So, last week The Walking Dead returned to AMC, and I'm (once again) cautiously optimistic. This show does great premieres. The first episodes of both the first and second seasons were by-and-large great, filled with action and horror and suspense. While I enjoyed much of the first season, though, I had some real problems with season 2. In addition to lackluster writing and poor characterisation, I also found the second season to be filled with "straw-liberals", who dropped leaden dialogue for the purpose of demonstrating how "left-wing" ideals had no place in the cold hard reality of a post-zombie-apocalypse world. The show especially seemed to have no clue how to handle race (by showing us a surprisingly white Atlanta region, with one black character - T-Dog - who doesn't really have much to do) and feminism (by having conflicts between Lori, the emotionally-wrought housewife and Andrea, the civil-rights lawyer who prefered shooting a rifle to helping with the laundry).
Season 3 shows signs of addressing some of these problems. For one, they've excised the straw-liberal characters from the main group (old-man Dale was killed last season, and Andrea was separated from the group and rescued by Michonne, who we will get to soon), which was a good idea. It could free up the group to focus on bare-bones survival instead of endless navel-gazing about the role of humanism in the post apocalypse, but more importantly, it means the writers won't have to stumble over concepts that they don't really understand and put awful, awful dialogue into peoples' mouths.
Second, they've introduced some new characters that set things up for a more realistic view of both race and gender in a post-apocalypse. Some characters we know nothing about yet, as we only see them for a few minutes at the end of the episode, peering at our protagonists through a prison's grated window. But one character, Michonne, got a little bit of promising screen time.
I've been holding my breath waiting to see how they would use Michonne, as she is one of the more dynamic and layered characters in the graphic novel. A samurai-sword-weilding woman of colour, she first appears as a capable survivor, rescruing Andrea last season and in the season 3 premiere taking care of a sick Andrea while fending off zombies in a small town pharmacy. We don't see much of her, but I'm hoping that the show keeps the complexity of her character from the graphic novels.
Further, I'm looking forward to see what travelling with Michonne will do for Andrea's character as well. In the comics, Andrea is my favourite character: a crack shot, canny, compassionate but capable of being hard when circumstances dictate, it was horrible watching her character be dismantled over the course of the second season where she became a bumbling, whining meddler who didn't seem to know when to be quiet and let the men take care of things. Watching her become a cardboard mouthpiece for pre-apocalypse civil rights was the worst thing about last season, especially when contrasting her character to the one in the graphic novels.
Andrea isn't much better here: we first see her huddled on the floor, weak and sick, asking Michonne to leave her. She tells us that she saved Michonne's life during the interval between seasons, but we don't see it, which has been one of the problems with her character last season. She would say she was awesome and independent, but then we would see her almost shoot an ally by accident. My hope is that by removing her from the core group she can leave some of last season's baggage behind, and we may be seeing the beginning of an awesome partnership between two strong women, which is hard to come by on television. Time will tell.
In the graphic novel, the prison/Woodbury storyline is the strongest, so I have high hopes for this season. They've departed from the comic quite a bit in some ways, but almost all the pieces they need to tell a great season of television are in place. If the writing can get past the show's limited ideas of who these people are, they could tell the story of how human beings, as varied and layered as we are, succumb to or overcome tragedy and hardship when all of our luxuries are stripped away, which is the show I want to be seeing this year.