EPISODE REVIEW: The Walking Dead: "What Lies Ahead" (Season 2, Episode 1)

Flabbergasted

So… Zombies.

Not exactly science fiction, but the modern zombie movie is a relative of sorts with its allegorical ambitions. This show even strayed a bit over the line in last season’s finale when our not-so-merry band of survivors made their way to the CDC in Atlanta hoping for some good news. They found one lone scientist staying at his post. He had tissue samples and a reasonably gripping recording of brain functions as his dead wife resurrected (she made him do that after she got bit for the hope of any scientific insight). The problem is, however, modern technological society has gone kaput. No one runs all that stuff we take for granted anymore. So the CDC was down to its last tank of diesel fuel, a few hours from losing power in a way that would tell it to seal off and incinerate itself.

To make a long story short, the scientist decided to go down with his ship. It was a thoughtful bit of mourning the way he explained it, akin to a terminal illness. There comes a point at which you have find your dignity and lie down. He even convinced some of our survivors to die with him. And his last line to Sheriff Rick was a killer. When he opens the doors to let them leave, Rick says “I thank you.” The scientist replies: “The day will come when you won’t.”

It was reasonably well written enough last season. So how is it now?

Right off the bat we get the best and worst this show has to offer. Our primary protagonist, Sheriff Rick Grimes, opens the episode with a monologue on the walkie-talkie to someone who may or may not be listening. It’s a cornucopia of clichés. It’s hard to write something like that without it becoming pretentious and self-conscious. Apocalyptic shows do lend themselves to this kind of tone deafness at times.

That’s followed by a relentless extended scene that works superbly on multiple levels. Our group of survivors has decided to head for Fort Benning, Georgia, in the hopes the army still has something viable going on. They pass into an abandoned line of cars on the interstate that seem to stretch out forever. The sight of their vehicles bobbing and weaving through all that in silence is truly eerie, a modern day Sargasso Sea. But it gets much worse. The command and control RV blows a radiator hose. While everyone else starts going through the cars siphoning gas and scrounging for supplies, Rick and aged mechanic Dale stand guard. There’s a superb “Oh, God” moment as what they take for a few zombies (called “walkers” on this show) becomes the vanguard of a herd.

And, yes, you heard right, all puns intended. A zombie herd, just shuffling along in mindless migration. Our survivors duck under cars while they pass. And it just goes on and on and on, dirty shoes and feet stomping by to the sound of moans and grunts, nicely herd-like in effect. It’s suddenly a zombie National Geographic, a horrific wild life show, and it’s kind of brilliant. This show does have trouble with self-conscious dialogue at times, but it seriously knows how to crack the whip on visuals.

After the herd passes by, a little girl named Sophie accidentally gives herself away. Two straggler zombies are after her. Sheriff Rick heroically gives hot pursuit into the woods. He takes a tumble coming off the interstate and naturally loses his gun. He finds Sophie and tells her to hide in a hollowed out log at the edge of a creek while he lures the zombies away. That part of the plan works, but our episode is officially set in stone. Of course Sophie panics, tries to find her way back herself. Now she’s lost, and they’ve got to find her.

Basically it’s a search and destroy mission. One thing of special note is how well this show uses woods. They’re green and verdant and always soft-lit, yet simultaneously overgrown, fetid and oppressive. These folks can indeed do visuals. They also go over-the-top gross at times. When Rick and very useful good ole’ boy Darryl kill a zombie in the area, they actually gut it. Yup. It’s the old check what the shark has eaten scene, only this time involving a missing little girl and a zombie. Not to mention lots of black stringy special effects. Thankfully, there’s only a woodchuck in there, but I could have done without even the thought.

Speaking of which, I like Darryl. His now missing brother was a Hollywood cliché southern racist, but Darryl’s more of the wiry salt-of-the-earth type. Really handy with sharp objects and his professional archery set, too. He also has one of the best lines of dialogue tonight. When Sheriff Rick can’t see Sophie’s trail anymore and starts sputtering questions, woodsy Darryl puts him in his place: “You want a lesson in trackin’, or do you want’a find that girl and get our asses off that interstate?”

The search parties come across an old church. Naturally, there are three zombies in church, sitting very respectfully in the pews. They get taken down fast. The unfortunate part is that this allows for two different characters to each have a monologue with the wooden Jesus on a cross behind the pulpit. Again, anything behind a simple prayer is hard to write well, and these bits ultimately feel as forced as our opening walkie talkie moment.

Naturally, they split up. One group heads back for the interstate, checking the opposite side of the creek. Rick and his old cop buddy Shane stay with Rick’s young son Carl to scour the area around the church. Shane’s kind of bitter because he fell in love with Rick’s wife when they all thought Rick was dead for several months, but he’s handling it about as well as one could ask in a post-Apocalyptic environment. Then another of our neat visuals pops up. It’s a stag wandering through the woods. Carl is enchanted by it, while Rick knows better but wants to believe it could be the sign he was demanding from the wooden Jesus. It’s a great mystical few seconds on camera. But then BLAM! Someone off camera shoots the deer. The bullet goes through it and hits Carl.

I’ll confess, I didn’t see that coming. So now we have a missing girl, our searchers split into two parties, and Rick carrying a critically wounded Carl. Next week’s promo does show Rick racing him to an inhabited farm, so all hope is not lost. But this remains one seriously bleak show, good visuals or not.

All in all, it’s entertaining. It’s more good than not and watchable, so I’ll be tagging along to see what happens.

Will Conservatives Like This?

Don't know. I suspect the zombie apocalypse is somewhat apolitical in nature (at least no one has said global warming caused it yet). So it’s largely a matter of personal preference. That said, any good conservative would note the following: don’t let anyone under 12 watch this.

Tags: