Anchor Bay // 2012 // 678 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // August 27th, 2013
Fight the dead. Fear the living.
As Season Three begins, grizzled leader Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln, Love Actually) has left the farmstead and found shelter in a new location: an abandoned state prison. With his pregnant wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies, Faces in the Crowd) and young son Carl (Chandler Riggs, Get Low) in tow, Rick sets up camp inside the fortified walls of the penitentiary along with Darryl (Norman Redus, The Boondock Saints), Glenn (Steven Yeun, My Name is Jerry), Carol (Melissa McBride, The Mist), T-Dog (IronE Singleton, The Blind Side), Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson, In Cold Blood), and his daughters Maggie (Lauren Cohan, Casanova) and Beth (Emily Kinney, It's Complicated). As the Grimes gang attempts to get a breather from the zombie apocalypse brewing outside, they must contend with yet another force of nature: the Governor (David Morrissey, The Reaping), a seemingly mild mannered man who has built up his own camp in the town of Woodsboro, alongside Daryl's now one-handed brother, Merle (Michael Rooker, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer). Also taking shelter in the Woodsboro camp are Andrea (Laurie Holden, The Mist) and the katana wielding Michonne (Danai Gurira, My Soul to Take), who suspects the Governor is hiding more than he's letting on. When the Grimes gang and the Woodsboro camp finally meet -- with the zombie threat looming ever present -- it will take everything they've got to make their stand against threats from both the living and the dead.
The Walking Dead is not just a hit television show but a bona fide pop culture phenomenon. Who could have guessed that a little horror show about the end of the world would become the single most popular show on television? When I say "most popular," I mean it -- AMC's zombie-fest surpassed every other show on standard and cable networks to become the biggest ratings hit of 2012. Against all odds (some studio execs claiming it's a freakish anomaly), the series has made zombies the most popular monsters since Stephanie Meyer's sparkly vampires were trotted into (and out of) your local multiplex.
Much has been written about why audiences are so drawn to The Walking Dead. It's not as if TV shows about monsters had previously been huge ratings hits. Even when these shows do click -- Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The CW's Supernatural -- they are often relegated to niche audiences. Not so here. The Walking Dead is embraced by young and old, male and female, horror fans and those who wouldn't touch a horror movie with a ten foot pole. I even know people my grandmother's age who watch it. When that happens, television execs sit up and take notice.
What makes The Walking Dead so universally beloved is that it isn't really about the zombies as it is how people act and react to an earthshaking -- or earth-ending -- crisis. Although there are a lot of exploding heads, rotting body parts, and dripping entrails (courtesy of F/X expert Greg Nicotero), what people really come back for each week is to see what people will do when faced with nearly impossible decisions. That makes for compelling television and that's what makes The Walking Dead so excellent; a human element so often missing from most entries in the horror genre.
With only six episodes, Season One of laid the groundwork for these characters and their predicament. In Season Two, the characters were still figuring out how to work together as a group, while setting up camp on a local farm that eventually burned to the ground. Fans complained the second season was slow and talky, a criticism I've never fully understood), but with Season Three the Grimes gang have been fleshed out to become characters the audience truly cares about. If The Walking Dead gets any aspect of its storytelling pitch perfect, it's that the show deftly balances the horror with the emotional impact of people kicking the bucket. The writers will often toy with us, killing off people whom seem to be headed for true importance, while letting others live who don't have much value. In fact, that's one of the reasons viewers keep returning to the show; you never know week-to-week who (if anyone) is going to end up six feet under. Although it's a safe bet that Rick Grimes will stick around for a while, the rest of the cast appears to be up for grabs, when it comes to the preverbal chopping block.
Character arcs in Season Three finally begin to come into focus. Rick's son Carl has grown from being a scared child to a hardened zombie killer. Daryl's backwoods independence starts to give way to a need to be part of a group that actually cares for him. Sword expert Michonne slowly and tentatively begins to let her guard down, as she empathizes with Rick's fragile psyche, crumbling from the weight of death and tragedy. It will come as no surprise to find out the Governor, at first mild mannered and caring, begins to strip away his humanity to become a threat far more dangerous than the zombies that populate the earth. The cast are uniformly great in these roles, a rare case where there isn't a weak link to be found...save for Rick's wife Lori, who increasingly grate as the season progresses. Each character is so well defined -- the thuggish Merle Dixon, the mysterious Michonne, the gentle Hershel Greene, the villainous Governor -- that everyone deserves compliments on a job well done. The writing team, lead by Glen Mazzara -- who replaced original showrunner Frank Darabont -- seems to have a firm grasp on how to manage the series many threads, weaving them beautifully together into one cohesive whole.
Presented in 1.78:1/1080p HD widescreen, the image quality is cinematic and quite excellent. While the overall look of the show is slightly muted (colors tend to greens, grays, and browns), the image itself is crisp and clean with nary an imperfection. The lavish TrueHD 7.1 Surround track sports a ton of directional effects -- everything from gunfire and squishy sounds to babies crying -- and they all sound amazing. This is one TV soundtrack that will give your home theater a heavy workout. Also included are a Dolby 2.0 track in French, and Spanish subtitles.
Bonus features include five episode commentaries ("Killer Within," "Say the Word," "Made to Suffer," "The Suicide King," "This Sorrowful Life") with various cast and crew members; featurettes on specific characters ("Rising Son," "Evil Eye," "Heart of a Warrior"); a featurette on the various deaths in the show ("Gone, But Not Forgotten"); a behind-the-scenes featurette on the writing and make-up effects ("Michonne vs. The Governor," "Safety Behind Bars," "Making the Dead," "Guts and Glory"); and a handful of deleted scenes.
I started watching The Walking Dead when it first premiered in October 2010 and have been riveted ever since. Although the show is about a fictional zombie apocalypse, it's the best and worst of humanity that emerges when the world goes to hell in a hand basket that keeps my attention. There is pervasive sense of darkness and dread, but there's also hope and humor, making for one of television's most compelling series. Let's hope Season Four is just as good.
Worth every penny of your hard earned cash. Period.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 7.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 678 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site
* Facebook Page