Debate Club: Is The Walking Dead running out of steam?

Like any fans, we at Blastr love talking about the stuff we love ... and, like any fans, we sometimes disagree. With that in mind, we bring you the Blastr Debate Club, in which we attempt to tackle some of the big questions in the worlds of fantasy, sci-fi and horror.

This time, Trent and Krystal tackle the hit zombie apocalypse drama The Walking Dead, and whether its quality is suffering four and a half seasons in. See what our writers had to say, and then sound off with your own thoughts in the comments!

Trent: The short answer? No. It's not running out of steam. Aside from the fact that ratings have never been higher, the zombie-killing series is in the midst of a major transformation — and it's a good one. This season finds the show leaving behind the place it has called home for two years and sending the survivors back on the road for the first time since season one. It's gutsy to throw out the status quo, but this season has provided a much-needed spark.

The Walking Dead thrives on weaving new characters in and writing old characters out on an almost weekly basis, and the cast is in the midst of another major shakeup. As previous transitions have shown, that can be an awkward process, but it also gives us new blood to keep the narrative fresh.

Krystal: Trent, The Walking Dead is suffering from an identity crisis. It's gone from a heart-stopping drama to a disoriented mess. The constant change in showrunners has become evident thanks to its uneven execution. The first half of season four planted seeds of greatness, but it was undercut by the unfulfilling return of the Governor. There's also the introduction of flat characters we have no connection to, yet the dialogue tells us we should. The writing and performances don't lend themselves to that. It's like Nikki and Paulo on Lost all over again.

Coming off season three's Woodbury saga, the writers had an opportunity to correct some problems. Yet, instead of finding a balance, they're constantly going to extremes. Is the show still a hit? Absolutely. But there is such a thing as being commercially successful and creatively bankrupt.


Krystal: This season's new format is bringing attention to the show's greatest flaw: pacing. It's been an issue since season two and has gotten worse with time. Now that the survivors are separated, we can go weeks without seeing a character. Their story's put on hold and we're forced to watch someone else's that might not be as compelling. It ruins the momentum.

Trent: I agree that the pace has definitely changed this season, but unlike with the wheel-spinning search for Sophia a few years ago, the writers have actually figured out how to take their time while keeping the story compelling now. By separating the cast, they've managed to give each character more growth in a few weeks than they've gotten in a few years prior. It's a storytelling tool that I think is really working well.

Krystal: They can use the separation to their advantage, but it can still backfire. Daryl is one of my favorite characters, but when they paired him with Beth, he almost became fast-forward material. We've seen some improvement, but their early work was unbearable. In the Maggie/Bob/Sasha scenario, Maggie has come across as irrational and narrow-minded. Right now she's all about finding Glenn, but what about her sister? Is Glenn her only reason for living? That type of selfishness doesn't endear me to the character, or her plight.

Trent: Bob is the perfect example of how the separation has been a success: It took a barely utilized character and actually managed to spend enough time on him to make him a compelling cast member.

A lot of what I like about this season comes from the change of scenery. Ditching the prison was the jolt this show has needed for years. The prison was a key locale from the comics, but it was past its prime on the TV series. By (literally) blowing up its primary setting, the writers have revitalized the stakes and created a new wrinkle by putting the cast on the road and on the run. It feels fresh again, which is saying a lot for a show that is essentially about trying not to die.

Krystal: I don't have a problem with them leaving the prison. I actually think that was a good idea. But a change in location won't camouflage questionable writing. The first midseason episodes featured some laughable monologues. Both Carl and Beth's teen angst were on full display. And the only thing saving Tyreese's babysitting storyline was Carol's return. It's great that there's a new backdrop, but what else do they have?

Trent: Though dialogue has been a tad clunky on occasion, I think they've done a good job with the writing this season. They've tried out some new things, and, for example, I really enjoyed the recent framing of an episode around Beth's journal entries. It mixed up the format, added poignancy, and showed they still know how to add some flair to the zombie apocalypse.

Krystal: Let's talk about the biggest bummer of the season so far: The Governor's return really put a damper on things. They gave him a solo arc that, for the most part, went nowhere. Mentally and emotionally, he ended up in the same place he started. That wasted two episodes that could have been used to develop other characters. If they had to bring him back, disrupting the flow of the season wasn't the way to go.

Trent: I was as bummed as anyone that we were robbed of the big prison battle at the end of last season, but I think they did a great job wrapping up his storyline this year. I hated the Governor, and his standalone arc created a deeper gray area and almost had me rooting for the guy ... you know, before he got all sword-happy and he needed to die. It was jolting to leave the prison for two episodes, but I think the detour was worth the time.

Krystal: I actually think the detour did more harm than good. We left the prisoners on a cliffhanger, and when they returned, their story was rushed. Daryl had just found out about Carol, but didn't have time to react because the Governor was storming the prison. A lot was pushed to the side to make way for a confrontation that included 40 minutes of circular dialogue between Rick and the Governor. It was terribly uneven.

Closing Arguments

Trent: Despite its share of showrunner shakeups, the current season of The Walking Dead has managed to maintain its quality and pace, and is finally comfortable taking its time with its characters and stories. Last night's episode wasn't fast in the traditional sense, but I was on the edge of my seat and welled up by the end. That's storytelling. Along with the killer ratings, I think season four is killing it creatively, as well.

Krystal: The Walking Dead isn't about zombies. It's about the relationships between strangers forced to coexist for the sake of survival. That's a breeding ground for great drama. But sometimes the story meanders and the characters suffer for it. If you lose interest in the characters, you lose interest in the show. There is a such thing as too much filler. I will admit this week's episode was a vast improvement; it moved the plot along, while giving us some great character moments. But was it a sign of true improvement, or a flash in the larger, duller, pan?

Our writers have had their say. What do you think about the way The Walking Dead is going? Sound off in the comments!

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