As The Walking Dead‘s third season commences, we pick up the survivors some months after the destruction of Hershel Greene’s (Scott Wilson) farm. The survivor group is weary and half-starved, but with little hope of a new sanctuary. All have been affected by the losses already suffered–and their experiences in the harsh new world, but with Lori Grimes (Sarah Wayne-Callies) very pregnant, they find a reason to hope when they come across an overrun prison.
Obviously, as the group’s situation changes, confronted with charming psychopaths (who, in the old world, might have been the neighborhood doctor or lawyer), and growing herds of zombified corpses, Rick, Daryl, and Co. react to each new harsher reality. Deaths are expected, and even the actors have noted that they read each script wondering if they’ll be next to go. No one is really safe, perhaps not even Rick…or Daryl…or Carl.
The survivors find, and make, a home in the prison. But they also find, beyond the zombies, a group of prisoners who’ve no idea what’s transpired these past months since the zombies happened. Killing Shane has opened up a tougher streak in Rick than we’ve ever seen. He is perfectly willing to put down the prison group–or evict them with little regard to anything else but the safety of his family. And who can blame him? This Rick is different than the man conflicted about killing Randall in season two, and he will stop at nothing to protect his pregnant wife and young son. The prisoners are far from friendly–except maybe for Axel and Oscar, and after Lori dies, Rick goes a little off the deep end, and his trust in “outsiders” contracts still more, turning away future group members Tyreese and Sasha, sending them into the arms of the Governor. Anyway, Season three saw the deaths of several key Walking Dead players, including three original members of the survivor group: T-Dog, Andrea, and the aforementioned Lori.
But the most impact on the show’s narrative comes from a couple deaths we’d expect to shake the show’s foundations, and a couple of unexpected, but significant, characters:
T-Dog: A character with far too little to do during his time on The Walking Dead, T-Dog’s impact came with his death. Never a group leader, never at the forefront of Rick’s inner circle, T-Dog’s death–sacrificing himself to the zombie horde–ensured that Carol got to some semblance of safety. His sacrifice has had a huge (albeit) impact on the show’s narrative–and on Carol.
Lori Grimes: Many fans of The Walking Dead did not especially care for Lori, but her death had far-reaching impact on Rick (and by extension the entire group), and even more importantly on Carl. There are few scenes more indelible than the image of Carl Grimes shooting his mother in the head to prevent her from becoming a zombie as she dies in childbirth by C-Section. The traumatic effect on him is stunning, and he begins to retreat–a colder, harsher, sadder boy grown up far too soon.
Rick’s life is upended with Lori’s death. Their unresolved conflict had festered and festered since Rick had killed Shane at the end of season two, and had she lived, the baby might have given them a renewed sense of purpose together. There certainly had been some signs that Rick was beginning to see his way to forgiving Lori for her reaction to Shane’s death. And for most of the remainder of season three, Rick is haunted by Lori, and surrounded by regret as he sinks deeper and deeper into despair. So much so, that he is unable to function as the group’s leader.
Indirectly, her death–and Rick’s reaction to it (and to a lesser extent, Carl’s) also brought Daryl really into the forefront of the group. He sees the state Rick is in, and takes command, letting the grieving man have the space to back away from the heavy burden of leadership. Daryl takes it upon himself to care for the group’s needs, and also for those of baby Judith, refusing to “lose her too.” With Carl, he shows a deep understanding of the grief of losing a parent suddenly, telling the boy the story of his mother’s death.
Andrea: I’m not entirely sure what Andrea had believed she might’ve accomplished by become a liaison between the Governor and Rick (maybe it’s her lawyer chops–ever the negotiator), but it had been so misguided that it was almost inevitable that she would die a gruesome death. Had she been so sucked in by Philip’s charms that she’d suddenly lost all ability to think?
I almost didn’t include her in this list because everything she does in season three is pretty ineffective: she doesn’t kill the governor when she has the chance, she goes back to Woodbury when she might have stayed with the prison group, she abandons Michonne… Yeah. Ineffective as a member of the group. And maybe that’s why she suffers such an ignominious death. There is little about her death that drives the plot going forward, but her death is so very meaningless, I felt I had to say something. And although after her death, she doesn’t move the plot or affect anyone greatly, she does–during her stay at Woodbury–have a significant effect on the Governor’s right hand…
Milton: First, I have to say that I really enjoyed seeing Dallas Roberts in The Walking Dead. I loved his character Miles in another (not as successful, but excellent) AMC series, Rubicon. And I was truly sorry to see him go. but his death was in the service of a greater good, which, for his character is such a leap, I have to make note of it. Destroying the Governor’s pet zombies is an act of rebellion so spectacular for the meek Miles, that it completely changes his character; he takes to heart Andrea’s admonition that he can no longer look the other way. And for this he pays with his life (and ultimately, Andrea’s)
But while Andrea and Milton are kept in the Governor’s interrogation room/torture chamber, Milton, in another small act of defiance, provides Andrea the means to escape, and had Andrea been able to reach those pliers Miles leaves on the floor in their shared torture cell, she might have. And Miles holds on long enough to let her do it, except she can’t–not in time.
