One of the biggest problems The Walking Dead has had since it began is the sheer number of annoying, or just badly written characters.  That really became a problem during the second half of season 2, when everything happened on, or just off, Hershel Green’s farm, and the conversations (and arguments) between many of the characters just became a blur and a reason to shout abuse at the television when someone as crushingly dull as Dale was babbling on about morals etc.

So when Glen Mazzara replaced Frank Darabont as show runner, he had problems to deal with, and he did a good job of that in the final episodes of that season, and continued to do so as season 3 began.  So the likes of Dale, Shane, Lori and T-Dog were killed off, because they were either really annoying or crushingly dull (sometimes both), and then the survivors finally got off the farm and back on the road.  And season 3 has been much better, with Rick taking control of the group, and making them into a tighter unit; a more ruthless and self-reliant group of people who found a prison and took control of it, giving themselves a place to stay in relative safety.  It’s also seen the introduction of David Morrissey as the Governor, and Danai Gurira as Michonne, giving the show better characters and, more importantly, different locations to film on.

But everything isn’t rosy in the world of The Walking Dead, and season 3’s 10th episode (‘Home’) is one that has a lot of problems, although it does have a finale that somewhat makes up for what happens earlier in the episode.  There’s certainly no competition for the worst thing about the episode, and that is Rick’s continued nuttiness, as he wanders off outside the perimeters of the prison following ghost Lori around.  After Lori was (mercifully) killed off, Rick had one episode of madness as he had imagined telephone conversations with Lori and other people who he’d known and lost.  To an extent, that was fine, as no-one is going to argue that losing your wife and gaining a daughter would mess with anyone’s head, even if they weren’t living in a world over-run by flesh-eating zombies.  But to be blunt, Andrew Lincoln’s ‘I’m mad and I’m seeing things’ acting is rubbish, and it’s a relief when his mental stupor is broken by a surprise attack from the Governor and his men at the episode’s end.

With Rick having a breakdown, and Daryl going off with Merle, Glenn puts himself in charge of the prison group, and he’s intent on striking at the Governor before he strikes at them, even though they would be hopelessly outnumbered and ammunition is running low.  He’s unable to convince the others that this is a sound plan, and can’t rely on Maggie to back him up as she’s understandably in shock after everything that happened at Woodbury.  Over at Woodbury, Andrea is asking questions again, and it’s an element of the show that’s really difficult to take to.  Andrea has always been one of those annoying characters The Walking Dead forces upon its audience, and this is a good example of why.  She’s charmed her way into the Governor’s bed, but now seems to think she’s an important member of the community in Woodbury, and it’s no surprise when Milton and others shrug off her questions about where some of the men of the town are.

That’s because even though the Governor has told Andrea that he won’t attack the prison, he’s actually planning to do exactly that (because obviously).

Talking of annoying characters, Merle has resumed his old ways with Daryl (in other words, bullying him and generally being obnoxious) as they head out on their own.  Merle is a very one-dimensional character, and his presence on the show is becoming a chore.  The pair happen upon a group of Mexicans caught in a walker herd, and while Daryl wants to help, Merle prefers to chastise Daryl while also firing off racial epithets and looking for things to steal from the group.  It all leads to Daryl deciding to leave Merle and head back to the prison, and you’re left wondering why he bothered going with his brother in the first place.  There’s just no place for Michael Rooker’s character in the show, and even though he follows Daryl to the prison and helps against the Governor’s assault, the sooner he gets written out of the show the better.

What the episode does do well is the surprise factor of the Governor’s assault.  The surprise comes via a bullet to Axel’s head, as he’s chatting away to Carol, blissfully unaware of an impending threat.  He was also a character that didn’t have much to do, so the show won’t miss him, but it’s still a good way to start a battle that sees Rick snap out of his daze and a new fight for the prison group to face.  It’s a bloody fight that brings some much needed spark to an otherwise poor episode.

The show is inevitably building to a showdown between Rick and the Governor, but that in itself throws up some questions about the long-term future of the show.  I would assume that Team Rick will triumph over the Governor, but if they do, what happens next?  If season 4 continued in the prison, where’s the story?  If the survivors head back out on the road, what makes future episodes different from what’s come before?

With Glen Mazzara stepping down as show-runner, there must be some questions about the show’s future.  It may be time for it to go in a new direction, and instead of focusing on survival, find a way to explore the story from different angles.

I haven’t suddenly fallen out of love with The Walking Dead, but it’s in danger of becoming a show that repeats itself.