The third season of the Walking Dead has come and gone. But what a season it was with a hardened group of survivors wholly altered after months of mobile adversity, the discovery of a secure place to hopefully call home and a new adversary on their doorstep that isn’t a mindless hoard of eating machines. One has to think after a season of this caliber the award shows would cast an appreciative eye TWD’s way. After what could well be construed as an official snubbing of the show at last year’s Emmys, the show’s fan-base must be wondering what are the judges missing? Perhaps a perception change is due. What are the Emmy officials asking themselves when they watch the show?
How about a short Q&A with an imaginary Emmy judge asking us about the show;
Isn’t the Walking Dead based on a comic book?
A graphic novel to be exact but yes.
Isn’t it just another post-apocalyptic series?
So there’s a bunch of zombies wandering around getting their heads bashed in?
I believe so… yes.
Isn’t every episode filled with non-stop blood, guts and gore?
Okay, that’s not a great starting point…. Let’s break this down a little.
So what would entice the typical, award show judge’s attention away from the likes of Mad Men, Homeland, Breaking Bad and Downton Abbey and consider a nomination for yet another post-apocalyptic, blood and guts, zombie show?
Three answers; Writing, Acting, Directing. The same reasons the other television shows made it onto past years’ lists of Emmy nominees. What is holding the nomination committee back? What’s the stickler? A good guess is the zombies and non-stop blood, guts and gore. But there’s so much more to the series just coming out of its third, and quite possibly most impressive season yet. Its season finale drew in over 12 million viewers beating out the History Channel’s The Bible finale and HBO’s season premiere of Game of Thrones, both of which are likely Emmy contenders themselves.
But let’s push the zombies aside for a moment. Yes, this is difficult given the entire storyline and motivations for the characters’ actions and reactions are wholly intertwined within an overarching backdrop of a zombie apocalypse. Yet, despite that, the broader plot is one of survival within an inescapable situation. It’s a story about holding a family together. It’s a story about the evolution of human morality within the most dire of circumstances. Set within are individuals who deal with the challenges of this new reality in their own particular way. Their day to day struggles have fallen to meeting the most basic of necessities, finding food, water and secure shelter. How does each of them manage this altered existence internally, and externally, through their interactions with others? The audience, as a result, is absorbed into a world of unending adversity with many wondering how they, themselves, would function amidst such challenges.
The writers and directors have brought the story from the collapse of society, dragging an erratic group of characters along behind, through the initial stages of loss and upheaval to the short-lived sanctuary at the CDC, to finding an isolated, safe haven at Hershel’s farm to a state of chaos and a subsequent reexamination of humanity. By the third season the core group of survivors had become hardened soldiers of the zombie apocalypse, an efficient mobile unit scavenging abandoned homes for essential necessities then moving on to the next. They happened upon a “walker” overrun prison which held an opportunity for security and stability only to soon discover the existence of Woodbury, an apparent oasis of the old world presided over by the Governor. Conflict arises between the town and the prison through which reveals the embedded, psychopathic nature of the Governor that threatened – and with the third season’s finale still does – the hope of stability for the show’s intrepid survivors.
The actors have embodied complex individuals who have faced tragedy, hardship and trial of character through which an evolution of humanity for better or worse has come to pass. The series’ lead actor, Andrew Lincoln, plays the part of former local sheriff Rick Grimes. He has taken his character from his initial waking from a gunshot induced coma into a foreign world ravaged by a zombie plague to the euphoria of finding his wife and son to becoming the leader of the ragtag group to which his family found themselves attached. He deals with the death of many under his leadership including his best friend who he was forced to kill and his wife during childbirth, which drives him to the brink of insanity, seeing visions of her in white. He devolves into a lost state until threats from the Governor pull him back into the world. Lincoln’s portrayal of a strong-willed, tortured character has illustrated a truly impressive versatility on his part as an actor.
