How 'The Walking Dead' Lost Its Must-See-TV Luster

With only a few hours left before the second half of The Walking Dead's fourth season comes to AMC, a rather disappointing pall has fallen over this former TWD fanatic: more boredom that you can shake a busted walker at.

While the prospect of new episodes that might hold the answers to mysteries like "Is Little Ass-Kicker really dead?" and "Who was feeding rats to the zombies?" and "Is Abraham coming?" certainly remain, the feverish draw the series held in its first few seasons seems to have waned. While the series' base audience has grown — the December finale posted an increase in ratings — there's a tired quality overtaking the beloved zombie series that can't be measured by Nielsen.

Sure, it's still the show with the best horror genre action. Yes, there's a constant fear that someone we care about might die. Of course, fans of the comic are anxious to see Abraham's almost inevitable appearance. But after the last two seasons of infuriating stasis — first at Hershel's farm and then at the prison — the promise that Season 4 could rectify that doesn't stand on solid ground.

Of course, giving insight into the minds of our favorite survivors — something that took all of Season 2 to accomplish, apparently — was necessary, it came at the cost of our good faith. Season 3 didn't fare much better, but it was more accomplished in its attempts to rattle us into continued Sunday night viewing. First, we left Daryl in the Governor's clutches and by the end of Season 3 we watched breathlessly as the Governor hunted Andrea and her oddly immaculate pedicure down and eventually left her to be eaten alive in the last minutes of the season finale.

They were big moments, for sure, but they came at the price of repetitive storylines that dragged through the zombie-less streets of Woodbury, dazzling us with the Governor's possession of fine whiskeys and his army of jawless walkers. The Governor himself was a compelling character, but throughout the season, the sense that we should just get on with it already was palpable.

Now, in Season 4, the group must move on into the great unknown. We have questions about Carol's whereabouts, Michonne's past, and the creepily violent values Carol instilled in the children of the group, but we have little recourse to hurry up and find out. These questions will inevitably burn slowly and reveal themselves eventually, but unlike other AMC slow burns like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, The Walking Dead doesn't ride on enough substance to merit such a methodical pace. The show is high quality horror with an emotional core and over-sized helping of slow motion and it's great, but by no means high art.

By and large, we cycle over and over through the same themes about death, survival, and what it really means to be alive in a zombie apocalypse; the perspective and circumstances change, but we always arrive back at the uncertain conclusion paired with a massive battle or violent exchange and the loss of lives.

And while The Walking Dead will always retain its DVR season pass in my house, the thrill is somewhat gone. This season someone we love will come close to death. Someone we adore will die. A new enemy will emerge. There will be another danger within the group of survivors. There will be other survivors. A beloved character will reveal pieces of his or her past. Our heroes will struggle to survive and moral and existential worries will arise. We know this before we even begin.

Don't get me wrong, The Walking Dead is still worth watching, but never again will I sweat bullets over spending my Sunday night away from the television or avoid Twitter like the plague. We generally know what's coming, so the piece that keeps the show compelling is our affection for Daryl and Michonne and the maddening connection we've formed with Rick and Carl. As innovative as the zombie kills continue to be and hard as the journey always is, The Walking Dead's true appeal is in its characters.

And on a Sunday night filled with the borderline sociopath chronicles over on GIRLS, every major awards show known to man, the one-time-only enigma of Matthew McConaughey on True Detective, The Good Wife, Shameless, and Downton Abbey, something's got to give so we can get some sleep on a Sunday night. Unfortunately, this year that something just might have to be the beloved and repetitive Walking Dead.

Images: AMC (2)