With AMC’s The Walking Dead beginning its fourth season, there is great excitement and anticipation. In the wake of the Breaking Bad series finale, there is a void that definitely needs to be filled, and TWD is an excellent opportunity to enjoy Sunday nights again. That said, as it moves into season four, the executive producer Greg Nicotero and new showrunner Scott Gimple (the third in four seasons) will want to take note of another show that stumbled in its fourth year: the iconic sitcom M*A*S*H.
Like TWD, M*A*S*H lost two key cast members going into its fourth year. McLean Stevenson (Lt. Colonel Henry Blake) and Wayne Rogers (Trapper John) opted out of the show, and the loss of such popular characters was upsetting. I recall people writing to CBS to complain about their replacements, and I myself did not watch much of that season. I was annoyed that Blake died and Trapper was sent home without so much as a goodbye. The facts about why they left mattered less than that their absence changed the nature of the show.
Looking at season three of TWD, we lost two main characters in Lori and Andrea. The emotional heft, especially of Andrea’s demise locked in the room with Milton turning into a zombie, hit hard. There was an introduction of new characters – and many more it seems are on the way – but there is a concern that Gimple (a long-time writer on the show) should recognize. Key characters have been lost before, but more of the same this season may hurt the series more than ever before.
Take the romance between Maggie and Glenn. In one of the more gentle relationships in the show, there is the prospect of hope for the future. They are in love and could eventually have children, but the ever present threat that one of them could become zombie food is always there. This would be a difficult thing for fans to digest (I couldn’t resist), and I am hoping that Gimple realizes the bigger picture as the need for Maggie and Glenn’s hope for the future of humanity certainly outweighs the dramatic impact of one (or both) of their deaths would inflict on the rest of the survivors.
There is also the possibly blossoming relationship between Daryl and Carol. Both have suffered tremendous loss (one of the best scenes of the series was when Daryl’s brother Merle turned zombie and Daryl became conflicted before killing him) and there seems to be something drawing them together. That said, there is the cryptic preview line from Carol about there not being many of (the original survivors) left. I’m hoping that is not foreshadowing of the worst kind in regards to her or her possible paramour.
Getting back to M*A*S*H, I feel that series and TWD also have the similarity that the protagonists are surrounded by an unrelenting enemy – in M*A*S*H it was the North Koreans and Chinese, in TWD its zombies. While these opposing armies are very different indeed, the metaphor is essentially the same. Humanity is threatened by an external force. How many times did we get scenes of the surgeons operating as bombs shook their surgical room? In TWD it is similar, an encampment that is the last best hope for what’s left of the human race.
Zombies and enemy combatants differ in one key way – zombies are involuntary murderers, while soldiers are sworn to uphold their duty. Much talk last year centered around “evil” in terms of the Governor and his nefarious plans to take the prison and kill all of its inhabitants, and this threat subsumed in many ways the zombie threat. Zombies were part of the equation but sometimes actually just seemed to be more in the background, a fact of life like rats in the NYC subway system. In terms of “evil” there is no intent for a zombie. It is pure instinct that drives it to kill and eat; however, if we learn down the line that some kind of evil force created a virus that caused the zombie mutations, then that will be a different thing to deal with.
At the center of both shows is the main protagonist – Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) in TWD and Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) in M*A*S*H. No matter how many characters come and go, they are essential to the story moving forward. While I was annoyed that Trapper left, I came back to M*A*S*H mostly to see what Hawkeye was up to. The same must be said about Grimes, who lost his way last season and that bothered me at first, but I recalled the same thing happening to Hawkeye. You cannot be overwhelmed by events and not pay an emotional price. Rick did come back in a huge way – facing off with and eventually defeating the Governor.
So I am not sure which direction TWD will be taking this year, but I fear always that one of our favorites will die. It’s a staple of the show, and you know that everyone is fair game. I have also read that David Morrissey (the Governor) is signed on to guest star, so we must assume he is not done with his quest to get Rick and company. He was a complicated character, and as a villain he could smile all the while he was stabbing you in the back, so that is good news for fans. Here’s hoping that Michonne gets a chance to finish what she started last season when he does come on the scene. I am looking forward to this season but with trepidation.
While I have enjoyed other AMC shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, to me this is one of the strongest TV dramas ever. It has managed to transcend the genre tag that could have afflicted it, and its popularity (around 12 million viewers per episode) indicates how it has found and kept an audience. The question is how much do Nicotero and Gimple respect that core group (we have to hope as much as Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan did his fans)?
There is always danger in a fourth season in that we have come to care deeply enough about the characters, and that is why we keep coming back, but it is also why we have to know that things are probably more precarious than ever before. I am just thinking that Rick and his kids Carl and Judy are going to be threatened, but Rick has become such an iconic presence, that I almost wish for someone (or thing) to go after them, because that will bring out Rick’s inner warrior, one that Shane Walsh and others discovered all too well.
The good news is The Walking Dead is back, but that is also the bad news because death is always a factor in this series. While I hope my favorites survive, I have a feeling that more graves will be dug (maybe even in the very first episode). Yes, we are angry when someone we care about dies, but this is a war zone. Sometimes even good people like Henry Blake and Andrea don’t make it. Just as in life, we may not like it, but we have to live with it. TWD keeps us coming back because, despite all the loss, at its heart is the preservation of humanity in the face of madness. That glimmer of hope is what keeps me hooked, even if I will be sitting on the edge of my seat each week.
Photo credits: M*A*S*H – Wikipedia; TWD- AMC