The passage of time can fix a lot of things on television...
But wait, let's back up a second and commit a few words to how we got here. In the past I've done episode recaps of The Walking Dead. I've not only seen every episode, I read the comic, way back when it first came out. I wanted this show to be oh so good, so when it was, I loved it - and when it wasn't, I felt let down...
I loved the series premiere. It was gorgeously shot and struck the right tone. And while that first season felt a little inconsistent, I understood it was a show that had to get its legs under itself before it could take off. And when the gang finally got into Atlanta, and to the CDC, I thought it had.
And then came the second season...
Look, behind the scenes hasn't been all that rosy for The Walking Dead. There was stuff that we, as the viewer, will never get the full story on. What we do know is that Frank Darabont who started the series, was no longer involved (about midway through the second season) and Glenn Mazzara came into replace him. Obviously, tumult behind the camera is going to affect what happens in front of the camera.
Regardless, I felt the second season really missed the mark. There was too much stagnation, too much melodrama and too many minor level conflicts that were blown way out of proportion. At times it felt like a soap opera with the occasional zombie thrown in when we needed something to get scared about. So when the finale of season 2 rolled around, and we saw the overtaking of the barn and the gang on the run, it didn't strike me as that big of a deal. The Walking Dead had already let me down, and it would take a lot to pique my interest again - even with the prison tease...
So let me repeat my earlier thought here - the passage of time can fix a lot of things on television.
We finally have a full season that is all Glen Mazzara's. And right out of the gate he establishes the way he is going to steer the show. By allowing 6 months or so to have passed since we last saw the gang, Mazzara can course correct a lot of the mistakes (in my opinion) these characters exhibited in the past - without having to plod through it. Rick no longer agonized over every decision he made; Lori no longer whined/changed her mind about every decision Rick made; Carl was given something to do other than simply be a liability; Maggie joined the forefront as a up-and-coming badass; Carol gained a steely resolve...heck they all gained a steely resolve. And it was believable. The first scene quickly caught us up to what they had been doing in the time we hadn't been with them - they were on the run, and trying to survive. The frightening monotony of that plight - barging into houses, clearing them of zombies and searching for food - took its tole on them all and changed them.
And then we got to the prison.
While the show had not followed the exact arc of the comics, it's similar. So I will try to stay away from spoilers, or label them as best I can. What the prison offers the survivors is a great location that offers both safety and new dangers - both from zombies and from others. And that's a great dynamic that the show has toyed with, but never completely embraced. Seasons 1 & 2 spent so much time on the internal conflicts within the immediate group and not enough time on the outside dangers that would probably be a major fucking concern 24/7 in a post-apocalyptic zombie world. Characters threatened to leave all the time, but never did, and yet I never bought into the reasons they used to keep the group together.
Season 3 so far has been different. This group is now a unit. A believable unit. Zombies of course are a threat, but they've been through it enough to know they can manage. It's the other external threats that are going to prove challenging (prisoners in a prison, a pregnancy without a doctor, etc.) and set the course for the rest of the series. But the show hasn't given up on the internal struggles, it's just based them in more of a grounded reality. Rick blames Lori for a lot (much like I blame her for season 2's mediocrity) and 2 episodes in, it doesn't feel like their relationship can be fixed. (Sure feels like they're setting her up to die, no?) Hershel, while recovering from a zombie bite appears ok for the moment, that can turn on a dime. And with him being the only qualified medical character in the bunch, Lori's delivery is going to be something of a clusterfuck.
And while the gang took care of the immediate threat of the prisoners quickly and efficiently, there's still a threat there. And of course we still have (SPOILER IF YOU DON'T WATCH THE COMING ATTRACTIONS OR READ ANYTHING ABOUT THE SHOW)
The governor and his level of sadism. If it's even half as strong as it was in the comic, we're in for a formidable foe.
(END OF SPOILER ALERT)
We have all that and I still haven't even mentioned Michonne (though she's still a bit campy for my tastes - dragging zombies around on chains) and the dynamic she will bring when she meets the group. So right now, I am cautiously optimistic for the direction of The Walking Dead. My only fear is that this is exactly how I felt after the first few episodes in Season 1 and Season 2.
Time will tell.