THE WALKING DEAD Season Two Premiere Recap: “What Lies Ahead”

     October 16, 2011

Last year, AMC and Frank Darabont joined forces with fanboy favorite Robert Kirkman to bring us The Walking Dead, the only zombie-centric TV show ever to air on television (assuming you don’t count According to Jim).  The first season of AMC’s newest series was damn good, but it sure was brief:  AMC  ordered just a handful of episodes for the series’ first season, and it would be another year or so before the second round of episodes began.  That sucked, to be sure, but it’s time to stop whining about that perceived misstep:  in case you hadn’t heard, The Walking Dead returned to AMC this evening.  Was it as good as we remembered? Less so?  Worth the wait?  Find out after the jump, my fellow Walking Dead enthusiasts…

Just last week, I wrapped up a season-long round of recaps for AMC’s best series, Breaking Bad.  Recapping that show turned out to be a helluva lot of fun, and though there were a few times where I thought to myself, “Y’know, I’d really rather not be chasing a deadline at 10pm on a Sunday night”, I was sad to see the season—and all that sweet, sweet recapping– come to an end.  It’s going to be tough waiting for that show’s fifth and final season…but, hey, shed not a tear for this online slinger-of-words:  having a short-ass attention span means that I probably won’t even remember I need to be looking forward to Breaking Bad’s final season until next June.  Furthermore, I’ll probably get distracted by another series any minute now, something that–

Hey!  Look!  The Walking Dead is back!  Great timing, AMC!  Squirrel!

Now, before we kick off another season-long recap series, allow me a minute to let you know where I stand on The Walking Dead.  After all, you wanna understand where the person whose recaps you’ll be reading is coming from, don’t you?  Wow, that last sentence was odd.

As a longtime fan of Kirkman’s comic series, I was thrilled when The Walking Dead was announced as coming to TV, and doubly so when I heard that Frank Darabont would be handling the showrunner duties.  Sure, I would’ve preferred that The Walking Dead end up on HBO, and yeah, I wasn’t crazy about some of the casting when it was revealed, but—over the course of those first six episodes—I changed my tune on all of that very quickly:  AMC kept the comics’ gore, and the cast more than acquitted itself.  Furthermore, the show’s makeup effects were outstanding, its pacing was relentless, and its loyalty to the source material admirable.  All good things.

And yet, I found the first “season” of The Walking Dead to be something less than perfect.

All of the deviations that season one made from the source material were welcome (after all, what fun would it be to watch a show where there are no surprises, where every plot point occurs exactly when you expect it to?), but the deviations themselves were sometimes heavy-handed and borderline silly (the “gang” who turn out to be a collection of stereotypes with hearts of gold comes to mind).  I also took issue with the way the show rushed through the CDC storyline towards the end of season one (I wished it’d stuck around longer, given Noah Emmerich more of a story arch), and I thought that the big-ass explosion in the season finale looked like a big, steaming bucket of poorly-rendered weak sauce.

All of that said, I enjoyed watching the show even when I wasn’t overly thrilled with what I was getting in each episode.  See, I’m one of those crazy internet writers you sometimes hear about, the kind that can express respect and admiration for a TV show while also admitting that the show-in-question might have a few shortcomings.  In the world of internet commenters and fanboys, this sort of talk borders on insanity, but…well, that’s where we’re at, folks.  I’m a Walking Dead fan, but I’m not going to give the show a sloppy blowjob every week.  If you want those kind of recaps and reviews, find some teenager’s blog.

Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s get to the reason you all came here today:  to read a stranger recap a TV show you just watched (when you think about it, recaps are really a strange thing).

