TOWN VS. FROWN: When Walking Dead premiered, I was excited -- a show that ran past the 90-minute/250-page mark might give some thought to the question that crops up at the end of every short zombie piece: what next? But The Walking Dead took its time getting there. Its first season was about the need to find moments of pre-apocalyptic normalcy in a post-apocalyptic world, and its second was about learning to let go of the notion of pre-apocalpytic normalcy (and pre-apocalyptic morality) altogether. So it's only in this, the third season, where we get down into what post-apocalyptic normalcy really is.
The first couple of seasons, then, got kind of repetitive for me. The threats came (mostly) from the zombies, with a little bit of group dysfunction. By contrast, this third season has been brisk and well done. The zombies have been relegated to a dangerous but not constant threat, and the real menace comes from other humans competing for the same scarce sources of food, weaponry, and secure shelter.
The best dramatic irony comes from Merle. Merle was a vicious cartoon redneck in Episode 1, but what got him chained up on the roof back then was Rick's executive order: never kill people. Now that Rick has learned the importance of getting a jump on rival human tribes in the zombie world, it's Merle, the beneficiary of Rick's disavowed edict, who's his target. As in Lost, nothing but narrative perspective explains why one group gets to be the heroes and the other the Others (except for the aquarium full of heads in the Governor's media room), but it's definitely that conflict, and not humans vs. zombies, that makes this third season the best one.
Also: (1) Glenn got to be a badass, which is a rarity for non-Daniel Dae Kim Asian men on TV; and (2) the prison has a limited food supply, a large yard, and resident farmers (Herschel and his two daughters), but they still haven't started preparing the field for planting? Come on. Maybe the residents can do something other than holding up the door frames?