December 3, 2012



It’s odd to think that the biggest hit on American television is centered around the flesh-eating undead, but enough about Fox News…  THE WALKING DEAD is a genuine television phenomenon, in more ways than one.  To begin with, it’s a staggering success, a cable series that routinely has larger audiences (in the 18-49 demographic, at least) than anything on network television aside from primetime football.  Every Sunday night, it rips apart the definition of a what a cable ratings triumph can be.

Walking Dead is also an exception to a well-founded rule.  Although normally the ousting of a series creator and showrunner is cause for regret (see under “Harmon, Dan”), Walking Dead‘s current season under the reign of Glen Mazzara is (severed) head and shoulders above the show in its initial Frank Darabont regime.  This season has completely done away with the becalmed, talkathon aesthetic that made the show move as slowly as its zombies during Season 2, switching to an action-packed, pulpy format that’s far more fun.

Tonight’s midseason finale (the show returns in February) was no exception.  Written by Robert Kirkman, who apart from being an Executive Producer is also the writer of the original Walking Dead graphic novels, and directed by Bill Gierhart, it finally brought the two strands of the season’s action together (while adding a third for good measure), as our heroes headed by Sheriff Rick (Andrew Lincoln) led a commando force to Woodbury, the falsely idyllic town run by the tyrannical Governor (David Morrissey), in order to rescue captives Glenn (Steven Yuen) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan).  By the end of the hour, Andrea (Laurie Holden), who’s been cavorting with the Governor, had discovered that the assaulters on Woodbury were her old friends, and brothers Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Merle (Michael Rooker) had been reunited in the most brutal possible way.  There was even a brief hallucinatory cameo by dead Shane (Jon Bernthal), who Rick saw as he killed one of the Woodburians. And a whole new plotline began as a fresh group of survivors headed by Tyreese (Chad Coleman) showed up at the prison that Rick’s band had cleared of walkers.

The violence and zombie attacks have certainly been amped up this season, but so have the characters.  Formerly dull Rick has been half-crazy since the show shockingly (for those not familiar with the source material) killed off his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) in childbirth, while son Carl (Chandler Riggs) has become increasingly badass.  The Governor is a fine addition, ruthless but also intelligent and charming, with his own perverse heartbreak indicated by the way he kept his zombified daughter as a pet–well, until tonight, when enigmatic warrior Michonne (Danai Gurira) plunged her sword through the girl’s head and stuck a shard of glass directly into his eyeball.  Even the storylines that play with the nature of walkers and the difference between living and dead, like the experiments conducted by mild-mannered but nutty scientist Milton Mamet (Dallas Roberts)–which last season would have been the starting point for endless debate–are now handled succinctly and through action as well as dialogue.

The Walking Dead is never going to be the smartest horror show on the air.  There’s a limited attention span at work (tonight The Governor spent most of the episode trying to keep Andrea from finding out that the attack on Woodbury was coming from her friends, only to blithely reveal it in the closing minutes), and the characters, while more entertaining to watch than they used to be, are still at only a comic-book level of complexity.  The show’s acting is variable, although Morrissey is certainly classing things up this season.  There’s little of the crazy outre humor of American Horror Story or the wit of The Vampire Diaries.  Still, compared with the similarly postapocalyptic Revolution, Walking Dead is far more compellingly bleak and better plotted.

Considering its current level of success, Walking Dead will be around for years and years, especially since the nature of its story allows for any actors who don’t feel like re-signing to be easily eaten off the show.  To its credit, far from resting on its popularity, the series has gotten steadily better, showing an ability to learn from its mistakes that its zombies might envy, if only they were capable of feeling emotions.  With Mazzara at the helm, Walking Dead could be a pleasant place to watch the slaughter, disembowelment and devouring of humans both dead and undead for quite a while to come.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."