Walking Dead, The: Season Three Blu-ray Review

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2013-08-25 21:06
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The Walking Dead: Season Three
Studio: Anchor Bay/Starz
Release date: August 27th, 2013

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman



The season:

You may have noticed (or not, but humor me) that I didn’t do a Walking Dead report for this past season. At first, that wasn’t an indicator of the new season’s quality, and I had intended to pick up once the season resumed when the show returned in February. It was at that point that it sort of did become a quality issue because I found myself becoming increasingly ambivalent as the show wore on. After a strong second half to close out the second season, the show kept its momentum pretty well into the third one before it resorted to so much wheel-spinning.

But first, let’s discuss that superior first half of the season, which really got off to a fast start by dispatching the likes of T-Dog and Lori within the first four episodes. The Walking Dead hasn’t been hesitant to knock off series regulars for shock value, but the latter’s demise charted the course for the rest of the season by putting Rick on the path towards an insular insanity that would cut him off from most of the group for much of the season—including his son, Carl, now having grown even more insufferable as he moves into adolescence.

At its core, this is the show’s main throughline, as it constantly examines what it must be like to navigate through this post-apocalyptic landscape, and it’s Carl and Rick’s saga that best reflects its nihilistic outlook. Obviously, a zombie apocalypse isn’t going to be pleasant, but the show really puts these two through hell, especially Carl, who’s forced to put his mom down seconds after she gives birth to his sister (who he then has to raise because his dad goes fucking nuts—thanks, Rick!). Obviously, the show can be a bit of a beatdown, so I found myself gravitating towards those quiet, lighter moments that offered some hint that these people still functioned like human beings with the capacity for warmth.

The season’s twelfth episode, “Clear,” featured one of those few, memorable moments when Rick and Carl returned home, only to bump into Morgan. While this episode couldn’t help but reveal that Morgan had gone off even further into the deep end than Rick, the subplot with Micchone and Carl’s attempt to retrieve an old family photo was a welcome change of pace (and proved that the usually stone-faced Micchone could actually crack a smile).

Precious few moments like that were scattered throughout the season; you could find them in certain subplots, such as Maggie and Glenn’s blossoming relationship (though, again, the show couldn’t help but taint the hell out of that, too). Herschell also came into his own during the third season; after getting a leg hacked off due to a zombie bite, he went on to become a warm, fatherly counterpoint to Rick’s deranged, scatter-brained leadership. If he’s the group’s conscience, then Daryl Dixon certainly functions as the soul, and, again, he’s a character that works because he’s a reformed rogue. Nobody wants to see Daryl die because he’s the rare character who has seemingly become a better person in the face of all of this; in a world where everything else is trending downward, Daryl has come to represent the scrappy, resilient human spirit who put a rough past behind him in order to forge ahead for a better future.

And it’s a good thing he came out unscathed after the season’s most compelling conflict, which saw him reckon with the return of his brother, Merle. It didn’t come without moments of doubt since the duo decided to take off and fend for themselves for an episode, but their eventual return provided the best drama that the second half of the season had to offer. Despite centering on creatures who deal in visceral disembowelments, The Walking Dead’s juiciest stuff is found in its moral quandaries.

With the characters often making the wrong decisions (I’m looking at you, Rick), it was nice to see the Dixon brothers actually serve as some semblance of stability—if Merle can do the right thing, maybe humanity isn’t as screwed as it seems (of course, the show “rewards” Merle’s redemption in the most heinous of ways, so maybe karma has something to say about that). It’s too bad, too, because Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker are charismatic enough to carry entire episodes on their own—sometimes, I wonder if AMC isn’t kicking themselves because they’ve written themselves out of a Dixon brothers spin-off.

Of course, that might be a little dry—after all, The Walking Dead is compelling due to its disparate, clashing personalities and its group dynamics. Season three also introduced another group entirely with the town of Woodbury. Lorded over by the sneakily malicious Governor (David Morrissey is great at playing a bad guy with an obvious, preening veneer of good intentions), Woodbury provided the season with its requisite Romero outlet; season two found survivors huddling in a farmhouse, and the follow-up graduates them all the way to Romero’s endpoint by riffing on Land of the Dead. The message here is the same as it has been since Romero pioneered this stuff: mankind is its own worst enemy during a zombie apocalypse.

