TV budgets can be limiting. We get that. But when the scope of your series is the entire zombie apocalypse, it's weird how downright claustrophobic and convenient the world of 'The Walking Dead' can be. The series' best moments have involved the core group journeying away from the well-trod path (like the episode where Rick revisited his hometown), so the show could easily benefit from a larger scope that gives us a peek at the world beyond a few locations.
Make Us Love the "Home" Locations
However, if the show is going to stick around the same few places for seasons on end, it needs to find a way to make us love those locations. Look at other popular geek-friendly TV series. People get a warm feeling when they think about the library from 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer.' There's something comforting about spending time on the bridge of the Enterprise. The prison in 'The Walking Dead' is a serviceable location for the plot, but after 16 episodes spent there, it still feels like a random collection of identical corridors and cells. There has to be a reason for us to want to spend time in this place.
Don't Be Afraid of Bottle Episodes
What makes the storytelling in AMC's own 'Breaking Bad' and 'Mad Men' so compelling? Although they're both telling one long, serialized tale, each episode functions as its own "one-and-done" story. Even if they rely on knowledge of past events to fully function, those shows found ways to continue the arching plot with episodes that told a complete story with a satisfying structure. As it is now, 'The Walking Dead' feels like a streamlined story stretched kicking and screaming over an entire season, with each episode simply being a random chunk of that plot. The show should look to its peers and find smaller stories to build that larger tapestry. It needs to construct the narrative from smaller pieces rather than design a big plot and split it up.
Stop Introducing People Just to Kill Them Off
Seriously. What was the point of introducing the surviving inmates if you were just going to kill all of them off within ten episodes? What's the point of finally giving a character like Axel a few interesting lines and character moments, only to have him gunned down moments later? Shocking character deaths are only shocking if we feel like there's something worth losing when they bite the bullet. Right now, it's just obnoxious and frustrating. If you want to have a bodycount, at least try to make us care about those bodies for longer than one scene.
Oh, and the bad habit of killing off a black character every time a new black actor joins the cast? We've noticed. Stop.
Define Your Characters and Their Relationships
In the first episode of season three, enough time has passed that the core cast of 'The Walking Dead' have evolved into a cohesive unit. Watching them operate as a team, with everyone having a very specific role, was thrilling. Then, a few episodes later, it was all gone and everyone started to blend together once again. It's one of the biggest and most unfortunate problems with the show: a cast of excellent actors trying to their damnedest to bring life to characters are are ill-defined at best and drastically change whenever a script calls for it. The only relationship that remains consistent and fun to watch is the unlikely friendship between Daryl and Carol. Sadly, there's no nice way to say this: write better characters, 'The Walking Dead.'
There's only one thing worse than introducing characters just so you can kill them off and that's needlessly killing off major characters just for shock's sake. Michael Rooker's Merle may not have been the most subtle or complex character on 'The Walking Dead,' but he was certainly the most colorful and fun to watch. A actual character in a sea of brooding dullards, he brought tough and violent life to every scene he was in ... until they killed him for no apparent reason other than to shake things up. Because that's how you deal with one of the only actors in your cast who isn't a bump on a log: you get rid of him. We're not saying Merle shouldn't have died, but you need to treat your characters with a certain amount of respect, especially when they're one of the few that actually add color and personality to the show.
There is no denying that Danai Gurira is fairly captivating as the sword-wielding Michonne and that she makes a pretty badass figurehead for the show. But why should we care about her? Ever since she's been introduced, we've been waiting to learn something, anything, about this mysterious woman who tends to do mysterious things for mysterious reasons. The show spends so much time making her cool that it forgets to make her a person worth caring about. You can only get excited by Michonne taking down a swarm of the undead with a bladed weapon a few times. The unstoppable killing machine act is getting old and the show needs to move past it if it wants us to invest in this character in any way.
When we first met the Governor, he was radically different than his outwardly psychopathic, redneck comic counterpart. Played with southern charm by David Morrissey, he was a compelling villain, a charismatic guy who hid his psychopathic tendencies behind good manners and the illusion of altruism. But then the show suddenly twisted him into his comic book counterpart, transforming him into something far less interesting. It's a problem that the show has dealt with on more than one occasion now -- it tries to do something completely fresh and new, only to retreat to the well of the source material, even when it doesn't make sense to do so. As he stands now, the TV version of the Governor barely makes sense because of these choices.
Which brings us to...
It's Time to Fully Throw Away the Comic
'The Walking Dead' doesn't always dip into its comic book source material, but when it does, the results are often unsatisfactory. Not that the comic is bad (we're actually pretty big fans), but the show has trod such a different path that it feels forced whenever the show feels compelled to follow a storyline or introduce a character from Robert Kirkman's original series. The TV version of 'The Walking Dead' is its own entity at this point, very different from its roots in almost every way that matters. Close off the source material well and never return.
A Few Laughs Never Hurt Anyone
Has there ever been a more dour, depressing and downright humorless television show than 'The Walking Dead'? No. There hasn't. Even the greatest dramas of all time find time for levity. 'Breaking Bad,' 'The Sopranos,' 'Deadwood,' 'Lost,' 'Mad Men' and 'The Wire' are all frequently hilarious, so why does 'The Walking Dead' insist on being so po-faced all the freakin' time? We're not asking for jokes, but we're asking for someone to crack a smile on occasion. You're a genre show about zombies. You're silly by your very nature. Give us something.