It's almost been a year since we were given the series finale of Season 1 of The Walking Dead (and what a grand finale it was) and boy does that episode feel a life time ago. Sure, AMC threw us some webisodes to stave off our anticipation, but they hardly did the trick and if anything the build up to the second Season has been fraught with negativity and the title of Season 2 premiere 'What Lies Ahead' meant to imply an axiety for our characters about their long term future, could be scarily apt for the actual long term future of the show. Frank Darabaont, show-runner and writer/director of the majority of the episodes and who was originally the most significant force into getting the adaptation of Robert Kirkman's excellent comic book series onto network television stepped down in late July, and executive producer Charles Eglee left to pursue other projects. Darabont wrote the first three episodes before he left, but there's little doubt that we will begin to see their absence felt as the season moves forward. Still the show brought back Gwyneth Horder-Payton back to direct the this first episode (she directed "Tell It To The Frogs" last season which was among the most terrifying). Coming off such an explosive end last season, Season 2 begins more patiently, less bravado and more suspense. The terror leaked slowly over an hour and a half long powder keg, building up to something. What that something might be was a little hard to tell. One things for sure. The signs of a new era of Walking Dead are beginning to show.
I'll put my little disclaimer here. A lot happened in this episode, and if you haven't seen it go watch it. Spoilers ahead. The episode begins exactly where it left off. Rick delivers a polemical monologue over his walkie talkie hoping to make contact with the man he first escaped the zombies with in the first season. He talks about slim chances and the prospect of an inkling of hope when it all seems lost. This may just set the tone for the entire season which already promises to be more dynamic then the last.
The rest of the episode takes place on a clogged highway, where the group is forced to stop to collect supplies, make repairs and regroup. It's not long before a "zombie herd" catches on to their stagnation and makes their way through. Most are able to hide, except Andrea who is forced to take on a zombie face to face (quite literally), with a little help from Dale of course. As the last of the herd is moving past them, one zombie notices Sophia. She darts off into the woods, and Rick rushes to her aid, always the hero. The rest of the episode focuses on a slow fragmentation of the group, both physically and mentally, as they endlessly search for Sophia.
Putting the shock of the end aside (for now, more on that later), something occurred to me as I was watching. Last season, the rules were never really established. Yes, the rules, every horror flick has them. The rules give us the boundaries, tell us how far each character is willing to go and what we have to fear most in the antagonist. The first season was chock full of archetypes, Rick's the hero type, Darryl's the badass, Shane's on the edge, and T-dog's always slowing everyone down, etc. But not the rules. This episode took its time, allowed us to observe the characters and the enemy from different sides. For one, we were given more exposure then ever to the limitations, and lack thereof, of the zombies they are up against. They are a bit smarter then I might have anticipated, with one crouching down to discover Sophia and another opening a door to reveal Julie. They travel in packs, that much is obvious, but they don't move unless provoked, as could be seen in the church.
As for the characters, some of them have opened up a bit more. Rick is beginning to show his flaws as his hero tactics are finally catching up to him. He may just be in over his head. Darryl's showing a bit more chops, but he will always be simply a survivor. Dale got a bit of a whipping and I'd actually say he deserved it. It's only a matter of time before he oversteps his bounds with the wrong person and it ends badly for him. Shane and Andrea had the most energizing presence in this episode. They are both fed up, and with good reason, at the patriarchal autocracy that Rick haphazardly set-up. Their looking for a change, and I have no doubt that they will find one in the next few episodes.
Ok, let's talk about the ending. I'm sure that all of you out there are leaning back telling yourself "I called it," but think about it for a second. The strength of the zombie genre is that it gives us a panoramic view of society at collapse. It is with a severe blend of arrogance and fear that we indulge in this kind of entertainment, horrified at what may become of us but certain that we will be alive when it does. The most painful moments in this genre aren't impending zombie attacks, but dumb old human error. That's what this was. There are a multitude of reasons that Carl was shot. He never should have been out there in the first place, and neither Rick or Shane should have been so careless with him. But it boils down to plain luck. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that is what signifies the end of mankind. It is our own unwillingness to change. "They don't loose wind, but I do" Rick tells Sophia. That's right, the zombies don't have to eat a single one of us, we're more then happy to destroy ourselves (end diatribe).
The episode definitely had some slow moments, but its ability to compound mistakes as the episode progressed was fantastic. There were some really great gems hidden amongst this tension that seem ready to erupt at any moment. All in all, the show looks like it will take a new direction, one riddled with guilt, rupture and gore the likes of which we may have never seen. All I can say is, you wanted a sign Rick, well you got one.
Jay is a pop culture addict. When he's not consuming aforementioned addiction, he can be seen sleeping. For some more insights and film news and recommendations you can follow him on Twitter @CriticalJayD Or you can add him on Google+