Spoiler alert! Don’t read this story until you’ve finished watching The Walking Dead‘s Season 2 premiere.
Welcome to another season of AMC Presents: Zombie Survivors in Sh*tty Situations! I mean, seriously! The Walking Dead‘s second season got off to a fantastic start tonight because the premiere focused on what matters most to the series: exploring the reality of incredibly unfortunate circumstances. By now, everyone has heard about how AMC’s adaptation of the comic strayed from the page in Season 1, but those who’ve read the books (*Tim nerdily and proudly raises his hand*) know it went off course, too.
“What Lies Ahead” put the focus on the characters by simplifying their situations—rather than, say, pitting Rick and his pals against post-apocalyptic gangbangers or herding them into the Center for Disease Control. When the RV went belly-up on the highway in a twisted mess of cars, things seemed pretty simple: The survivors would either get eaten, or they wouldn’t. There was no scientist with a death wish and a timer counting the minutes until a fiery mess wiped everything out. There were no Vatos waving gats around and threatening people. There was just a problem (no gas) and a lot of zombies, and that’s what I want from The Walking Dead.
Plus, that problem and those zombies resulted in the greatest television sequence of all time! Well, the greatest zombie-related television sequence of all time. Even before the walkers showed up, things were intense. I can’t say enough about how impeccably the episode’s opening—all thirty minutes of it—was put together. Talk about grabbing hold of you and never letting go. It masterfully used every element of filmmaking; extra special shout-outs go out to those involved in the direction, the makeup, and the use of sound (or lack thereof). I will never be able to hear cicadas again without thinking there is a walking corpse somewhere nearby. Thanks a lot, cicadas!
From the moment the episode began, we weren’t allowed to breathe until Rick used nature’s zombie weapon on an undead skull—and after that, new problems arose. Sophia went missing, but the fact that she was missing wasn’t the most damaging blow to the group; the ensuing stress and the tough decisions they had to make were way worse. It looks like The Walking Dead is really going to explore the nuances of zombie apocalypse survival this season, and so far there’s been no shortage of ethical quandaries staring the survivors in the face.
At what point do you sit Carol down and say, “Listen, Sophia was cute and all, but we’ll all be better off once you accept that she’s being torn apart by zombies.” And now that Andrea’s brought it up, did Dale have the right to tell her she needed to stay alive? When do the needs of individuals exceed those of the group? Is it worth risking others’ lives to help one idiot who ripped his arm open on twisted metal? What’s the protocol for continuing a relationship with your best friend’s wife after he wakes up from a coma? These are the problems that made the comics so good, and these are the problems that will keep everyone wonderfully uncomfortable when the zombies are off-screen.
And just to remind us that no character is safe, “What Lies Ahead” ended with a whopper: little Carl lying on the ground, apparently shot. Holy crap! When did zombies learn to use guns? Gun-wielding zombies are like dolphins with opposable thumbs—we should just give up now. Okay, obviously it wasn’t a zombie who pulled the trigger; we’ll find out what happened next week. But that ending reminded me of the end of Game of Thrones‘ first episode, when [no spoilers] a character of similar stature ended up in a similar situation. I love it when kids aren’t off limits. That’s keeping it real.
But for all the good things about “What Lies Ahead” (and there were many), not to mention the Season 1 flaws that The Walking Dead is clearly trying to fix, I still noticed some difficulty with the show’s dialogue and characterization. I’m a little worried that Rick has a problem with turning his inner monologues into external monologues with inanimate objects, and that soon he’ll be telling his life story to wooden cigar-shop Indians or anything else that doesn’t have the motor skills to flee his self-important chatter. Do not give Rick your cell phone number, because he leaves impossibly long messages. Hopefully the show’s writers will find better ways to get these ideas out in the future.
Minor complaints aside, Season 2 of The Walking Dead is off to a fantastic and bloody start, and “What Lies Ahead” has leapfrogged “Days Gone Bye” to win the title of “best episode of the series so far.”
– Rick asked for a sign from Jesus to let him know whether or not he’s doing the right thing, and then Carl got shot. Oops. Guess you got your answer, Rick.
– Glad I had already eaten dinner when Daryl started carving up hipster zombie to see if Sophia was in his stomach. That was gross.
– The episode’s first thirty minutes were so strong because we could imagine ourselves in the same position. Would you have the wherewithal to hide under the cars? Or would you throw your arms up and scream like a little girl? Count me in the latter group. On the plus side, I’ll make a great decoy while you run off to safety.
– Is there any doubt that Daryl is the show’s coolest character? I’m so glad they added him to the show. Looking back, I don’t know how the books survived without him. Also, I will defend Shane against anyone who hates on him. He’s a good guy. He just happens to have the hots for one of the few remaining hot chicks on the planet. Do you blame him?
– I think Jon Bernthal (Shane) is beginning to separate himself from the rest of the cast in terms of talent. Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale) is also pretty good, but no one else in the cast stands out to me as amazing. Although I will say Chandler Riggs (Carl) has a bright future.
– I usually don’t watch episodes too far in advance, but I couldn’t help but play Episode 2 on the press screener I received, and I’m happy to report that things will remain just as intense next week.
Question: Which zombie death was your favorite? Sign me up for Rick bashing in one geek’s skull with a rock.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom