I’ve been hooked on The Walking Dead from the beginning — ever since I encountered “zombies” promoting the show’s premiere at the Chinatown/Gallery Place Metro Station in Washington, DC two years ago. After I watched that opening scene where Rick wakes up in an empty hospital and finds the doors that read “Don't open, dead inside,” there was no turning back.
After an admittedly slow second season, which featured plenty of heart wrenching drama but fewer zombie killings until the devastating finale, The Walking Dead has come roaring back this fall, beating its own earlier premiere ratings and dominating the Sunday night cable shows. AMC reports that the age 18-49 demographic viewership of 7.3 million is more than any other show on cable or broadcast this year (incidentally, my own experience as a Facebook user confirms this every Sunday night).
If you’ve been following the show, it’s easy to see why. The Walking Dead manages to continually up the dramatic ante by developing all the major characters, introducing timely new ones, and pitting their natural self-interests against each other. It draws us into an apocalyptic world that is brutally plausible and endlessly fascinating, appealing both to those looking for some good old zombie-hacking and, ironically, pretty much anyone with a heart who appreciates good drama.
With the show’s success, what have we learned so far in season three?
1. Andrew Lincoln is a darned good actor. I don’t care what goes down in the next episode or how annoying Lori was, the pinnacle of the third season happened the moment Rick learned that his wife died. His reaction is enough to bring viewers to tears, which is saying something for a zombie show.
2. Speaking of which, David Morrissey was an excellent casting choice too. I heard some doubters and naysayers when it was announced that Morrissey would be taking up the role of the Governor. He has fit the role perfectly. His commanding voice reminds me of Liam Neeson, and it beautifully compliments the Governor’s ruggedly suave but two-faced and deceptive character. I hate him, but I cannot bring myself to despise him. That’s what you want in a good villain.
3. Michonne makes a great wild card. We couldn’t wait to find out more about the hooded, katana wielding, walker-toting figure that saved Andrea at the end of season two. Halfway through this season, we still don’t know much about her, except that she has a sharp intuition and trusts nobody. Her refusal to sacrifice her independence and join a side makes her an intriguing third party as the story moves forward.
4. Life or death scenarios bring out one’s true nature. This show succeeds because it explores the humanity of its characters. The prisoners that Rick’s company encountered, for example, turned out to be two radically different types of people. Some became heartless killers, the others became loyal companions. The big questions in the show lie in discerning each character’s true intentions, and that’s what keeps us on the edge of our seats.
5. Blood and guts still sell. Let’s be honest, who didn’t enjoy watching Rick and company clear out the prison courtyard of walkers via hand-to-hand combat? At least part of the reason so many viewers came back for season three is because there has been more zombie-killing than ever.
Now for the more pressing question, what should we expect of this Sunday night's midseason finale?
1. The unexpected. If there’s one nice thing about the zombie genre from a storytelling perspective, it’s that tragedy can strike any character at any moment simply by throwing in an unexpected zombie somewhere — Dale in season two, for example, or Hershel this season. In any given episode, you just never know what could happen. It’s probably safe to say that Rick won’t get killed off, but pretty much everyone else seems dispensable.
2. A showdown between Rick and the Governor. This is a huge point of conflict in the graphic novels from which the TV show is based. With season three apparently sticking more to the source material, it’s hard to see anything in the cards other than a bloody “my people vs. your people” matchup between the two leaders.
3. Glen is destined to be a hero. The son of Korean immigrants has undergone a transformation from a timid gofer who didn’t seem to belong to a chivalrous, indispensable member of Rick’s group. After withstanding torture by Merle and taking on a walker while strapped to a chair, you know he’s only on his way to becoming even more of a badass.
4. Merle must confront his lies. He lied about Michonne dying, and now she’s back. This time, though, she is the offensive and fighting side-by-side with Merle’s little brother Daryl. If the Governor learns of his deception, Merle could quickly find himself between a rock and a hard place.
5. The complete restoration or utter dissolution of Daryl and Merle’s relationship. Given all that has happened since the first season, it will be interesting to see if any love has been lost between the two. Might they even be capable of killing each other for the sake of their respective allegiances?
Be sure to tune in to the midseason premier of The Walking Dead on AMC this Sunday at 9 p.m. I’ll be back on Monday with a follow-up piece to talk about these questions and more.