If you haven’t seen the episode yet, here’s the non-spoiler review (after this, you’re on your own, spoiler-wise):  the second season premiere of The Walking Dead was enormously satisfying, visceral, pulpy, well-written, and gorgeously shot (if you’re watching this thing in HD on a big-ass plasma TV, then you’ll back me up on this:  The Walking Dead looks excellent, even when it’s beating us over the head with its tan-grey-and-green color palette).  The makeup effects were just as sharp as the ones we saw last season—if not moreso—and the mood throughout was delightfully tense.  The acting was solid across the board, with standout work being done by Andrew Lincoln (as Rick Grimes, undead-killing sheriff) Jon Bernthal (as Shane, who’s down with OPP), Jeffrey DeMunn (when is he not amongst the standouts?) and The Mist’s Melissa McBride.  The script was compelling and fun, and there was quite the twist there in the final moments.  You should absolutely watch it.

And here’s the spoileriffic recap:  tonight’s season premiere picked up pretty much where the season finale left off, with the survivors hightailing it out of Atlanta following the massive explosion (of poorly-rendered CGI effects) at the CDC.  Our man Rick delivers a monologue into a walkie-talkie, telling another pair of season-one survivors, Morgan and his kid, that he and the others were headed for the greener pastures of a nearby (?) military base.  Under this monologue, we see footage of the survivors packing their rides and hitting the highway.  Perhaps not as rousing as the writers hoped for (and a far cry from the “Yeah, we just shot a little girl in the face” opening from last season), but a solid opening nonetheless.

So, the survivors make their way up the highway, and eventually they come to a stop at a massive knot of abandoned cars, wrecked vehicles, and bodies—all of which is blocking their path.  The RV’s having some technical problems, so while Dale takes a moment to teach Glenn about the intricacies of a flathead screwdriver, the rest of the survivors begin picking their way through the cars, looking for supplies (Rick’s wife stupidly objects here, calling the area a “graveyard”, which seems odd:  technically, isn’t everywhere a graveyard at this point?)(Also, Rick’s wife needs to eat at least four sandwiches).  Moments later, Dale and Rick both spot a massive swarm of zombies headed their way.

Because the RV’s engine is shot, the survivors can’t simply flee in their vehicles, and so they…hide underneath cars?  From the zombies?  The people I was watching the episode with were confused here, as the first season contained that awesome sequence where Rick and Glen snuck through a street packed with zombies by camouflaging their scent.  Remember them hacking up those bodies, and Rick’s heavy-handed speech about that particular zombie being a person at one point?  That scene taught us that zombies can smell the living, didn’t it?  So, why would hiding under the cars on the highway work?  Or was it simply the best possible choice for that particular moment (I suspect this is the answer)?

I might not be as quick to call shenanigans on the show as some of my associates—it’s entirely possible, for instance, that zombies can’t smell anything that isn’t at least forty inches off the ground (everyone knows that)—but I’ll allow that the logic presented in this otherwise awesome scene did give me a moment’s pause.  Oh, well:  I’m sure one of the hard-core fanboys in the audience can explain this in the comments section (please remember to phrase your explanation as a personal attack on the author and anyone else that doesn’t immediately know the answer to this question).

Shenanigans or not, the plan does work for a time, but then one of the survivors—a little girl whom I don’t recall seeing in season one—got a little hasty about leaving her hiding space, and in short order the group’s rouse had been revealed.  Luckily, the bulk of the zombie parade had passed, so Rick and the little girl fled into the nearby forest with only a few undead in tow.  Once they’d gotten a good lead on their pursuers, Rick instructed the little girl to hide until the zombies passed.  After that, he said, she should return to the rest of the group back on the highway.

So, of course the little girl ran off and got lost immediately (pssshh–  little girls are so stupid), and of course Rick took sole responsibility for this.  After traipsing about the forest for awhile in search of said girl, the survivors happened upon a church.  Well, actually, no, that’s not quite right:  they were summoned to the church by the sound of its bells clanging.  Upon arriving, they discovered zombies sitting patiently in the pews (perhaps paying their respects to Jesus Christ, the O.Z.), cut ‘em to ribbons, and then spent a little time deciding what their next move was.  With the RV’s engine shot and night quickly approaching, it was decided that the survivors would kick it at the church for awhile.

