasons 3, 4A (TV) / Chapters 3-8 (Comic)

But then we get to the prison. In the comic, there are two chapters leading up to the prison, and then a whopping six chapters spent there, the first two of which don't even feature Woodbury and the Governor yet. So the prison is a big deal. Unfortunately, I feel like the TV show just wasn't as good during the prison section. Here are some reasons why:

1) They completely watered down the Governor. I understand why they did this - they wanted to have the drama of showing the Governor turn bad, but it just killed the allure of his character. Particularly the scene where he *almost* rapes Maggie. In the comic, he *actually* rapes Michonne - repeatedly. Removing that kind of hurts Michonne's character, because it gives her less of a motivation to attack the Governor when she gets the chance. And where is the twisted innuendo about Penny maybe being the Gov's sex slave? From the start, The Walking Dead has prided itself on being more extreme than other television shows dare to go, but this is one (and not the only) place where it fails to have the courage that the comic has, to its detriment.

2) They completely destroyed Andrea's character, by making her sympathetic to the Governor (and not because she's evil, but just because she's naive), and then ultimately killing her off. Andrea is one of the best characters in the comic. But they ruined her in the TV show. They aged her up to start with, and completely pissed on her inter-generational relationship with Dale (as it is in the comic). I mean, on the TV show, she shags Shane, for fuck's sake! And then along comes the Governor. R.I.P. Andrea.

3) They also pretty much destroyed Tyreese. Tyreese is also supposed to be badass - kind of like how Daryl (an original TV character) is in the TV show. In the comic, Tyreese is an ex-pro football player, who single-handedly hacks his way out of a gymnasium filled with walkers, and is pretty much Rick's right-hand man. In the TV show, Tyreese is a pushover, a glorified babysitter, who's afraid to do what needs to be done, for fear of losing his humanity.

4) Although it could be considered a relief that Lori dies earlier in the TV show than she does in the comic (I don't know anyone who particularly liked her character), the result is this period in which Rick totally loses his mind, wandering outside the prison, seeing ghosts. Now, conceptually, this isn't entirely off base, as in the comic Rick also goes through a crazy phase (though it's supposed to follow the devastating prison escape), but it's more annoying in the TV show. Also, that period when Rick abdicates leadership over the group contains one of my favorite scenes in the whole comic - his speech which gives the series its name - which I was very sad to find was nowhere to be seen in the TV show. Sad face.

Don't get me wrong, the show during the prison episodes was still fun to watch. There were some good parts - like the whole thing with the flu outbreak. The show did some things right, in their own way - like handling the surviving prisoners that are there when the group first gets to the prison (although, on the other hand, the missing serial killer again takes out some of the bite of the story). And killing Hershel off in the same way that Tyreese died in the comic (since in the TV show, Hershel was a much more beloved character, making the scene pretty much as devastating as it's supposed to be). But overall, it just didn't feel as good as the corresponding chapters in the comic.

Spoilers: Seasons 4B, 5A (TV) / Chapters 9-12ish (Comic)

The final straw was the TV show not killing off Judith at the climax of the prison section. They even did the whole thing with Rick mourning Judith, only to later find out she's still alive, so there's not really any dramatic potential left in killing her off, which means they'll probably keep her around. Is this another case of the TV writers wussing out - not wanting to kill a baby on television? I don't know. But it's one more nail in the coffin of the prison episodes.

Seeing as the comic went a whole six chapters at the prison, and the TV show had been milking about one chapter per season thus far, the TV show could have easily done two whole seasons at the prison, if not more. However, the way those episodes were going, it was a relief when the show bailed out of the prison only halfway through the fourth season (only the second season at the prison), instead of continuing at least to the end of that season. And the second half of that season was actually very good. A dramatic improvement over the prison episodes.

The whole thing with Carol and the girls, in particular, was dramatic and memorable (probably the second most emotional scene in the show, for me, after the Sophia-barn scene), and really redeemed Carol in my eyes (who has been an annoying hanger-on ever since she lost Sophia). On the Daryl front, I enjoyed his interactions with Beth, although I think the show totally copped out when they didn't consummate their affection for one another at the end of that one episode. (I know, I know, Daryl's a virgin and an abuse survivor - gotta milk his soft, vulnerable side for all the female viewers! And keep him available to every middle-aged female viewer's surrogate on the show, Carol...). The introduction of Abraham and Eugene (and Rosita - not my fault she isn't a more important character; I actually like her) was exciting, also.

I really liked what the show did with Terminus, and it marks another successful TV original season finale, even if the real excitement would come in the season five premiere that resolves the cliffhanger. It was also an inspired way to get the gang back together after the prison, since the farm (where they meet up in the comic) was already destroyed. I was really excited about the following episode(s) introducing Father Gabriel, and featuring the (remnant) cannibals, which played out pretty much exactly like the comic (with some of the characters shuffled around). Although the TV show axed my first favorite quote from the comic, I was glad to see the inclusion of the line, "tainted meat!" here. The TV original parts explaining Beth's disappearance were a little shaky, though (hard to follow all these new characters all of a sudden) - and I'm annoyed that they killed her off (but especially in such a moronic way) - but they weren't too bad.

Spoilers: Vague speculations only, judging from Chapters 12+ (Comic)

I'm very excited to see what happens next in the show, and to see some of the stuff coming later in the comics brought to life. Post-prison, the TV show has once again done an excellent job of covering the comic material (if often in its own way), while mixing in some original stuff. Having just reread the comics last month, I noticed that the TV show has pretty much already milked everything leading up to the next big settlement the group arrives at (even including the revelation of Eugene's lie, which isn't supposed to happen until they're much closer to D.C.). So I'm wondering if we'll see that in the second half of this season, or if we'll have to wait until next season for that.

Either way, there's some great stuff coming up, and I can't wait to see how the TV show handles it - even though I have a little trepidation, after what happened with the prison episodes, and the series' last big villain (the Governor). So far, the show has been consistently better when the group is out on the road, but we'll see what happens in the future. This has been a good enough show, and has redeemed itself well enough after the prison episodes, that I'll be a dedicated viewer. And I'll be hungrily devouring the comics in the meantime.

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