As pure, pulpy drama, the Woodbury angle provided some crackling stuff, even if it began to stall towards the back-end (I’m especially thinking of that one episode where Rick and the Governor sat at a table and talked the entire time). But it’s a mostly compelling study of contrasts, only the show deals in shades of gray—obviously, the Governor’s semi-fascist regime is not the way to go, but it’s not like Rick is a consistent white knight. The ending of the season especially didn’t shy away from his faults, which came to manifest themselves in disturbing fashion since he’s passed his take-no-prisoners outlook down to his son. As bland and boring as Rick and Carl can be, I have to admit that the season leaves them in an intriguing place that forces viewers to contemplate if physical survival is worthwhile if it asks for one’s soul in return.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t address Andrea, a character who could easily be written off as irritating; however, Laurie Holden’s performance really found a believable, human center in her. If she was irritating, it’s because she represents the palatable frustration of someone who genuinely wants to do the right thing but doesn’t have the means to do so. Sure, she could have essentially ended the conflict between the prison group and Woodbury by slitting the Governor’s throat while he slept, but she wasn’t willing to sacrifice that part of herself; even though the decision came back to haunt her in a big way, it proved that everyone isn’t willing to plunge into the abyss in which The Walking Dead consistently wallows.

Unfortunately, the show loves to wallow in it, and, while it’s hard to deny its intrigue (it’s tough not to care a little bit about these characters we’ve spent three years with), The Walking Dead could use a little levity. Or, failing that, maybe a bit of a point—where Romero at least found some biting satire in human foibles, The Walking Dead just finds a whole bunch of misery. Nobody’s demanding that the show should suddenly become a fun laugh riot, but would it hurt it to mature beyond the viewpoint of an adolescent’s whiny insistence that life really sucks in this world?

The disc:

With Season Four set to air in less than two months, Anchor Bay and Starz have brought this season to home video with a great Blu-ray package that should satisfy fans. If nothing else, its presentation is sort of a personal revelation—when I watch The Walking Dead on AMC, it’s not on my best-calibrated TV, so the picture quality here is stunning. The show doesn’t have a very distinct look—it’s that same sort of gritty, amber burnished cinematography that’s crept into a lot of horror movies these days, but it’s really slick and robust. Likewise, the lossless surround track highlights the show’s impressive sound design, especially whenever the various groups in engage in firefights or hack their way through zombie hordes.

Anchor Bay’s set reserves the fifth disc for all of the supplements; all told, the featurettes and deleted scenes add up to about 75 minutes worth of material that takes fans behind-the-scenes while the cast and crew reflect upon the season’s developments.

The first of these eight features, “Rising Son,” focuses on Carl’s arc so far and Chandler Riggs’s performance in the role, and it seems that those involved agree that The Walking Dead is really his show (for better or worse, I’m afraid).

Meanwhile, “Evil Eye” discusses The Governor and David Morrissey and offers more of the same obvious, surface-level analysis of what the character represents.

“Gone, but Not Forgotten” focuses on Lori’s departure from the show and especially keys in on the special effects that brought her demise to the screen.

“Heart of a Warrior” focuses on another new face in Micchone, and, again, it’s another fluffy look at the character and Danai Gurira’s performance.

Following that is “Michonne vs. the Governor,” which does exactly what the title promises, though it does take viewers behind the scenes to reveal how their memorable mid-season scuffle was choreographed and filmed.

The most interesting feature is “Safety Behind Bars,” a cool nuts and bolts look at how the crew designed the prison from the ground up. Having not followed the show’s development, I assumed they actually found an old, decaying building to shoot in, but, as it turns out, it was constructed on a backlot. It’s really great stuff that shows just how much effort was put into the season’s production design (the prison set was constructed over an arduous five month period).

“Making the Dead” is more of the same nuts and bolts stuff, only it focuses on the crew’s efforts to bring the zombies and their accompanying gore to the small screen. Familiar face Greg Nicotero drops in to discuss how the show blends practical and digital effects, though he has a higher opinion of the seamlessness than I do. Per usual, the look behind the curtain of the practical gags is more fascinating; this is not to belittle the work of the digital animators, of course, but the practical stuff has a real magic show quality that’s fun to unlock.

Finally, “Guts and Glory” provides a look back at the major characters that died during this season and even takes viewers to some of the cast members’ final days on set, where they get a big, appropriate send-off.

The thirteen minutes of deleted scenes (culled from six different episodes) are fine but not revelatory—it’s easy to see how these didn’t make it into the final product. Most of them are character moments that wind up being a little redundant and unnecessary in the grand scheme of things, though the interaction between Carl and Herschel’s other daughter at least illuminates why those two forged a little bit of a bond during the season (I’m also pretty sure Emily Kinney gets more lines here than in the rest of the season combined).

Five of the episodes are also graced with audio commentaries with a rotating cast and crew. Director Guy Ferland and Actor IronE Singleton drop by for “Killer Within,” while Nicotero and Gurira discuss “Say the Word.” Gurira also joins producer/writer Robert Kirkman and executive producers David Alpert and Gale Anne Hurd for “Made to Suffer.” Hurd and Gurira team up again for “The Suicide King,” and Rooker joins Nicotero for “This Sorrowful Life.”

About the only thing fans shouldn’t expect here are any hints about the upcoming season; instead, they’ll have to pore over this solid Blu-ray set until The Walking Dead returns on October 13th.
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