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Walking Dead Season 3: The Season of Stuff and Things

  Previously on The Walking Dead . . . it seems odd to want begin my entire analysis of season 3 of The Walking Dead by talking about LOST. Since the directors of TWD didn’t have any problem using LOST’s iconic eye to help the fans understand through visual rhetorical the focus of season 3, neither should EYE—right? Ahh, puns. The season of stuff and things gave viewers a lot to consider in terms of the characters we have grown to love, their interpersonal relationships, and the dystopian walker-flavored world in which they live. But what was the greater message of the season? The eyes have it.

LOST’s Jack’s eye

If you didn’t watch LOST, you may not have thought anything about how season 3 opened with the close-up of a zombie eye. As a LOST fangirl (seriously, one of my children is named after a LOST character), I immediately noticed the connection. On LOST, the series begins with a close up of Matthew Fox’s (Jack’s) eye. The entire series ends with the same shot: Jack’s eye closing as he dies while his friends escape the mysterious island from hell as a direct result of his sacrifice. For LOST, the “bookends” of the eye symbolically highlight the hero of the series, the journey toward self-understanding and redemption all the characters in the series take, and the true nature of human connection.

“Seed” (Season 3, Episode 1) Walker eye

The walker eye close up at the beginning of “Seed,” an aptly named season opener, serves to accentuate the symbolic focus of the entire The Walking Dead series up to the beginning of season 3. Walkers are the physical symbol of the death of mankind and the main burden our characters have faced—besides Lori—throughout seasons 1 and 2. The walkers’ occluded, undead eyes see nothing. They are unthinking, flesh-eating machines. Rick’s group has struggled to survive in a dystopian world. Walkers were the problem.  

Dale’s death signifying the end of humanism

Season 2, however, begins to hint at a larger question lingering in TWD universe. How do you function in this new world? We thought that with the deaths Shane (booo!) and Dale in season 2, that TWD universe was trying to show us that extremes had no place in our new world. But maybe extremes were not quite the problem.

“Hi, this is your subconscious. Would you like to go Shane-crazy, or merely be delusional for a while?”

Season 3 shows us something different. By season 3, we are firmly in the grip of mankind’s fall. In what is left of our world, the walkers reign. They are the enemy. This is, of course, why the season opens with a focus on a walker eye. While our beloved characters individually faced demons, and at times we probably all felt like we’d rather be eaten by a walker than listen to Lori nag for one more second—ironic, I know--the walkers were the primary burden. By the end of season 3, however, the picture we have is very different. In the end, no matter what environmental forces mankind must face, it is the human potential to terrorize and destroy that serves as the biggest problem in the new post-season 3 TWD universe.  

Just go away already!! The fans hate you!

Our characters, time and again, struggle to differentiate right from wrong, good from evil, light from darkness, conscience from callousness, etc. Rick faced a struggle against opposing internal forces while he ran around after the stuff and things all season. The “Ricktatorship” we had envisioned at the end of season 2 quickly fell apart when T-Dog and Lori died in the struggle for the prison. So glad to be rid of Lori, I never anticipated GHOST LORI! AHHH!   And neither did Rick. Now, I love supernatural elements in stories, believe me, but I was not a fan of ghost Lori. Yet ghost Lori served her purpose in the over-arching theme of this season, the switch from the focus on the walkers as the enemy to the intrinsic darkness in living humans as the enemy. Rick struggled with the encroaching darkness within him all season, sorting out his “stuff and things.” And there were moments when I sensed that Rick had turned off his guiding conscience.

“Seriously?”

When Rick left the hitchhiker on the side of the road, he showed us that the world they now live in is not a world ruled by compassion. It is not a world in which it is safe to trust another seemingly innocent human being. While Rick redeems himself at the end of the season when he “saves” the Woodbury survivors, thus banishing ghost Lori, mid-season things were not looking good.  

