Review: The fences of AMC’s The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead has been getting steadily better since it’s premiere, despite a rather wild divergence from the source material.

So far, the writers of AMC’s hit Walking Dead show have stuck to the primary setting of each book when constructing each season, but everything else seems up for grabs. Counter intuitively, this has made the show better than it would have been. Those with no knowledge of the plot in the books won’t know the difference of course, but to those who are familiar with the source material, the separation is pretty great. There are characters who were killed in the first book who survived through the second season, and visa-versa. Several characters have been invented for the show, and some were left right out, altering the progression of the other characters’ arcs.

At first, I was, as many fans are when they see the source material abandoned, a bit upset with the changes, but now, going into the third season, I see the wisdom in such a strategy. The value of the story is maintained. The themes of the books are intact, and it’s still a story of human drama in a torn world. The crime of interpretation would have been if they kept the events intact, but made it about fighting zombies instead of about the struggle of the group.

The story is always tense, usually political, and occasionally very painful. Sometimes it’s tough to bring myself to watch the new episodes because I know that it’s going to wrack my nerves, and occasionally, I’ll come out the other side with a headache or minus a few fingernails, but I do watch every one. It’s impossible to refuse the compelling human narrative.

Honestly, I could care less about the zombies. I know zombies are a big thing right now, and it would surely be a poor adaptation if they changed the monster around a lot, but really it’s the story of the group that is most interesting, and to a lesser extent, the lore of the world. They could be fighting very slow vampires or chupacabras or werewolves or whatever. Zombies are a particularly humanizing creature, one which we can have a lot of sympathy for, but that’s mostly faded for me through their over-use in modern fiction.

What’s most interesting to me about The Walking Dead is the way the scope slowly expands as the serial story runs. In the first episodes, it’s about Rick getting himself together, and by the end of the first season, it’s about getting his family together instead.

The second season’s primary conflict is about getting the group to work as a cohesive unit, and eliminating the negative influences within it. This third season the group is cohesive – though he still has some family struggle – but the scope will widen further. The characters this season encounter a newly established society, a town which survived the disaster, and is keeping itself protected. From their new prison fortress, they’ll have to decide, under Rick’s leadership, what their role in this newly discovered community is. Will they be enemies, allies, merely neighbors? I know how it goes down in the book, but I don’t quite know what to expect in this version of the tale.

And that’s what I mean when I say the diversion from the source has made The Walking Dead a better show. I don’t know what’s going to happen. The books are not a spoiler for the television program, ad that allows the tension to be maintained where it really needs to be for the drama to function.

One episode in, and this season is already shaping up to be the best yet. The budget is higher, the actors are better, and clearly working more as a solid cast than ever before. Some new dramatic sub-plots are already coming well into focus, and I know that I’m going to be surprised, stressed out, nervous, and completely delighted by the coming episodes.

If you’re not caught up, you’ll want to get there before you dive in however. You can catch all the past episodes over on Amazon Instant. New episodes air on AMC Sunday evenings.