Season Three of The Walking Dead hits Blu-ray this week and, as with the previous seasons, the video and audio quality of the Blu-ray transfers is superb. The sixteen episodes are spread over four discs with the only real extras being scattered audio commentaries until we hit the fifth disc which is filled with behind-the-scenes peeks and info. The video quality is crisp and clean, with any real limitations in color saturation or grain being those intended by the show's creators.
Some of the digitally enhanced gore stands out here and there, though. I guess you can't always rely on the practical effects any more. The audio is Dolby TrueHD 7.1 and if your system is up to it, should have you cringing at gunshots and explosions then creeping yourself out with subtle groans and creaks as zombies lurk in the shadows. And the sound of those prison doors closing is perfection.
The Walking Dead returned last October, kicking off its third season with a surprisingly strong run of episodes. After a season that many deemed too slow (not me) and lacking in zombies (wrong) and real drama and excitement (again, wrong), Season Three jumped forward in time to show us a group of survivors who had made it through a hard winter and had become a well-oiled zombie-killing force to be reckoned with.
The time jump was a great idea because, as I mentioned in my review of the first episode, "Seed" all of Season Two had taken place over a month or so. It was good to allow the characters to breathe and grow without watching them every step of the way. The most tangible pay-off of that was the sudden appearance of a Carl (Chandler Riggs) who was now a bad-ass! That's how you do it, Walking Dead.
The second episode, "Sick" kept the intensity going and introduced new characters – some of whom would stick around for a while, some of whom would be gone toot sweet. Then we got something brand new: the third episode, "Walk with Me," introduced an entirely new cast of characters! Well almost new – Merle (Michael Rooker) was back and as fucked up as ever. We also met the season's Big Bad, The Governor (David Morrissey) who was very different from his comic book counterpart.
But that was cool. This was Governor before the madness and violence of the comics. Unfortunately, the next episode, "Killer Within" would be the last high water mark for a while. It did a fantastic job setting up the dichotomy between the two camps of survivors and should have signaled amazing things to come. Instead it signaled a slide in quality that lasted right up until the mid-season break. "Made to Suffer" was highlighted with intense drama and graphic violence, but marred by stupid, stupid bullshit.
I can't say it wasn't expected, because those first two episodes were fantastic. It's almost impossible for a show, particularly a horror/adventure/drama, to consistently hit the mark. Movies and television are such a collaborative process that it is rare for one to be great all the time.
The back half of the season stumbled a little out of the gate, but hit its stride again with episode 11, "I Ain't A Judas" and peaked with episode 12 "Clear." It really shouldn't be a surprise, but what really saved this season was the performance by Michael Rooker as Merle. He was able to take what began as a one-note racist caricature in Season One and bring him back as a layered, subtly conflicted, dynamo of energy. The show needed a bad boy with Shane dead and gone, and Rooker gave us one of the best characters on television.
And then with "Clear," the Season Four show runner Scott M. Gimple stepped up and showed us what he had to offer by writing the best episode of the entire history of the show. He brought back Morgan Jones (Lennie James) from the pilot episode, gave us some quiet time with Michonne, allowed Carl to grow up a little more and bond with Michonne, all while giving us one of the most heartbreaking and gut-wrenching episodes of American television in years.
That poor hitchhiker, man. That poor hitchhiker.
Gimple would be back writing the second best episode of the season – and again, maybe of the show's history – with the penultimate episode of the season, "This Sorrowful Life." It was without a doubt one of those episodes where you just wish the characters acted like this all the time rather than whiplashing back and forth between stupidity and awesomeness. Again, Gimple gives us quality Michonne time – he's the first writer to really understand her character and know how to bring that understanding to the script. He also has a handle on Merle that is second to none.
If Gimple can't write every episode of Season Four, I'm glad he's at least in charge of maintaining the direction of the show. Because Glen Mazzara, after an incredibly strong start, completely and totally screws the pooch with the finale, "Welcome to the Tombs." This was simply a dreadful and a horrible way to end the season.
