Something happened during Sunday’s “Walking Dead” that hasn’t happened all season: I talked to the screen.
What I said — “Don’t do it, Maggie!” — doesn’t matter. Viewers talking to the screen is good for a show. It means we care.
It’s a level of engagement I haven’t had until now with Season 4 of “The Walking Dead.” Too much of this season has felt like the writers were doing things that were convenient for the writers: introducing characters just to kill them, separating people just to bring them together, make everyone sick just to… well, I don’t know why. Keep the budget down?
But Sunday’s episode, “Internment,” felt like a “Walking Dead” episode again. The people in danger were the characters we care about most – not the ones whose names we barely remember. They acted in ways that made sense. We felt Hershel’s real affection for Glen, and Glen and Maggie’s real connection. Rick and Carl had some real moments. And then we got the great Grace note of the Governor, outside the prison walls.
It worked. There were still problems with the episode – the music was overdone, and Hershel’s line readings occasionally weird. (When Sasha tells him how crazy and stupid he is, he says he’s not sure if it’s a compliment, then says a few sentences later he’ll take it as a compliment, in a tone that sounds like he’s having the thought for the first time. But hey, Hershel was very tired at that point.)
Best of all: The air tube. The show set it up grotesquely, which is to say, beautifully. We saw the extremes Hershel and Glen would go to to keep people alive, and how fast Glen was fading into death and zombiedom. And because of the chemistry between Glen and Maggie – they’re the most likable people on the show, right? – I felt invested.
Maggie did do the thing I didn’t want her to do. But I was still happy with the outcome. That’s the mark of good writing: unpredictable, but still going where it should.
“The Walking Dead” has felt in danger of slipping into the “Lost” pattern of introducing lots of people we don’t care about while splitting up the ones that we do, and then milking every reunion to death. (Or in this case walking death.)
This season has felt at times like stalling, as if AMC wants to keep TV’s top-rated scripted show on the air for as long as possible, and doesn’t want to do anything too risky.
Sorry: You can’t have horror without danger. And for one episode, at least, “Walking Dead” was back on dangerous ground. Where it belongs.