#2. No More Burdens
"We love nature hikes and have no sense of direction; save us!"
First they ran out of Red Shirts, and now the writers of The Walking Dead are fresh out of Convenient Burdens, too. Don't mistake the two: Red Shirts are entirely different from Convenient Burdens. Red Shirts are just disposable cannon fodder, while Convenient Burdens usually aren't even killed -- they're just perpetually on the verge of it. And they make for bad storytelling because they're usually painfully transparent: The Convenient Burdens only exist as easy plot devices to put the group in trouble when shit gets boring. But now Sophia is dead, they've finally hardened Andrea the fuck up and not only has Carl learned his Spider-man lesson and made his first kill, but they finally gave him his own gun (something that happened way earlier in the comics, and in the rational minds of every single audience member). So that should be the end of the "helpless child lost in the woods" plot lines. No more Lori sprinting out onto the lawn screaming "CARL ISN'T IN THE HOUSE!" Because now she'd have to follow it up with: "AND ALL HE HAS IS A FIREARM AND BOTH THE TRAINING AND THE WILL TO USE IT JUST LIKE THE REST OF US!"
So there's really just Carol and Lori left to helplessly flail around in the background of the zombie apocalypse while the adults manage the hard stuff like story and character and oh yeah: zombies. But Lori's role was never to get in trouble (she just causes it). So that only leaves Carol to account for, and you know what? That's fine. It's actually beneficial to have one Convenient Burden in the show.
Remember the escort missions from Resident Evil 4?
"Oh. God. Dammit, Ashley. How did you even get up there? Do I have to get you a leash?!"
My wife watched me play through that entire game, and no matter how annoying Ashley was to actually deal with, nothing was more intense to watch than her missions. It infuriated me at the time, because I was responsible for the dizzy bitch, but sometimes a helpless foil serves a good purpose, in that it gives the main character something at stake. It's just that Convenient Burdens are a lot like Kool-Aid: There's only so much you can fuck with the ratio before you end up with colored water. Up until now, The Walking Dead didn't work because they had two Leons and like 18 fucking Ashleys.
Now there's only one, and maybe they can get Carol a nice red ball to play with somewhere. Keep her occupied.
#1. At Least They're Not on a Goddamn Farm Anymore
"The entire world is yours for the exploring. Come, dwell on me."
Seriously, that is the absolute worst location for any show not explicitly about farming. And you know what? Even farming shows would be better served with more interesting set pieces. Volcano farmers. Moon farmers. Freeway farmers. Fuck, I don't know -- literally anything is more interesting than a plain old ordinary farmstead. When The Walking Dead hit Hershel's farm, the whole show decided that it needed a nice rest in the country, set aside all the stress of this "zombie" business and got down to doing some serious farm work. They spent roughly four hours this season showing the characters cleaning wells, fixing windmills, patching up fences and protecting cattle -- it's like two interns collided on the street, papers flying everywhere, and each came back to the set with half the pages from a zombie show and half the pages from a remake of Little House on the Prairie.
I know that's my joke analogy, but I'm pretty sure that would still somehow make for better watching than The Walking Dead so far.
And you can tell that the writers finally understand what they did wrong: They made sure to clearly tease the prison at the end of the finale, just so the fans wouldn't go fleeing off aimlessly into the woods like a bunch of little Halfwit Carls. Relocating to the prison means the group is probably going to encounter prisoners and the new dilemmas that come with them; it means the group is going to start thinking strategically and actually acknowledge on some level that there is a zombie apocalypse and that maybe it trumps the birth control debate just a little; it means we're about to explore the governor's township and how other, less moral groups are dealing with the same scenarios as our survivors; it means something will goddamn happen, anyway. Even if it's just a new color of wall to stare at while Rick and Lori fight about whose turn it is to take out the garbage.
Pictured: Not a fucking barn.
I think it's finally time: I think The Walking Dead is finally going to pull it together. Not because I like what they've done so far, or have become convinced of the writers' abilities, or even see potential in their ideas. But because, by the time Season 2's finale wrapped, the group has made every unrealistically idiotic mistake possible and learned some retardedly obvious lessons -- like that burning zombies just makes burning zombies, that gentle fields of grass aren't a great zombie deterrent and that you never trust the guy who suddenly and dramatically shaves his head in the bathroom. So though it took two full seasons of boredom and idiocy to get there, they're finally there: The Walking Dead has a solid premise, an interesting location, an impending conflict and characters with the beginnings of genuine arcs instead of repetitive dribbles. In short, it may have taken them 18 painful hours to do it, but The Walking Dead has finally caught up with the first 10 minutes of an ordinary zombie movie.
You can buy Robert's other book, Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.