How The Walking Dead Can Improve This Season

walking dead9

The Walking Dead returns on Sunday, fresh off a record audience for its explosive mid-season finale “Too Far Gone”. The show we’ll return to this weekend is bound to be different than the one we left, with the prison group fractured after the Governor’s suicidal assault on Rick and his compatriots. It marks the beginning of a new era for the show – and more importantly, an opportunity to improve on some of the show’s myriad of flaws, which have been more apparent in these longer, 16-episode seasons. Remy’s already shared his hopes for The Walking Dead‘s next batch of episodes – here’s what I think the show needs to do to push it into the upper echelon of television dramas.

Find an antagonist – and quickly

The Governor’s arc may have outstayed its welcome by about eight episodes or so, but in season three it lead to some of the show’s most interesting material, drawing parallels between the two power-wielding men of rural Georgia. More importantly, it brought a viable, non-zombie antagonist for the characters of The Walking Dead to deal with, challenging them to make decisions against an entity that has thoughts beyond “Mmm… brains!”

Instead of running away from the biting undead, Rick and his ragtag team were face-to-face with a worthy enemy, one whose own ideas of civilization and preservation not only opposed Rick’s, but directly challenged it. Some fans are clamoring for Negan (small, small, small spoilers ahead), but I don’t necessarily think this is the answer: Negan isn’t much but a Governor without the humanizing traits, and the last thing The Walking Dead needs to do is repeat itself.

Trim the extra fat, in gory fashion

Let’s face the facts: there’s too many characters on The Walking Dead, even after the bloody final showdown at the prison compound. Now, with the prison group fractured, it’s going to be a tall task to follow multiple groups in their respective pockets of Georgia, without some serious narrative whiplash – or even more problematic, a continuance of the superficial personalities and motivations of this massive cast of characters. The Walking Dead’s shown a propensity for doing more with less (just watch “Clear” again if you don’t believe me), when it can give perspective to a character’s journey beyond “I have to abandon my humanity to survive.” Let an entire group (those damn kids) get ripped apart in the opening scene of “After” – I doubt anybody would really miss them, and it would give lots of narrative breathing room for the many, many other characters of the show.

Bring Carol back ASAP

Carol’s departure in the first half of the season is probably never intended to be permanent – with the Governor hanging around, it makes sense that the writers would find a way to push Rick’s newest antagonist to the corner for a few episodes. But Carol’s slow transformation over the series is hands-down the best long-running character arc the show’s ever done, thanks to Melissa McBride’s ability to find nuance in Carol’s struggle with her own morality through her performance (whereas Andrew Lincoln relies on furrowed eyebrows and a dumbfounded look for his range of emoting), released from the grips of an abusive husband and still reeling from the death of her daughter (the one beacon of hope in her broken, pre-apocalypse family). Like her or not, Carol’s the best personification of The Walking Dead‘s musings on civilization and the human condition – and without her, the show inevitably will suffer.

Push Rick into the background

There are a lot of interesting story avenues for this back half of The Walking Dead‘s fourth season to explore: the mind of Rick Grimes is not one of them. After three and a half seasons of locked jaws and long, empty glances, it’s time for the show to admit they don’t quite know what to do with their main character anymore. Rick is a character who acts in contradictions (for a man who wants peace, he certainly doesn’t go out of his way to maintain it, does he?), and The Walking Dead‘s never been willing to call him out on it, instead piling on the misery and air of nobility in the hopes he’ll remain a viable protagonist. But without a family, there really isn’t a lot to Rick: he doesn’t want to lead, he can’t decide how to father his son, and he clearly combs his hair a lot.

Who would’ve thought Carl (former star of “Where’s Carl?” drinking games back in season two) would become a more compelling character than his father? Season four’s certainly taken the steps, showing us a hardened Carl rejecting the new, farmer-friendly version of his father, who whimpers away from conflict and sweats a ton. Like Carol (Carol, Carl… I’m sure it’s a coincidence, but it’s a nice little parallel nonetheless), Carl’s transformation (along with Daryl’s) over the past couple seasons have provided the show with some of its most fascinating material; here’s to hoping we see a lot more of Little Grimes in this last half of the season, then his mumbling, unshaven and unstable mess of a father.

[Photo via Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC]

Since becoming a television critic in 2011 with Processed Media, Randy Dankievitch currently writes for TVOvermind and PopOptiq (formerly Sound on Sight), where he's also the host of The Mid-Season Replacements Podcast. An Ithaca College alum, he's also written about TV and other media for SLUG Magazine, Geeks Unleashed, and other random corners of the Internet.
More articles by