The Walking Dead may be one of television’s biggest surprises since The Sopranos. Not since the chronicles of a glorified Mafia crew became the hottest series on TV from 1999-2007 were we as fascinated by such an unlikely premise as a motley crew of people managing to survive in a world full of zombies. Granted, the AMC phenom hit all the right buttons in making their way to the top: family conflicts, catastrophic disaster, macho anti-heroes, sexy heroines, overachieving adolescents, incisive social statements, yadda yadda yadda. The question remains as to how they are going to continue to make this work for a fourth season without sliding off into the sinkhole of predictability. After all, how many spins can you put on a basic premise of ‘The yucks are coming’?
David Morrissey’s Governor character may be the miracle cure. One reason for the show’s success was the video game quality of its avatar-like characters. Rick Grimes was the Tortured Action Hero Dad, Glenn Rhee the token Asian and miscegenous love interest, Carl Grimes the adolescent rebel, Hershel Greene the elderly country doctor, and so on. The cast of two-dimensional characters gave each of us someone to root for, unchanging protagonists in a world that was falling apart as quickly as a zombie’s face. Daryl Dixon was the one we hoped would be the breakout star, but all they wanted to do was have him go out on supply runs and mutter terse one-liners in the background, episode after episode.
Enter the Governor, the leader of the survivalist town of Woodbury, a twisted Basil St. John (remember Brenda Starr?) with psychological hangups and hidden agendas galore. He became a bigger threat than the zombies and the first real villain we saw in the series (Shane Walsh notwithstanding). Upon the collapse of Woodbury, the Governor hits the road and runs across a cancer patient and three daughters. He does a mercy run to prolong the life of the old man, saves the girls, brings the grade-schooler out of a state of near-autism, and gets it on with the good-looking sister. This is not the Governor we’ve gotten used to, and if the scriptwriters can keep the Gov evolving, The Walking Dead is a sure bet to remain on top of the ratings in 2014.
Let’s face it, in these days of terminal channel-surfing, it gets harder and harder to keep us through the commercial break. HBO is always a threat to rule the airwaves with the best scriptwriters in the business. The biggies (ABC, NBC and CBS) will never recapture the title with their marketing rabbis perpetuating the myth of sex-crazed, bathroom joke sitcoms, reality TV and cop shows being the eternal future of TV. The Sundance Channel will be bringing their zombie knockoff, The Returned, to the table but it’s hard to beat the original item.
It may be a while before America outgrows its zombie phase, but for now The Walking Dead is on top of the volcano. It’ll be interesting to see what the Next Big Thing will be, but for now, the Governor may be able to ensure that we keep tuning in and Talking Dead in 2014.