The Walking Dead season 2 episode 1 review: What Lies Ahead

The Walking Dead returns with a smaller budget, but no less ambition. Ron checks out the season opener, What Lies Ahead...

This review contains spoilers.

2.1 What Lies Ahead

The big question surrounding The Walking Dead is in the title of the show. what lies ahead?

For Rick Grimes and the rest of his rag-tag band of survivors, there’s not a whole lot of hope on the horizon. Atlanta is dead: time to get out of the zombie-infested capital of the south and head towards Fort Benning, Georgia, the serious armament there, and possibly, the safety of many armed men. However, there’s a problem. Even after the apocalypse, Atlanta’s traffic is terrible, so that means it’s slow going, even before the Dale’s RV breaks down on the highway.

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Of course, any column not moving is a column at risk, and that goes double for when you’re on the outskirts of a city filled with millions of zombies. There are over 5.8 million people in Atlanta, and that’s on a slow day. While scavaging around them for parts, the gang is beset by an unusual pack of zombies, wandering herd-like along the interstate in search of people to eat. They find the group, who mostly hide successfully save little Sophia. She runs off into the woods, and that means everyone’s got to drop everything and find her, because children are our future (even moreso when there are only like two of them left).

The search is on for missing Sophia, but will our survivors pull together in a time of need, or will the tragedy force them apart? There are still personal conflicts to resolve, and the survivors have problems even without taking into account the flesh-eating hordes out to make a last supper of them.

You have to hand it to the special effects team. Their budgets were cut by AMC, yet they’ve still namanged to produce several awesome set pieces this week. Rick and Daryl’s zombie autopsy was stellar, and that’s even before they showed the cut-open zombie and started rooting around in its entrails to hunt out clues for Sophia. Turns out, zombies eat woodchucks.

Even more impressive was Andrea’s screwdriver kill, which was a whole new level of queasy. The sound design crew on this show should all get credit: the sounds they used for the zombie kills and gutting were just top notch this week (and make me wish I had surround sound). The makeup is also incredible, which makes the show look even better than it is (and it’s a great show).

Director Gwyneth Horder-Payton, late of The Shield and Sons Of Anarchy, knows her way around the television set, and like her previous shows, she alternates well between wide shots and reaction shots. Her scenes with the walker herd and the chase through the forest were very tense and really well done. Even more impressively, she handles the tension between the characters with as much aplomb (the argument between Dale and Andrea is as tense as any scene with a roamer).

The script is also very tight, and very loaded with good content thanks to former executive producer Frank Darabont (who wrote this screenplay under a pseudonym). There’s legitimate character growth with Dale (already my favorite character) and Andrea. Even T-Dog and Daryl get to evolve beyond their roles to show some kind of change. Daryl’s no longer a loose cannon, but a necessary and productive member of the team who even helps a black person, despite driving a motorcycle with the SS twin lightning bolts on the fuel tank. I also really like the way everyone turns on Rick this episode, because it seems like, as the leader, he’d also shoulder the blame for when things go wrong.

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One thing I like is the use of Morgan, and Rick’s promise to talk to Morgan, as a way to disguise voiceover narration. It’s a nice conceit, and it’s a reminder that Morgan can possibly return at any time, or that Rick needs to believe that Morgan and Duane are out there somewhere, much like he’s there with Carl, and they’re both fine. It just may be the crutch that gives Rick the hope the others need from their ersatz leader, and it’s a nice call back to the comic books.

Characters are making logical sense so far this season, and that’s awesome. I hope things stay this consistent throughout, and I really hope they avoid the stereotypes they had last season (Merle, though I like him/Michael Rooker, was just there to cause trouble). This is a show where the characters matter more than anything. We have to root for them to survive (or die), so we need them to be realistic—or as realistic as possible considering the setting. Without that, the attraction is special effects and gore, and that’s not something sustainable for a 13-episode season.

I think the show’s lowered budget might actually turn out to be helpful in the end. After all, they’re going to have to focus on the things they can do cheaply, like acting and writing, and won’t be able to lean really heavily on massive zombie herds and awesome gore set pieces. They’ll have to pick and choose what they show and how they show it, and I think that’s going to really increase the quality on an already epic show. Blood and guts are very effective (as are shocks), but only when used in moderation.

So far, it seems like they’ve got this down perfectly.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan is glad that the biggest, baddest, deadest show on TV is back! Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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