But first, Rick, Shane, and Rick’s son would do one more search for the girl.

This led to the episode’s most shocking scene, one which I’m fairly confident didn’t happen in the comics:  after coming across a deer out in the woods, Rick and Shane encourage Rick’s son to approach the deer.  He’s creeping up on it—admiring its quiet majesty, its grace, its sprawling set of antlers—when a bullet tears through the scene, puncturing both Rick’s kid and the deer.  On the one hand, hey, deer for dinner!  On the other, uh, kid’s been shot.  Always a buzzkill, in my experience.

[Ed. Note: After consulting with my Walking Dead trades, it appears that Carl– Rick’s son– does get shot.  Huh.  How did I not remember this?  Probably because I read that particular trade about eighteen bajillion years ago (could also be my raging angel dust habit), but whatever:  point is, Carl does get capped in the comics.   Y’know, in case you were wondering.
Also: I’ve also had a few readers point out that Sophia– the little girl who gets lost in the woods during tonight’s episode– has a name, damn it, and I’d do well to remember it.  Sophia did appear last season, it’s true.  All I’m sayin’ is, she didn’t make much of an impression on me.  Her mom?  Sure.  Abusive father?  Oh, definitely.  But Sophia?  Meh.  My guess is, she’s zombie fodder, but we’ll probably find out for sure next week (she’s probably kickin’ it back at the RV while the rest of the crew scours the area immediately surrounding the church, because that’s how those things always work out).]

As this scene was playing out, and just before the bullet struck the kid, I thought to myself, “Y’know, it’s going to be hard keeping this kid on the show.  He’ll hit a growth spurt in-between seasons, and they’ll be forced to recast the role…or explain why Rick’s son just grew four inches in-between episodes”.  Just then, the bullet hit him.  The “Scenes From Next Week” trailer at the end of tonight’s premiere showed Rick rushing his shot son to a farmhouse (the same house where I imagine Glenn will meet his future girlfriend), telling the doctor who lives there that he’s been shot…but I’m wondering if he’ll pull through.

Killing off Rick’s son would serve a number of purposes here:  it’d establish this show—even moreso than it already is—as a series where no character is safe;  it’d solve the whole “puberty problem” that the show’s producers must surely have contemplated by now;  it’d give Rick something to stew on for the remainder of the series (and we know how this show loves to let Rick go full-emo);  it might mean that Rick’s wife will live longer than she does in the comics, which might also mean the show could keep Shane around longer (and, from that trailer, it appears that Jon Bernthal’s not going anywhere any time soon).  What do you guys think?  Rick’s son:  dead, just injured, or what?

A few random highlights before we wrap this bitch up:  I loved the “autopsy” scene in the woods, even if I did wonder how a zombie swallowed an entire woodchuck skull (that was an intact woodchuck skull, right?);  I loved the makeup work on IronE Singleton’s arm injury (that looked painful);  I loved the makeup work on the zombie that attacked Lori in the bathroom (looked ripped from the pages of Kirkman’s comics).  I liked the surprise of Rick’s son being shot, and I loved the shot of the zombies sitting in that church.

Yes, overall I was very pleased with tonight’s Walking Dead.  I could quibble about a few line readings and a few leaps in logic, but I’d just be nitpicking.  Besides, I’m so happy to have a zombie apocalypse series on the air, why would I spend any time picking it apart?  Even at its worst, The Walking Dead is more watchable than half the shows on the air, and when it’s at its best, it ranks among the other stellar originals that AMC’s given us.  I’ve got my fingers crossed for a great season, and I’m happy to report that tonight’s season premiere has gotten things off to a great start.

Y’know what to do, folks:  let us know what you thought about tonight’s season premiere below, and stay tuned for next week’s recap (which’ll be a  lot less chatty than this week’s, I promise).