Last night marked the return of The Walking Dead, AMC’s ratings juggernaut and the at times stand-in for a “bad acting and writing combination” PSA (any scenes that have featured both Rick and the Governor would fall under this category). My relationship with The Walking Dead began with justified curiosity about what Frank Darabont could do with a television series (my loyalty to The Shawshank Redemption director is as thick as Carl’s chocolate pudding) and those first six episodes that made up the first season were exceptional. We are now several showrunners, even more lead character deaths, and one too many unnecessary farming diversions away from the early show promise. The task of maintaining a relationship with this series has not been easy.
The final episode of part one of season four last fall came at a cost: Yes, (SPOILER ALERT!) David Morrissey’s incredibly and increasingly silly Governor finally perished in what can only be seen an act of mercy for the viewing audience. His destructive walk through this little corner of dystopic Georgia that continues to be the centerpiece of this series (it would be so nice to meet some new people in other parts of the world facing the same inexplicable people eating epidemic) had run its course long ago. Unfortunately, (SPOILER ALERT!) Hershel’s emotional and tragic death was the cost. In a world where keeping sane and retaining human dignity is a constant battle (a continual fight for Rick Grimes), Hershel was steadfast and true. He was impacted like the rest of them and made his share of ill-advised emotional decisions (see: his barn visitors from season two), but his kindness, wisdom, and inspiring pony-tail managed to always step on a higher plane of integrity. Now that he is gone, where will the stabilizing force of sanity come from on a weekly basis?
Last night’s episode, focused solely on the Grimes duo, Carl and Rick, and the seemingly invincible sword magician, Michonne, put this question, and the future solubility of The Walking Dead to the test. The “A” story was all about Carl and Rick’s first days separated from the group in the aftermath of the prison bloodbath cliffhanger from last fall. Spending time with the Grimes family has always been its own kind of horror story for lovers of “acting” and “writing,” but last night thankfully flirted with the idea of a world with one fewer Grimes (sorry Judith, we will wait until you can read dialogue before you can be linked to Mom, Dad, and big brother’s artistic troubles). Rick took a literal beating back at the prison and then Carl gives him an angsty teenager verbal beating, so he is in really bad shape (the makeup artists were even busier than usual this week with his bloody visage). We are led to believe, with several clever red herring scenes, that Rick’s elongated nap on the couch may be his own ticket to Walker land. What if Carl, donning his alien hair, is the only Grimes left?
My initial thoughts on a Rick-less Walking Dead were celebratory. I cannot recall a “lead character” in a television series who more successfully ostracized viewers with increasingly terrible decisions and a more cringeworthy performance. I have desired for this day to come for some time, yet, when posed with the potential for a world without Rick and only Carl, I found myself nostalgically changing my tune. Yes, The Walking Dead has made me feel like Michonne in the scene where she cuts off all of her surrounding walker heads (the mostly depressing “B” story) on many occasion and Rick’s awfulness was often the central reason, but like it or not, the show I began watching all those years ago was really about family and to what lengths you would go to protect it. The Grimes may infuriate, frustrate, and perplex, but if you were faced with such a unthinkable catastrophe, would you react differently? For now, Rick, Carl (where’s Judith?!!!), and Michonne have only each other left and for now, we, the audience, must deal with it.1
- At least until next week when we see what happened to Daryl’s crew, Glenn, and Maggie. ↩