In looking back at Season Three, I realized that the amazing Ernest R. Dickerson only directed the first episode and didn't come back. I sincerely hope that was just a scheduling conflict because Dickerson is one of the most talented directors working in television today. He can make a barely passable script work on the screen like no one else.
Special Effects superstar Greg Nicotero has proven with his work on The Walking Dead that he's also a force to be reckoned with in the director's chair. Not only is he responsible for making this show look as good (i.e. horrifyingly gruesome) as it does, he showed such an affinity for Gimple's scripting in "This Sorrowful Life" t
hat I can't help but wish the two of them could handle the majority of Season Four by themselves. Actually, if they could then somehow split the directing duties between Nicotero and Dickerson and I'd be the happiest of campers.
Looking ahead, Season Four's first episode, "30 Days Without an Accident" is written by Gimple and directed by Nicotero, so could someone please tell October 13 to hurry up and get here?
The Special Features:
Audio Commentaries: There are audio commentaries for episodes 4, 5, 8, 9, and 15, but the only one that captured my interest was for Episode 15, "This Sorrowful Life," by Director/Co-Executive Producer/Special Effects Make-Up Artist Greg Nicotero and Superstar Michael Rooker. It kind of makes me wish they could work together on everything forever.
Rising Son (HD, 6:47): This one takes a look at Chandler Riggs and the development of Carl over the three seasons so far. It's a nice little piece of work as even Riggs acknowledges the character had some problems before the start of Season 3.
Evil Eye (HD, 7:54): Then we get a look at the Governor. David Morrissey does his best to justify some of the character choices made as the season went on and you know what? Okay. I'll buy it. They were trying to do something dark and interesting and kudos for that. It's not his fault Glen Mazzara lost his handle on the show and hamstrung the character with outright stupidity in the end.
Gone, But Not Forgotten (HD, 8:14): This one's all about the death of [REDACTED]. It's very nicely done, with a lot of attention to both the character's history and special attention to the way they went out and the affect this death had on the others. Man, it's hard to talk about it without spoiling it. Or crying a little. Shut up!
Heart of a Warrior (HD, 8:25): Michonne! The awesome (and awesomely under-used) Danai Gurira talks a little about her character and we see that everybody loves Michonne. Too bad the only person who seemed to know how to write for her was new show runner Scott M. Gimple. Next season should be a good one for her.
Michonne vs. The Governor (HD, 5:13): Not much to say about this one. Michonne hates the Governor. The Governor hates Michonne. They've both got good reasons.
Safety Behind Bars (HD, 9:44): This is a look at the design and construction of the prison set. Good gravy, a lot went into it! I love to see featurettes like this one where we get inside the minds of the people making this world come to life. Unlike last year's farm, the prison had to be built virtually from the ground up, turning the back lot of the studio into the warm and welcoming home we've grown to love.
Making the Dead (HD, 8:06): Just what it says. If you love gore make-up, you'll appreciate this one. I do, and I did.
Guts and Glory (HD, 7:42): I enjoyed this featurette as we looked back at the other major deaths of the season and really felt the emotions on-set whenever someone got their final script. Yes, I did cry again watching [REDACTED] go. Not so much [REDACTED] and [REDACTED].
Deleted Scenes (HD, 13:20): largely unnecessary scenes from "Walk With Me," "Say the Word," "Hounded," "Home," "I Ain't No Judas," and "Clear." Although it was nice to get another look at "Clear" and Lennie James' heartbreaking performance. This scene was a little too much, though. I like how they trimmed it back for the actual episode.
All in all, this is a pretty solid season. There are some low points that are truly low, but the highs are incredibly high, providing two of the best hours the show has ever produced and an extremely high-intensity opening run of episodes. Things go batshit crazy pretty early with major deaths and changes that some of the writers weren't really able to exploit fully, but by the time the series moves toward its conclusion we're back on firm footing (most of the time).
By the way, here's the trailer for the upcoming Fourth Season:
The Walking Dead Complete Third Season is on sale Tuesday, August 27.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.