Along with Lincoln, the cast includes an impressive conglomeration of award winning, acting veterans. Between Scott Wilson (Hershel Greene) and Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale Horvath) alone they bring a combined 83 years of stage, screen and theater experience to the series. Danai Gurira, who plays the katana-wielding, enigmatic, new addition Michonne, is an awarding winning actor and playwright whose current character is a decisive departure from her previous work. The 13 year old Chandler Riggs who plays Carl Grimes, Rick’s son, has transformed his character from a kid of inquisitive innocence to a child of the zombie apocalypse with a moral compass unsuitable to the society of the past but perversely logical for the world in which he is growing up. Now the show has its fair share of British acting talent on board, which also includes Andrew Lincoln, but performances by two critically acclaimed actors, Lennie James (Morgan Jones) and David Morrissey (The Governor), have put the caliber of the show over the top.
James’s latest appearance as Morgan Jones was truly riveting. The character, Morgan, was Rick Grimes’ first living contact after he awoke in the hospital. He was the one who taught Rick about the state of the world. He lost his wife to the infection and he was surviving on his own with his son. When the audience meets Morgan for the second time he has lost his son – bitten by his mother/walker – and has descended into a mental state in which he has set himself on the the solitary mission to “clear” the dead from the world one by one. It was a disturbing turn for a character whose return was so eagerly anticipated. James found such depth within his portrayal of Morgan that it may be the defining performance of this past season.
David Morissey has to have the most versatile career of any of the cast with an award winning background ranging from the Royal Shakespeare Company to much acclaimed, dramatic roles on screen and television to comedy. He once even portrayed a man in the mid-1800’s who believed he was “The Doctor” along side David Tennant in Dr. Who’s 2008 Christmas Special “The Next Doctor”. The Governor is a multi-tierred character who balances himself between the charming, outward facade as Woodbury’s leader and the ruthless dictator who will brutally punish anyone who threatens his leadership in any way. Morrissey’s portrayal of the Governor’s evolution into a murderous madman, more familiar to the graphic novel’s depiction, was masterful for its subtleties and later the breaking point for the character when Michonne “killed” Penny, the Governor’s zombie daughter he kept locked away in a cubbyhole in his apartment. She was his last link to his past humanity and Marrissey brilliantly embodied the resulting internal shift to evil of the character.
The Walking Dead has, in addition, boosted the careers of many burgeoning actors whose characters met unsavory ends at the hands of the series’s writers. Madison Lintz who played the young girl, Sophia, whose disappearance became so integral to season two’s storyline went on to costar in two movies since her departure. Emma Bell, whose character, Amy, was infected towards the end of the first season, landed reoccurring roles on the revamped TV series, Dallas, and staring roles in two movies set for release this year. But perhaps most notably is Jon Bernthal‘s (Shane Walsh) rise to fame. He was almost immediately snatched up, after his death at Rick’s hand, to costar in Martin Scorsese’s and Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Wolf of Wall Street. He has also just completed filming for Grudge Match, a boxing comedy with Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro, and will star along with Walking Dead costar, Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale), in the upcoming 1940’s detective drama Lost Angels.
So with all this talent, these quality performances by award winning actors, and writing that keeps the audience grasping at straws for what will come next, why has the Walking Dead been kept at the threshold of big nominations? Is it the blood and gore, the violence? This can’t the only reason since Game of Thrones has been nominated two out of its three seasons, a show which also has numerous and fairly explicit sex scenes. This, of course, is something that makes American audiences slightly squeamish because of fairly puritanical attitudes toward the subject, yet Thrones, Homeland and True Blood are regular nominees. Many fans of Rick, the Governor and the Gang felt the Emmys clearly snubbed the show this year. Whatever has held nominations committees back in previous years, season 3 of The Walking Dead will prove difficult for the award show’s judges to ignore. This year’s performances by Lincoln, Marrissey and James, especially, along with exceptional writing and directing and – despite the complaints about this year’s finale – the series’ unpredictability sets it apart from its competitors.
Shouldn’t someone be paying attention?