Time plays a huge factor in television story telling, probably more than you might think. More often than not, network television shows will air in real time, with their seasons roughly taking place between the months of September and May. And cable networks, like AMC, tend to slow down time. Breaking Bad is a great example of this slower pacing. The show’s five seasons play out over the course of two years. Whether you’re watching a show playing out in real time or taking things at a slower pace, that time is important. Watching The Walking Dead’s “Hounded” brought this to the front of my mind. I was comparing what was happening on screen to what took place in the comic book series and found myself witnessing events unfold at a much faster rate. Rick’s phone call with Lori – heck, even Lori’s death – happened later in the timeline of the comics than it did in the show. Time is precious in TV land. Comics can string their stories out for months, if not years, whereas TV does not have that luxury.
When you slow the passage of time, you’ll always find you need to move things along at a faster rate. That might seem contradictory, but it’s just a simple truth. If The Walking Dead were to have a 22-episode season, it could spread out its stories across the year, but instead it has to move through as much plot as possible in a shorter amount of time. Events happen at breakneck speeds and characters go through rapid changes. It actually breeds a more engaging story. You see this happen a lot in cable shows. That’s why Lori is already dead and Rick is dealing with how that affects him mentally. There is no time to waste despite time slowing down. Why wait when you can put these characters through the ringer and really see what they’re made of, see how far you can push them. That’s what we want to see; these people we’ve watched for three seasons getting their asses kicked and either rising above dire circumstances or succumbing to them.
With Rick we get a little bit of both. He’s completely checked out. When he goes to check on everyone after killing one or two-dozen zombies, he’s barely there mentally. His mind is back in that room where the phone is sitting, waiting to ring. He’s done dealing with this hell and just wants to find a safe place and judging by the fact the people who keep calling him are dead people, I’d say he feels like death is the only way to escape the horrors he’s living. But once he’s aware of how he’s slipping away, losing his mind, Rick snaps back to reality. He fell victim to his own despair, but he was able to eventually pull himself out of it, at least for the time being. Seeing him finally acknowledge his newborn daughter and pick her up was a triumphant moment for Rick and one of too few truly uplifting scenes in this show.
Merle is really coming into his own now that his character is being fleshed out more. He truly belongs with the Governor. These are two sick guys who relish this destroyed world they live in. But for now, Merle is the stand out of the two. We’ve known him longer and hated him so much, but his stronger qualities are coming out better in contrast. His ruthlessness and drive make him fun to watch when he’s fighting Michonne or in a stand off with Maggie and Glenn, but it’s his survival instincts that make him interesting as a character. He knows what it takes to survive in this world – the guy cut off his own hand to escape some walkers – and will even risk the wrath of the Governor if it means he gets to live a while longer.
I wish the Governor had as much of Merle’s intrigue. He has mystery about him, but I just don’t think that’s enough. We’re given these brief glimpses into what is likely a sick and twisted man, but for the most part we just watch him casually flirt with Andrea – why does she always fall for the crazy ones? Pushing those two together was an obvious move, but I’m not sure what the plan for them is. Now that the prison and Woodbury worlds are colliding, will the Governor be able to keep his secrets secret much longer? Maggie and Glenn have been captured by Merle and Michonne has made her way to the prison. The two sides are mixing and is Andrea supposed to be caught in the middle of it all? Is she supposed to feel torn between this perfect little town and the group she once belonged to? I think her choice is obvious: go with Rick. If she were to make any other decision then she deserves to be zombie chow.