"The Walking Dead" is killing me with last night's episode

‘The Walking Dead’ Is Treating Us Like We’re Mindless Zombies [Op-Ed]

SPOILER WARNING: This commentary includes significant spoilers from last night’s The Walking Dead episode “Killer Within.”

COMMENTARY | In November of 2011, I read a commentary piece on The Walking Dead by Rob W. Hart of LitReactor, and was puzzled by what I found. Despite boasting wonderful acting, compelling characters, a great premise, the highest ratings in cable TV history, and unanimous critical acclaim, Hart found The Walking Dead to be illogical, contrived, shallow, and meaningless.

I laughed off the commentary. After all, Hart was clearly the minority in his opinion, though I was nervously afraid that maybe he saw something I was incapable of seeing – I feared that he may be right about The Walking Dead. As of last night’s episode, “Killer Within,” I finally saw for myself what he was talking about.

The Walking Dead really isn’t as good as I thought it was.

It all started for me somewhere in season two. The first season moved along sharply and tightly with no criticism whatsoever from my corner, and I expected some drop in momentum after producers dropped developer Frank Darabont and his writing team from the project.

The Walking Dead did change, but week-to-week throughout the first half of the second season, I didn’t seem to mind since all of the characters were progressing pretty much how they ought to have, and new characters like Hershel and Maggie were introduced seamlessly into the narrative.

Then, the climax of “Pretty Much Dead Already,” the episode when Shane discovers the walkers in the barn and engages in a loud, pointed survival debate with Rick and the others, completely floored me. Sophia’s emergence from the barn as a walker blew my mind. As a fan of the comics, I expected the character to survive (she is still alive there, and we are much farther along), and the revelation that she had been turned – that she had been inside the barn the whole time they had been out looking for her, hoping she had survived – was a stroke of genius.

It hit all of the right emotional points. Carol finally lost everything she holds dear, becoming a hopelessly tragic and broken woman. Daryl’s own emerging faith was challenged. The look on Shane’s face – he knew he was right. But it’s the kind of thing you don’t want to be right about when the little girl you’ve all been looking for trudges out of the barn hissing through sunken cheeks.

The show had nowhere to go but up, and I anxiously waited months for the conclusion of The Walking Dead‘s season two. It came back on in February and went straight downhill. I just didn’t realize it until last night’s “Killer Within.”

First sign of danger: Dale Horvath’s death in “Judge, Jury, Executioner.” Don’t get me wrong, I have no trouble with the killing off of crucial and beloved characters. One of my favorite characters in the FX show Sons of Anarchy was brutally murdered this season, and while I regret the loss, I understood the purpose and meaning of his death moving forward.

Dale’s death was not that. It didn’t have much emotional impact beyond basic shock value, and after his moralizing argument halfway through the episode, his death was so predictable it subverted the meaning of his exit. In the comics, Dale is a much longer-running character, and more useful than the show’s “moral grandpa.” The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman told The Hollywood Reporter at the time that “It’s going to be such a monumental death that it’s going to affect things a great deal moving forward,” and that Dale’s death was “worth losing” future story arcs from the comics.