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How Much Darkness Do You Want?: On Season 3 Of “The Walking Dead”

TWD - Season 3First of all, let me thank whoever finally decided to end the dumb little feud between AMC and Dish Network and allowed me to get AMC back on my TV.  It’s always nice to see two large, multi-billion media conglomerates come together in the quest of getting my money.  It means I can finally watch The Walking Dead (as nature intended) as well as seeing Chris Hardwick ruin the mood and the tension by inserting lame jokes for Talking Dead during the commercial breaks.  (Honestly, to go from Maggie crying over her probably-dying dad to Hardwick’s zombie Hershel comment…WTF AMC?)

But talking about the episode afterwards with my brother Al did bring up an interesting question that I’d like to present here.  He had finally caught up with the show and, while enjoying it, he commented that he couldn’t see the show getting as dark as the comic book series.  I would agree with his assessment for the most part.  The show can and will go to some dark places – like Rick putting a machete through a dude’s skull or letting someone else get eaten alive – but I doubt it will descend into the morass of mayhem, violence and darkness that the graphic novels have so frequently made their bedfellow.

Without spoiling anything, let’s just say that, in the comics, at least half of the cast of characters you know and love are dead.  That characters are tortured, mutilated, raped and assaulted.  TWD - No SafeThat depression, dementia, suicidal/homicidal tendencies and madness afflict just about every character in the cast.  And that children and the elderly are in no way safer because of their condition.

Now you might say that this is not surprising and, if anything, we’ve seen it before.  After all, little Sophia was zombified last season.  And we saw Shane go down the deep, dark hole of his head until Rick put him out of our misery.  And since we know he’s coming back, Merrill will be without a hand – a hand he had to cut himself.  But in a sense, that was all different.

It’s accepted zombie law that the real threat of the zombie apocalypse aren’t the zombies, per se.  It’s the other human survivors.  George Romero stated as much when he made Night of the Living Dead and it’s held true through his own movies as well as the myriad of books, movies, TV shows and comic books it inspired.  After all, the zombies only want to eat you.  That is it.  The other humans, however, want your food, your mates, your safe hiding places and will not hesitate to destroy you for it.  The lesson to be learned is that our inability to stand united in the face of a common threat will destroy humanity.  And it’s that threat from other humans that will loom large over Season 3 of The Walking Dead; foremost in the form of Brian Blake AKA “The Governor”.

TWD - GovernorThat only scratches the surface though of the existential, physical, mental and emotional hell that the characters will go through this season.  And it brings me back to the question of just how much darker can The Walking Dead get.  We know that Rick is safe thanks to his strong plot armor.  So is Carl.  But would the show’s writers kill of Lori?  It’s usually not accepted TV custom to destroy the central family unit of a TV show – specially when the wife/mother is pregnant.  Could Maggie fall into a suicidal depression?  Could T-Dog finally explode into a torrent of rage and angst?

I’ll grant you that when you watch a show titled “The Walking Dead”, you really shouldn’t expect sweetness, light and comedy (the intentional kind).  You watch it for the existential angst and the survival drama.  You watch it to see desperate humans put screwdrivers into the eye sockets of undead corpses.  You watch it to play the fictional exercise of “How would I deal with this situation?”  Darkness is part of the accepted package.

I just don’t think the show will go as dark as the graphic novels have gone.  There’s just no way.  Given the need for the show to retain its strong ratings and the way it’s attracted a whole following from people who have never read the comic books, I just don’t see it.  Fans of the comics will argue and disagree with that decision as will some of the newer fans.  But this is the price to be paid for staying on TV.  If the show went the same route as the comic book, you might see people running to change the channel.

Even as we watch a show set in the ruined post-apocalyptic landscape of undead walkers, we like to know there’s a few rules around and things won’t get too bumpy for us.  Even when we see real-life examples in our world that such a thing would never happen.    It’s why we tolerate it as fiction.  And not news.

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