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It’s astonishing to think how successful AMC’s runaway hit “The Walking Dead” has become. What started out as a small 6-episode experiment, turned into the most viewed program on public cable. Conceived as a way to test the waters of zombie-dramas, the original season saw stellar reviews and ratings, with most all of the complaints stemming from peoples desire to see more of the show. More is indeed what they were given, but it seems in its efforts to become the next big thing on TV, Waling Dead has lost its way, and it’s hard to see how it could come back.

Season one focused on one thing: its characters. It was lacking in a focused narrative, and the plot being used to string the six episode arch together (the groups’ desire to live), was nothing new. Yet, it all worked by being thrust into an uncharted territory of TV. There were no character-driven zombie shows on television, so despite its weak overall plot, season one thrived on its cast of well-rounded, interesting and identifiable characters.

Season two was essentially season one stretched into 13 episodes, and while it wasn’t entirely successful, the show remained compelling by it’s refusal to change what wasn’t broken. The survivors were still trying to survive, but managed to find shelter at a farmhouse. While this had the unfortunate effect of pulling the drag-chute on finding new shelters, it gave the survivors a chance to settle down and contemplate the possibility of returning to a normal life, without constant worry of the infected. The show delved deeper into the personalities and behaviors of each of the survivors (save a few) and it gave insight into each survivor’s personal wants and needs, as well as allowing room for character growth. The season was slow, especially the first eight parts, but it was worth watching for the characters, and a solid season overall.

Season three is a whole different ballpark. Things start off strong for this season. After the farm is besieged by the walkers, the remaining survivors decide to hole-up in a seemingly abandoned prison. Their fight to enter the prison and clear it of walkers is harrowing and exciting, if a little predictable, but it provides plenty of thrills and a few chills. One scene in particular involving an axe and someone’s leg is bound to leave knots in a few stomachs. The group soon learns that the prison is currently occupied by four inmates that survived the prison’s first battle with the infected. The two groups come to heads and the result is a first couple of episodes that indicated this would be a strong season, and maybe the best season yet… then the show reintroduces Andrea, and everything falls apart from there.

In the season two finale mentioned earlier, while the survivors managed to pile into an RV and escape the chaos, Andrea, a fellow survivor and all-around atrocious character, was left behind, possibly for dead. Turns out she survived with the help of her friend Michonne, a character the show just introduced, but takes great pains to imply that her name carries weight and importance for those that have not read the graphic novels the show is based on. Michonne and Andrea have been surviving the brutal winter by moving place to place and not drawing attention. Poorly-written dialogue fills the crux of their journey, and far too much time is spent with them before the plot advances. The two are captured and taken to a settlement by a scouting party. After the two are deemed safe by the settlement’s denizens, and its de-facto leader, Michonne and Andrea are invited to join the town of Woodbury, and the show has never recovered.

Woodbury is to the Walking Dead what Yoko Ono was to the Beatles, it may be gone, but the effects it had on the show have been devastating. Woodbury marked the lowest point the show has ever fallen, not only because the entire plot of Woodbury (its denizens and its horribly-written leader, The Governor) is an awful waste of time, but because the rest of the show became tethered to the fate of the useless city. So much of this show changed for the sake of tying everything into Woodbury. Everything suffered, because it had to in order to fit with the Woodbury plot.

Characters became less interesting, because they had to be. Characters made stupid decisions with no reasoning, except that they had to. Characters are put into dire situations, including sexual assault, torture and bodily mutilation, because they had to be. Characters remain silent when their words hold the potential to save lives, because they need to. All stories evolve through conflict, but the best stories write the conflicts around the characters, Walking Dead shoehorns its characters into conflicts with utter disregard for previously established character traits. The writing has become a disjointed, inconsistent mess with all the subtlety of a Klaxon in a Library.

“Walking Dead” still has the setting, the violence and the superb music that helped to define it over the years, but the storytelling and entertainment are taking a nosedive from orbit and headed for disaster.