Two years ago, I wrote an article titled 4 Reasons Why 'The Walking Dead' Sucks. At the time, it was an accurate statement. What the show boasted in record-breaking viewership it lacked in critical quality entertainment. Dynamic characters? Nope. Intriguing story lines? Guess again. A singular vision that binds each season together? Don't make me laugh.
It was all downhill after the first six episodes. But then, showrunner Scott M. Gimple - who took over in early 2013 as the third head honcho - slowly began to put the brains those zombies crave so badly back into the show. A series of good choices transformed "Dead" from a decomposing carcass into a lively pop culture powerhouse.
You see, change starts at the top and trickles down. Look at football. The Washington Redskins have been a punchline ever since owner Dan Snyder purchased the team in 1999. Since that time, Washington has marched out a laughable collection of starting quarterbacks who were never put into easy situations to succeed. But Gimple, the de facto "owner" of "The Walking Dead," has set a positive tone by revamping his starting quarterback in main character Rick Grimes.
Not too often can a show succeed with a poor protagonist. The main character has to be somewhat appealing to fans. Walter White's brilliance, Tony Soprano's charisma, Jack Shephard's leadership; principal players should be distinctive. But Rick was a boy scout who waffled on big decisions in the early goings. It's good to have your main character suffer through internal conflict, but only if it makes for compelling television. Watching Rick repeatedly bungle his leadership role wasn't interesting, it was infuriating. As a result, Gimple buried Farmer Rick in the Prison graveyard to make room for Badass Bearded Rick and we're all the better for it.
The Rick Grimes we've come to know since the midway point of season four is the protagonist we've been waiting for. He's decisive, he's brutal, and he's smart. He makes moves instead of speeches; takes action instead of unwarranted mercy. Planting a smooch on his hot married neighbor while simultaneously planning a hostile takeover? Now we're talking. Rick's overall character has become a catalyst for this show. Instead of merely reacting to situations and playing it safe like he did early on, he is now the acting force for the show's forward momentum. He pushes the group along to the next inevitable conflict and handles opposition in a ruthlessly justified manner. His metamorphosis at the hands of Gimple has benefited the show's storytelling format as well.
"Dead" used to have a bad habit of getting stuck in one place for too long. Not only did the action slow down, but the show also made poor attempts at important statements. Season two's farm was the most boring setting of all time with characters having long-winded, repetitive conversations about morality. The prison wasn't merely a safe house; it was also a locked cell to keep anything of interest from escaping. Anytime a character's backstory began to be filled in, they were immediately dispatched (T-Dog, Axel, etc.). Anytime a storyline worth developing arose (The Governor's redemption), it was immediately snuffed out.
Now, gone are the days when Rick and Co. would endlessly debate the merits of their actions. In its place stand punchier sequences that peel layers by showing rather than telling (Daryl's experience with the horse in a recent episode comes to mind).
Gimple made the right choice when he obliterated the prison and forced our merry band of zombie slayers to the far corners of Atlanta. The split allowed for an interesting pairing of characters - Carol & Tyrese shared an especially unique dynamic - while also giving viewers a handful of smaller, more focused stories to invest in as opposed to one big lopsided arc.
This show is at its best when the characters are constantly on the move and coming across a series of new obstacles in rapid-fire succession. Since the exodus from the prison, fans have been treated to a fast-paced, suspenseful and action-packed delight.
The splintered group was the first big challenge and it changed the format of the show for the better. Then came Terminus, the church, the hospital, and now this seemingly perfect community. Rick's crew has encountered new threats and quickly developing storylines at a break-neck pace. Walkers may be slow, but "Dead" certainly isn't. At least, not anymore. Gimple seems to have realized that a handful of episodes surrounding mysterious villains are better than multiple seasons based on one flat Big Bad. Shane, The Governor...none of the antagonists were ever fully fleshed out (pun intended) despite their long stays. This made their opposition and ultimate downfalls pretty hollow. Now, "Dead" has a new villain practically every half season and that pushes the intrigue levels to all-time highs.
There have been other positive changes along the way as well. Carol has transformed into a fully-fledged badass, Michonne is being given more of a leadership role, dead-weight such as Andrea has been eliminated and this new community offers a whole host of interesting possibilities. But I think the main adjustment is that Gimple has tapped into the primal urge fans have. Similar to the walkers, viewers just want to feed. They crave adrenaline and power moves. With a more built up Rick and an accelerated timeline of events, we've gotten just that.
Before, I only watched "The Walking Dead" in passing and never minded if I was an episode or two behind. Now, if you don't think I'm excitedly tuning in every Sunday than you're just as brainless as one of those walkers.