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February 10. 2013 12:10AM

Ian Clark's Pop Culture Club: 'The Walking Dead' returns tonight ... but at what cost?


 

The return of "The Walking Dead" has me scared, but not just because of the zombies.

The breakout hit on AMC returns tonight at 9, and fans of the zombie apocalypse drama are excited to see how the second half of Season 3 opens up.

Count me among those who having been looking forward to the show since the mid-season finale last December. But it's the behind-the-scenes movements on the show that have me concerned.

For the second time in the show's short history, a major creative force has been removed from the equation. The first time out it was producer Frank Darabont, who helped shepherd "The Walking Dead" to television from its comic book roots. Darabont stepped down after the initial season.

That ended up being a blessing in disguise, as new showrunner Glenn Mazzara took the solid first season of the show and delivered an even better second season. His part one of the third season cranked the quality up another notch and the show continued to garner viewers and rave reviews.

But Mazzara is now in lame duck mode as it has been announced that he will be leaving after this season. The statement from AMC said the split was amicable, but sources have cited differences of opinions between Mazzara and comic book series creator Robert Kirkman (who is heavily involved in the TV show's production). Mazzara himself hinted that his "control" over the show was less than ideal.

My hope is that the quality of the show does not suffer this season. It should be just fine, but what of the future? Continued turnover will eventually lead to a drop in quality and spell the end of the line.

But that's something to worry about at another time. For now, tonight's season opener should start with a bang - based on the mid-season finale's cliffhanger ending.

Tensions between good guy leader Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and the leader of the Woodbury community, the Governor (David Morrisey) reached a boiling point in the mid-season finale, which also saw brothers Merle (Michael Rooker) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) finally reunited.

The mid-season finale also introduced viewers to a whole new crew of survivors, led by Tyreese, a fan favorite character in the comic book series. Tyreese is played by Chad Coleman, who was excellent on HBO's hit series "The Wire," so his addition to an already strong cast is welcome.

So while I may have concerns about the future of the show beyond this season, I remain optimistic that "The Walking Dead" will continue to shock and amaze me on television every week - just as much as the comic book series does every month.?


Ian Clark's Pop Culture Club appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Check out his podcast "Nerdherders" on iTunes or at www.3nerds.us, and his books, "Prophecy of Shadows" and "Plains of the Past." His e-mail address is iclark@unionleader.com.


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