The Walking Dead, Season 3

The Walking Dead vs. 24 With Zombies
Talking television.
March 5 2013 11:00 AM

The Walking Dead, Season 3


The show regains its soul.

Michonne and Carl risk their lives to retrieve a valuable cat statue.

Photo by Gene Page/AMC

Season 3 has proved that The Walking Dead is just as effective at building suspense as 24. That’s a mixed blessing. Suspense is great. But the mere fact that that a comparison with 24 holds water means The Walking Dead was losing something it once had: a soul. But “Clear” reassured me that the soul has just been hiding among the smashed zombie heads.

This (often fantastic) season of The Walking Dead has felt like a machine, continuously plowing its characters through the mud and guts of the zombie apocalypse. While some grimness is to be expected from a drama about the end of days, there’s been enough of it to render Morgan’s nihilism infectious. Axel’s last-minute characterization and subsequent demise in “Home” showed that The Walking Dead really is committing to the bad horror movie trope of peripheral characters existing specifically to be killed. Meanwhile, what qualifies as development among the primary characters are things like Rick’s hallucinations, which seem to exist so the writers can bludgeon viewers over the head with Rick’s guilt.

Is The Walking Dead supposed to be deliberate, subtle, and spiritual, like the pilot suggested? Or is it supposed to be like 24 with zombies, with the viewers constantly teased to the next series of calamities? (In case anyone is wondering, yes, Carl is Jack Bauer in this analogy.)

Having accidentally watched all of 24 —damn you, Netflix—I think there’s something to be said for both visions. However, I’m glad that “Clear” takes the show further in the direction of the former. Some might gripe about the irrelevance of Rick’s side quest, but dislocating the audience from the main storyline was a small price to pay for a sorely needed infusion of character development. As Scott Meslow from the Atlantic writes, “Clear” works “by invoking The Walking Dead's masterful pilot, still the best single episode this series has ever produced.”

Scott Gimple, who wrote “Clear” and is taking over the show next season, achieved this not only by returning the characters to the pilot’s setting and bringing back Morgan but by formulating a plot that is structurally purposeful. The episode has a mirror-like symmetry to it: Rick, Carl, and Michonne first pass a distressed traveler, then a car accident, then the pile of burned bodies, and pass the same scenes in reverse on their way out. Rather than just reacting to the Governor’s conflict, each character has an objective and proactively works to achieve it, echoing the old Kurt Vonnegut saying, “Every character should want something, even if only a glass of water.” In the course of their individual pursuits, we not only learn more about the characters (for one, Michonne has a bizarre taste in art), but we watch them change. Carl becomes more accepting of Michonne; Michonne decides she wants to be a team player; and Rick gets a disturbing reflection of his own guilt. Even stubbornly crazy Morgan appears to change at the end, exclaiming that he has to “clear,” whatever that means. (Maybe Lawrence Wright knows?)

I cringe whenever I hear the term “character development.” People in the real world don't change as frequently, extensively, or quickly as characters on TV. Still, the next time Rick and company are surrounded by zombies and the Governor is shooting at them, thanks to “Clear,” I’ll be more inclined to care.

Chris Kirk is Slate's interactives editor. Follow him on Twitter.



Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.