“Clear” (Season 3, Episode 12) - Morgan

The appearance of Morgan, now firmly president of Crazytown, and his message of “clear,” reaffirms this notion that our real enemy is human potential toward darkness. Morgan suggests that it is the meek like him who will be left to clear the earth, not the “good” like Rick or the “evil” like the Governor. Yet during the episode titled “Clear,” Rick acted none too good. Rick should not have been surprised, given he is Carl’s role-model, that the boy executed a seemingly innocent person at the end of the season. After all, Rick’s had no problem leaving a man to die on the side of the road.  

Beginning with the episode “Made to Suffer,” we see this theme of internal struggle play out between the Dixon brothers. The return of Merle led to Daryl having to decide what kind of man he had become. This . . .

or the kind of man who would leave the group because his brother said so. It was familial loyalties that caused Daryl set aside the nobility he’d learned in season 2 and leave everyone behind. But when faced with a dilemma of conscience—do I save the woman and the baby being attacked by walkers or not—Daryl chose his noble self. (Something tells me Daryl would have stopped for the hitchhiker.)  

A question of conscience

In the moment on the bridge, Daryl saves the innocent while Merle watches. Daryl and Merle serve as a symbol of the internal conflict other characters—like Shane, Rick, the Governor, and even Carl—face(d.) Daryl was a man of conscience while his brother was not. This is what made the death of Merle significant and heroic. Ultimately, Merle, a man fully tied to the barbaric, id-like qualities, put aside his inner darkness and was ruled by conscience.

From asshole redneck to hero in less than 30 minutes

  Merle died a hero. It is for this reason the entire fan-base rallied around him at the last second. He chose to value what was good and attempt to destroy what was not even though it was contrary to his previous sense of self:           Perhaps this is why Merle’s death is so much more poignant that Andrea’s death. I must admit, I am in a minority. I always liked Andrea. Andrea died very unheroically because she struggled to see right from wrong, good from evil, id from super-ego. Andrea died because she was detached from her instincts which left most viewers without pity for her.     As I watched the Governor unravel this season, I thought a lot about the character of Shane. It seemed to me that the Governor and Shane were the same kind of men before the end of the world and were shaped into what they became by mankind’s death. What happens to a person who has tendencies toward violence when put in traumatic environmental situations? What happens to people with psychopathic tendencies that are kept in check by society when society is no longer there to enforce societal standards? Shane unraveled because he was traumatized by his environment, confused by his feelings and sense of responsibility toward Lori, and because Lori was a horrible, horrible person.

“God, why do I even like Lori?”

  The Governor had already begun his decline before we met him. We know from Milton that he was not always “evil.” Was he, like Shane, shaped—maybe, let loose—by the new environment? We do know that the loss of his daughter—the first and the second time--significantly changed him. And honestly, imagine if this was your child:

Say "AHHHHHHH"

  The Governor’s change was not so different from Hershel’s, it just went in the opposite direction. Hershel lived in the delusion that there was still something human inside those walkers in his barn. After he saw the truth, he changed—but for the better. The Governor was attached to his walker daughter, thus he saw Michonne’s act as a kind of murder. He changed, ungluing himself from his reason, and allowing his id to run free.  

The horrors of our world are not dead just because the majority of us are undead.

Maggie said it best in “Made to Suffer” when she reminded us that being around walkers so much made us “forget what people do.” She was right.

The Governor's Good Eye

“Welcome to the Tombs” begins with a close-up on the Governor’s eye. Even though the environment of TWD is riddled with walkers who could kill you at any moment, for Rick’s group, they are no longer the largest threat. Mankind is still more dangerous than any unthinking entrails-eating walker.         Season 3 of TWD puts focus back on the sublime horror that is mankind through the character of the Governor. And as we all know, that bastard got away. I believe seeing the Governor’s eye close-up at the end of season 3 sets the stage for the focus and tone of the show to come. Walkers don’t seem to be that big of a problem anymore; Rick’s group is effective at walker killing, walkers are getting gooier, and Michonne knows how to walk with the walkers. The undead are more an environmental problem. Our real problem after mankind’s downfall is still mankind.

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Melanie Karsak is the author of “The Harvesting” series, novels of the zombie apocalypse, available at Amazon.com. Visit the author at her blog, melaniekarsak.blogspot.com, for more information or to connect.
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