Minor plot points from early in the episode ahead.
It’s not uncommon, or at least it’s not as rare as I’d like, for a TV series to blaze through a first season of the highest possible standard, only to lose momentum and dribble out a floundering second season to an underwhelmed audience. Perhaps its the cooling-off period between producing the two seasons, perhaps the hype and pressure that follows a successful opening shakes the confidence of writers who are suddenly expected to perform to a certain standard.
Of course, that first paragraph is completely irrelevant because this review is about The Walking Dead.
I doubt I managed to keep any of you in suspense. You knew it was going to be good, and I don’t need to spend the rest of this review telling you it was good. But I’m going to.
Episode 1, What Lies Ahead, begins shortly after the last season left off, with the gang back on the road. They haven’t given themselves an official gang name yet so henceforth I shall call them the Brave Sir Robins, or Robins for short.
The convoy consists of Dale’s RV, Rick’s station wagon and a motorcycle being ridden by … oh my. Daryl the Redneck, who is played by Norman Reedus. We’ll come back to him, he gets his own paragraph.
The Robins somehow manage to get into a traffic jam. There you have it: the two things that will survive the apocalypse no matter what are cockroaches and traffic jams. After the radiator on Dale’s RV blows, the Robins decide that whilst searching for a replacement hose they should take the opportunity to search the abandoned cars for supplies and siphon off some petrol for the road. At least, most of them think this is a good idea. Lori makes faces about it because apparently the highway is “a graveyard” and looting petrol and clean drinking water is disrespectful to the dead.
Shut up, Lori.
Unfortunately whilst they’re searching Dale spots an enormous herd of Walkers heading their way and the Robins have to hide under the cars and hold their breath while the crowd of Walkers shuffles past slower than one of those groups of tourists with cameras crossing Westminster Bridge.
It seems the Robins are in the clear until little Sophia gets sniffed out by a zombie and gets chased into the woods by two Walkers, followed closely by Rick…
In the zombie killing mayhem that ensues (which includes the scene below where Rick manages to somehow kill a Walker with a rock made of grey-painted sponge), Sophia gets lost in the woods and the rest of the episode is spent trying to find her.
The special effects and make-up in this show remain outstanding. Greg Nicotero and his team take their infinitely detailed corpse creations and shove them fearlessly into HD close-ups so we can see every inch of wispy hair and parchment skin and count the teeth that protrude through the Walkers’ torn away cheeks.
If I have any criticism of the make-up it’s that it’s so good it becomes almost a distraction, so frequently I was too busy admiring the zombies to find them sufficiently creepy. But there is a fantastic and memorable scene where Rick and Daryl are required to perform an “investigation” of a Walker they’ve just offed, which you should probably skip past if you have a weak stomach.
If the idea of the Robins spending an entire episode looking for a kid is somewhat off-putting, the tension caused by Sophia’s absence unearths a lot of issues that, up until this point, the characters have managed to avoid, as well as unearthing some plot points from season one that haven’t yet been put to rest.
Andrea is not happy about having been “rescued” by Dale in the last episode, and poor shunned Shane is still coveting his neighbour’s ass. What is best referred to as the “Apathetic God Issue” also makes its promised appearance in this episode, when the Robins run across a church wherein a crucified Jesus bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the Walkers sitting in the pews.
That’s the last Zombie Jesus joke I’m going to make, I promise.
I have a few criticisms of the show that are really just nitpicking.
I have no patience for those characters whose job seems to be incessantly whining about how rubbish they’re finding life in a zombie apocalypse, about how another character is giving them mean looks, or about how they never really feel like they fit in with the emotional dynamic of the rest of the group. The rest of the world is staggering around with bits falling off them – try to have a little perspective.
Also, Rick has a couple of soliloquys where he spends five minutes conveying “I don’t really know what I’m doing,” something I just said in only seven words. These are essentially a way of having a Scrubs style inner monologue without actually resorting to having an inner monologue to express character motivations, so for one speech he’s talking on a radio to Morgan – who can’t hear him – and in the other he’s talking to Jesus.
The second speech is definitely the more interesting of the two since it raises the stakes of finding Sophia by suggesting that the outcome of the search will be a message from God himself.
Therefore I won’t tell you whether they find Sophia or not, only that the ending is definitely the best part of this episode.
Actually that’s not true. The best part of this episode is…
Oh, Norman Reedus. You might recognise him from Blade II, John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns, and Troy Duffy’s Boondock Saints. Here he rides around on a motorcycle, sans sleeves, covered in grime, talking with an admirable attempt at a redneck accent and shooting zombies with a crossbow. He’s also the best character in the show because he’s done the least amount of bitching, despite travelling round with people who may or may not have murdered his brother. And he’s generally the least useless person in the group. He owns the only long-range weapon that can kill Walkers silently, he can hunt, skin and gut wild animals for eating, he has tracking skills without which the rest of the characters would have spent the entire episode wandering round the woods yelling in the hope that Sophia might find them, and he … he … he looks good without sleeves. That’s a useful skill right?
You can catch The Walking Dead: What Lies Ahead on FX on Friday 21st October at 10pm if you live in the UK, and on AMC on Sunday October 16th at 9pm ET if you live in the US.