There are two storylines to pay attention to in these final eight episodes of season 3. The first is obvious, and clearly stated: The brewing war between Woodbury and the Grimes Gang, and the minor internal skirmishes occupying both sides. There is also another storyline, more subtle, more behind-the-scenes, and of interest only to those Walking Dead fans who care about how the show gets put together -- and if you don't care about behind-the-scenes stuff, go on ahead to the next page. But if you are that kind of Walking Dead fan, then the story I'm talking about is arguably more interesting than anything that happened in tonight's episode. I'm talking about the impending departure of Glen Mazzara, the man who is largely credited with bringing the life back to Walking Dead, who is leaving the show due to "creative differences." This marks the second time that Walking Dead has lost a showrunner, after original creative force Frank Darabont departed midway through season 2.
It's hard to assign credit on a TV show like Walking Dead. Robert Kirkman has been writing the original series for close to a decade now, and he's a producer/writer on the TV show. Darabont directed the great series premiere and established a tone that veered wildly between stark retro-western, gory horror, and bargain-bin Ingmar Bergman. There are other producers -- one of whom is Greg Nicotero, the man behind the zombies; you could argue that Nicotero is the real star of the show. And there is also AMC, a network that could have never imagined that The Walking Dead would become as successful as it is...and a network that has become extremely careful in protecting the show, now that it has become a megahit.
Mazzara's time on the show was initially a mercenary rescue mission -- he chopped out the bad characters, burnt the farm to the ground, and gave the fans the Governor-Michonne-Prison triple-shot they had been begging for. But with the third season premiere, Mazzara also gave the show a complete reboot; he reimagined the whiny Grimes Gang of season 2 as a lean, mean tactical squadron, operating mostly on well-trained impulse. It was a vision of The Walking Dead as a war movie -- specifically, a Behind-Enemy-Lines war movie, except the whole world was behind enemy lines.
To be honest, I'm not sure any episode this season has entirely lived up to that vision. The show still runs into problems when the characters talk too much. The new people have been a mixed bag: David Morrissey is having a great time chewing the scenery as the Governor, and Danai Gurira's thousand-yard-stare suggests a whole internal life for Michonne that hasn't been even remotely explored by the writers, but every other new character is basically a walking Meatbag waiting to be chomped or sliced.
This is all important, I think, because the story of The Walking Dead is the story of very different leaders offering their own perspective on how humanity should function, while the story behind the show is the story of very different creative personalities offering their own perspective on how The Walking Dead should function. These final eight episodes have now become, perhaps inadvertently, Mazzara's final statement on The Walking Dead. So it has to make you anxious that, with time running down on the clock, the show took a moment to reintroduce not one, but two of the worst running plotlines in the show's history. The first was subtle, but noteworthy. Beth and Carol had a brief chat in the prison. Carol, mourning for the absent Daryl, said: "Sophia used to wake the neighbors." That's the first time Sophia has been mentioned all season, I believe -- a nice departure from last season, when The Search for Sophia occupied about half the running time. Carol also mentioned Ed, her abusive dead husband, and how -- if he walked through the door -- she might still run to him. It was, on one hand, a nice reminder that all of these people used to have a different life. It was also, however, a reminder that these people's lives used to be much less interesting. (It's times like this that Walking Dead reminds you of Battlestar Galactica, and it doesn't benefit from the comparison: While the characters on BSG decided to keep moving forward, the characters on Walking Dead appear stuck in their tracks, reliving the same traumas over and over. Will Andrea fall for next season's villain, too?)
NEXT: My own son