Merle Dixon: Merle’s death is a remarkable moment on The Walking Dead. The resident redneck a**hole of the survivor group, Merle had been missing since early in season one, and his absence clearly had not softened him when we see him again in season three, now the Governor’s handy henchman. By this time the incredible contrast between his “little brother” Daryl and the big bad guy is stark; Daryl is a man transformed by events and the acceptance he has earned and had begun to embrace.
Merle is brought to a point where his is little more than the Governor’s assassin–accepted only as far as he can be useful. But during his time at the prison, Merle comes under Daryl’s influence, and while never softening, comes to realize that the things he’s done since the apocalypse are far worse than he can ultimately live with. And Michonne brings that home to him, eventually leading to Merle’s noble act of defiance and redemption. Although his death has little direct impact on the plot (or at least no long-term impact), his final scenes with Daryl (beautifully acted by Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker) create a powerful emotional moment for Daryl–and perhaps help exorcise some of remaining demons.
Jody (The Woodbury kid Carl kills in the season three finale). He’s only in one brief scene, but in that moment we, Hershel–and ultimately Rick–understand that changes must be made. Carl has become a cold-blooded killer. His emotionless murder of a young boy surrendering his gun is a stunning scene. Rick’s son is on a dark, dark path, and as a result, Rick gives up the gun, and turns his attention–and Carl’s–to farming and tending to baby Judith. It’s just the sort of shocking wake-up call that The Walking Dead does so beautifully, changing the direction of the plot organically, but profoundly, with the whisper of a single action.
Karen and David: When these two turn up murdered at the start of the deadly virus that attacks the prison survivors, the last person most think of as the murderer is Carol. Yet, in the wake of all she’s experienced, her strong protective and increasingly fearless streaks lead her to root out two carriers of the disease to protect the larger population. The few for the many–a simple equation in rational thinking, but is it always the right thing to do? Carol believes it is, and that she is serving a greater good. And perhaps she is. But as a result, she is banished from the prison, left on her own.
But her banishment, ultimately, becomes the saving grace of the entire group by the start of season five. Had she not been outside the camp at the end, who knows what might have happened by the time they all got to Terminus? Instead, Carol gets to be the heroine, protective mother eagle of them all (despite her also having killed–again a greater good decision–the psychopathic Lizzie).
Of course, Tyreese is greatly affected by (especially) Karen’s death; he wants nothing other than blood from the murderer. Little does he know, it’s Carol, with whom, in the aftermath of the prison he reconnects, both providing safety for Lizzie, Mika and Judith.
Speaking of which…
Mika and Lizzie: Their deaths suck the soul out of Carol. Although she does not kill Mika, I believe she feels responsible for her death. She has no choice with Lizzie (in the brilliant episode “The Grove”); she has to deal with the fact that Lizzie sees the walkers as living–and that the girl is a psychopath, who will likely kill Judith. But those facts cannot erase the hole left in Carol’s soul, a hole so deep she cannot even remain with her family of survivors. In “Consumed,” we get the sense that she wants to talk about it with Daryl–to somehow get absolution from him. But the perceptive Daryl sees the pain she’s in, and insists that nothing she might have done signifies in how he sees her (or how the others will see her). She has done what she’s had to do. Full stop. but is it enough? We still don’t know the answer to that.
Hershel: Hershel’s death in the season four mid-season finale is a blow to everyone. Maggie and Beth, of course, his children–and Glen, his son-in-law. The moral compass of the series, Hershel will be missed. The full impact of his passing cannot be felt immediately because everyone is scattered in the aftermath of the prison downfall. Beth mourns him in “Still” during a reflective moment, but everyone is on the run, and a moral compass is of little help–maybe until they encounter Father Gabriel. Will Gabriel be the new Hershel moving forward? Hmm.
The Governor: All I can say is “good riddance,” Philip, Brian, or whoever you are.
Season five is only half over. Major deaths have included poor Bob, cannibal Gareth, crazy cop Dawn, and the beloved Beth. The biggest impact will be from Beth’s death. Maggie will be destroyed, and Daryl will crumble, feeling not only the weight of Beth’s death, but responsibility for it. For Daryl, Beth represents light in his otherwise dark world. Optimism in a lifetime of being beaten down. (Hopefully Carol’s presence will be both a comfort to him and an anchor from falling into despair.
And don’t forget to tune in to this week’s Let’s Talk TV Live, when we’ll talk about The Walking Dead and all our favorite shows! The Walking Dead returns in February on AMC![amazon template=iframe image&asin=0989637905,B00OU8MQVE,B000IY04Q8,B00E0FVZAK,B00C4OSK3Y,B00EJX5CO8]