The Walking Dead fires up its third season with an action-packed, zombie-killing premiere. With all the whining about how slow and boring most of last season was, did the premiere shut down those naysayers, giving us a glimpse into how the third season will shape up?
Let’s bitch it out.
It’s no surprise that I was one of the very few (if not the only one) who actually enjoyed the slow-build up, drawn-out moral debates that we had last season on the farm. Personally, I liked how the zombie-killing action was held to a minimum so that we could focus on character development via dialogue-heavy scenes. I still strongly maintain that the best parts of last season (such as MONTHS OLD SPOILER ALERT Sophia emerging from the barn, the deaths of Jeffrey DeMunn’s Dale and Jon Bernthal’s Shane) wouldn’t have been as effective if we didn’t get the “lulls” in between. But this is a zombie show, so I can understand why the viewership simply demands more zombie killing and less chit-chat.
That being said, I will state this: I’m not a fan of the horror genre, and am especially squeamish when it comes to anything gory. The Walking Dead roped me in with its emotional elements, and I began watching the show because it seemed more about surviving an apocalypse rather than running and screaming from flesh-eating monsters. Don’t get me wrong, it’s impossible to avoid the zombie aspect, but what makes the show enjoyable, to me anyway, is how the walker action is secondary to the drama involved with the survivors.
So how did I feel about a season premiere jam-packed with gruesome zombie killings? To be honest, I’m on the fence. Despite wincing through those disgusting zombie kills, I’m happy to see what a well-oiled machine the team has become since we saw them last. Last season we left the team as Rick (Andrew Lincoln) proclaimed himself a “Ricktator”, and if anyone wanted to question his leadership style, they could leave. As we rejoin the group, winter has passed and the troops have fallen in line. The opening sequence is exquisitely economical in communicating this to us. Not a single word is spoken, but the dynamic of the group is crystal clear. Their exhaustion is palpable, but there is still resilience in them – a testament to Rick’s leadership. I also loved how Rick stops Carl (Chandler Riggs) from sharing those cans of dog food, and the look of relief from the group. It beautifully conveys, “We’re down, but we’re not that far gone yet.”
Once we get to the prison, we see Rick’s leadership in full action. From the moment Rick cuts that first fence, there’s a carefully planned sequence of events – I quite admired how quickly Glenn (Steven Yeun) patched it up and the speed in which everyone takes their positions. Once inside and confronting the walkers, the gang goes into full-on attack formation – and it’s lovely to see a cohesive team once again. But if I’m being honest, the episode loses steam once they enter the prison grounds. I like not knowing what’s next for a gang of survivors, and once we get the prison, it’s clear what the goal is going to be.
I definitely appreciate the simplistic mission: find stable shelter and supplies. The build-up to Prison Block C is suspenseful and completely plausible, but it feels too simplistically “cause and effect”/straightforward for my liking. The intrigue is always what’s in-between the major plot points (read: get inside the prison), but in this case, the ‘in-between’ is a cage battle with walkers decked out in riot gear. Not my cup of tea. So ultimately the first half of the premiere is just okay.
Tiptoeing through the darkened hallways of the prison, with flashlights abound, the final sequences are the epitome of suspense. Glen’s spray-painting of arrows on the walls is a touch of brilliance, a small detail that lets us know how smart the team has gotten. That hardly matters, though, when the team is fractured as an uneasy navigation turns into full-blown chaos and poor Hershel gets his leg chomped on by a dormant walker. It’s completely gory and disgusting, but honestly I don’t mind because it doesn’t feel as in-your-face obvious as the prior zombie cage match.
Ultimately, though, it is the culmination of the last scene of the episode that is the best part: Rick taking an axe and amputating Hershel’s leg without a second thought. Gone is the indecisive Rick that Shane believed wasn’t a leader. It’s clear that Rick cares deeply for this group, but in a short amount of time, he’s hardened so that he can be the leader that the group needs. Rick’s disgust and sadness over what he needs to do is apparent, courtesy of Lincoln’s brilliant performance as he hacks into Hershel’s bone like it’s nobody’s business. All hail the Ricktator! Then, as if that isn’t enough of a WTF moment to end on, we get another as we see a group of human prisoners staring on in disbelief. Now this is The Walking Dead I know and love.
- There is some serious hate-on going on between Rick and Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies). It appears as if Rick is finally wising up to how Lori was essentially responsible for instigating the events that lead to Shane’s death on that hill back in the season finale. As much as I dislike Lori and the self-righteousness she has exhibited thus far, I am saddened to see this rift between her and Rick. I know! I never thought I would feel that way, but my heartache is primarily directed at Rick. He’s literally thrown everything he has into leading this group, and he deserves a little bit of happy, dontchathink? Perhaps when he sees little baby Grimes (who hopefully doesn’t come out with Shane’s nose), Rick will soften up a little bit (but not too much).
- Speaking of the baby, I did appreciate Lori’s little meltdown to Hershel when she expresses her fears of what might be growing inside her. Although it’s doubtful that she’s got a “little walker in the oven”, it would be pretty awesome if that were the case. Cue the new Dawn of the Dead!
- So little Carl has become a bad*ss, completely capable of wielding a pistol like a pro. Doesn’t matter. I still can’t stand him. Get that damn sheriff’s hat off him.
- Michonne (Danai Gurira) has arrived and completely lives up to the hype in the limited amount of screen time she’s given. Again, I love how we immediately see the strong bond she’s formed with Andrea (Laurie Holden) in just a short scene. That’s what happens when we get great writing, acting and directing.
- We also get a little bit of flirting between Carol (Melissa McBride) and Daryl (Norman Reedus). I’m enjoying seeing the close friendship between these two, but I’m not sure how I would feel seeing these two having sexy time…Would she just be whining and crying throughout?
What do you think Dead fans? Did you enjoy the fast-paced action of the premiere? Do you think Rick and Lori will make it? Do you even care? Do you think Lori is carrying zombie spawn? How do you think the dynamic with the new group of humans is going to play out in the Ricktatorship? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section, but please remember – we adhere to a NO SPOILERS zone for those who have read the comics or any other tidbits online.
The Walking Dead airs at 9pm EST, Sundays on AMC.