I just finished watching all of Season 3 of The Walking Dead. Overall, it was pretty decent. It had cool zombie effects, fun Southern accents, great acting, lots of interesting, spooky looking sets and a good choice of Tom Waits songs. However, the show is just about bursting with problems, some greater than others. There’s the dodgy CGI blood sprays that ruin a lot of potentially awesome zombie kills, the way Hispanic characters either don’t matter or are evil and the occasionally really wonky Southern accent. There’s plenty of troubling behind the scenes stuff too, with Frank Darabont getting kicked out early on and the show being stretched out and its budget cut. But I suppose the main fault of the show, at least in the season that I watched, is the constant and endless moping. Well, actually, the Hispanic issue is probably the biggest, since it has real world relevancy besides being a dramatic choice in a silly zombie show, but I think that’s an essay for another time. So, let’s talk about the moping.
The fact is that a lot of the characters are depressed, emotionally weak and mope whenever bad things happen to them. The main character, Rick, is the hero — and yet he spends the entire season in various shades of moping. As the season goes on, he mopes so hard that he starts having grief-instilled hallucinations. Even the Governor, who is a cool villain because he’s totally insane and unpredictable, also does a fair bit of moping. Minor characters and major characters all mope. The best episode of the season, Clear, has the guy who Rick first met turned into an insane moping machine.
Now, moping is a perfectly logical response to the zombie apocalypse. Having your friends and family die and be turned into zombies and then have to be killed by you is doubtlessly traumatic. On top of that, civilization has completely collapsed. Compassion is just something that gets you killed. Survival is all that matters — and the quality of life is terrible. Nobody can be trusted. There’s probably no other fictional apocalypse that can create more grief. So I understand why Rick mopes after his loved ones die and I understand why other characters mope after they’re abused and traumatized. I can even, sort of, understand why the Governor mopes. It all makes sense.
But here’s the thing — even if moping makes sense, it’s not fun to watch and it doesn’t lead to sympathetic characters. A viewer likes a character that is the master of his or her own destiny, that can handle the bumps life throws at them or who thinks of the needs of others besides themselves. We can even like an anti-hero, as long as they come across as cool and occasionally do something nice. When Rick wanders off into the wilderness for grief-induced hallucinations and abandons everyone (including his son, who ends up turning into a rather spooky child soldier), part of me understands why, but part of me also thinks that he’s being a jerk. I know that there’s five stages of mourning and everything, but can we fast forward through those and get on with the plot? Zombie Apocalypse-induced depression is not exciting or sympathetic to watch, even if I understand it and do, on a basic level, feel sorry for Rick. It also makes me wonder why the other characters, and the audience, are following around this constant moping. There’s plenty of other appealing characters.
Case in point: Daryl — everyone’s favorite character who seems to have driven in from some fun, post-apocalypse B-movie in a cool motorcycle. With his crossbow-shooting toughness, bonding with Carl, inability to mope (even after — spoilers — putting down his own zombie brother), it’s no wonder that he’s captured America’s zombie-loving heart. Michonne also deserves points. Instead of moping, she cuts up zombies with a katana and picks fights. There are some other cool, non-moping characters and they’re always my favorites. It’s not exactly hard to see why.
The Fourth Season is going to start up pretty soon and I might check it out — maybe watch one or two if it stays interesting or drop it if it doesn’t. The show does a good job of staying focused, plus killing off characters and introducing new ones to keep the cast varied and interesting. Hopefully, the moping will go away and the show can return to its zombie-killing glory with a Tom Waits soundtrack.