The (Sleep) Walking Dead?

Why don't you tell me I'm boring to my face, punk?

Early in season 2 of The Walking Dead, the wandering band of survivors came across a farm that offered a dramatic change of scenery. After a harrowing journey from the outskirts of Atlanta then through the city and then out through a highway, the survivors seemingly found some respite from the constant torrent of zombies, though still struggled with their own internal conflicts, loss, a missing child, and a now tenuous dynamic with the farm’s occupants (starting with the accidental shooting of Carl).  That idyllic farm seemed to exist inside a bubble free from the zombie plague, replacing the urban dehumanized zones and frightful forests with sprawling plains and cozy pastoral quarters.

A lot of critics and fans have complained about the slow pacing that has followed thereafter, seemingly wishing the survivors were more immersed in the apocalyptic world off of the farm and on the run. This is despite the fact that various endeavors into town (and eventually on the farm) have brought them into confrontation with the very hordes of zombies they thought they were safe from.

Similar criticisms were hurled at the first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The movie, as accurately adapted from J.K. Rowling’s book, demanded those long stretches of dark desperation. Those lonely, detached moments in the woods provided an undercurrent of despair similar to families huddling around a radio during WWII, oblivious to the grand scope of evil occurring throughout Europe. Readers were confident, as we knew it was all just a prologue to a hyperkinetic blitz to the finale, but we also had to defend against preposterous declarations that the book should have been condensed into one long movie. Sometimes you need a bit of space between action sequences to create the added tension of the unknown and build up dread. Sometimes the anticipation of doom is more frightening than the doom itself.

The Walking Dead has frequently kicked off and wrapped up its episodes this season at a very heightened pace, either through overt action or increased inter-personal drama. The moments in-between take a breather that critics and fans appear to take issue with.  I won’t deny that an episode that operated at the latter pace would be a tremendous uptick for a show that’s already incredibly well done. But I’m also not willing to heap the types of too-far-gone denigration that trigger-happy bloggers, tweeters and armchair critics spout so freely for a show that hasn’t even reached 20 episodes yet.

I prefer to assess the long-term prospects of a long-form story when it’s gotten to a proper landmark, which I believe would be the Season 2 finale. For now, I’ve found this season’s episodes to be enjoyable, nerve-racking, and simmering with some clearly major impending changes for many of the core characters. On another show, drawn-out character moments and dialogue-heavy drama would spoil quickly but the crew of The Walking Dead continues to produce a show that creates suspense in even its quietest moments.

Where is the middle ground? Television shows that portray wall-to-wall action are typically criticized for operating at an unrealistic breakneck pace (i.e. 24). Shows with more plausible action (like Sons of Anarchy or Justified) can do so because their protagonists operate from a position of strength.  The Walking Dead survivors have limited capabilities and limited ammunition to fight an unlimited amount of zombies, so it’s highly unrealistic for them to endure too many epic confrontations. Without any domineering politics, outside of Shane and Rick’s tug of war, the show won’t tap into the type of political intrigue that propels Homeland, Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones. We are essentially watching fairly normal people try to make it in an incredibly abnormal world.

In this day and age of social networking and its enabling of look-at-me independent commentary (irony noted), criticisms are lobbed more heavily at art in the spotlight. The Walking Dead is a massive ratings hit that appeals to a fairly minor demographic so the mainstream is very skeptical. Its crossover into the comic book culture also lends itself to fastidious assessment. Perhaps if viewers just took it for what its worth and stopped wanting it to be a different show, they could enjoy the show it was actually meant to be.

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