The Walking Dead 2.01 "What Lies Ahead" ReviewA tv review article by: Paul Brian McCoy
Rick leads the group out of Atlanta. On the highway, they are stopped by a threat unlike anything they have seen before. The group searches for someone who has gone missing.
The Walking Dead airs on AMC Sunday nights at 9:00.
I broke with the herd at the end of the first season and really enjoyed the whole two-part CDC nightmare. So with that in mind, feel free to dismiss what I'm about to say, but understand that I was a little disappointed with how this new season kicks off.
Well, that's not entirely accurate.
I thought it started very strong (once we got past the horribly forced opening narrative "message to Morgan") but according to rumors those opening 20ish minutes were scripted by Season One Mastermind Frank Darabont (although credited to his pseudonym, Ardeth Bey – which he uses to distance himself from projects he's not happy with). It seems they were (no pun intended) cannibalized from the original Season Two Premiere which got Darabont fired.
Those opening minutes are easily the strongest of the entire premiere.
There are nice bits of believable dialogue and the character dynamics are interesting and not overplayed. Then, after the RV breaks down again in the midst of a sea of abandoned/crashed cars, the tension becomes palpable as the gang is forced to hide under those cars while a zombie herd shambles past them on all sides.
The rest is scripted by comics creator Robert Kirkman (who was responsible for the Season One episode, "Vatos") and is serviceable, but meanders more than was really necessary as the story shifts to spend the next hour looking for a little girl in the woods, punctuated by melodramatic outbursts.
Yes, I know it's a show about the zombie holocaust. I know melodrama is standard. And that's why I'm pointing it out. This show should try to avoid the typical. And the most affecting zombie narratives strive to maintain believability in character motivations, allowing the mundane to become dramatic. Then, when someone goes mad or something horrific happens, it serves to emphasize the direness of the situation.
Here, we pretty much only have two narrative modes. Eye-Rolling Fear and Soap Opera. Well, three if we count the Gross-Out.
I suppose it might have worked better as a breather after an intense Season Premiere, but there was just way too much standing around doing nothing or walking through the woods doing nothing to really hit the ground running. This was especially problematic when combined with the "character moments" between Shane (Jon Bernthal), Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), and Carl (Chandler Riggs).
For those who forget, Shane recently almost drunkenly raped Lori (at the CDC Headquarters) and she violently told him to stay away from her and Carl. So now when Shane tries to distance himself from Carl, Lori starts acting the bitch, blaming him for hurting Carl's feelings.
And when Shane reminds her that she told him to do this, she continues to argue with him with some unfocused reasoning that could only be intentional if the point was to make Lori a shrieking harpy. I don't know. It just seems overly melodramatic and poorly executed.
In fact the majority of emotional beats after the opening sequences seem forced and unrealistic, all so they can maneuver the characters and set up the final scenes of the episode, with Shane, Carl, and Rick (Andrew Lincoln) separating from the group to continue searching for the missing little girl, Sophia (Madison Lintz).
The rest of the episode, from the time the herd has moved on, to the shocking (if you haven't read the comics) final moment is tedious and forced, draped in clichés and filler.
Yes, there is the great moment where Rick and breakout character Daryl (Norman Reedus) kill a zombie and then gut it so they can check the stomach and make sure Sophia isn't in there. It's horrifying and disgusting, highlighting just how awesome this show can be. But then we're back to walking through the woods talking about our feelings until we stumble upon a church.
And don't get me started on the zombie church-goers, sitting casually in their pews with the door closed behind them.
Which allows for not one, but two monologues to Jesus. The first, by Carol (Melissa McBride) is nicely acted as she prays for her daughter's safe return. But the second, by Rick, is awkward and stiff (like most of Lincoln's portrayal), adding nothing to the episode except, again, setting up the final moments. You know, when Rick asks for a sign from god and then he, Carl, and Shane find the deer in the woods.
It's a scene that almost works, except for the extreme corniness of it all. Is it a sign? Oh how beautiful. One of god's creatures.
And then the gunshot.
And Carl is on the ground, bleeding.
And no, I'm not going to put a spoiler alert on that, because it's been out for a week and happened in the comics years ago.
So there you have it. The return of The Walking Dead and there's more walking around by kvetching humans than by the zombies (and while that may be ironic in the comic, in the TV show we haven't worked our way up to that thematic realization). We're treated to one really good gore scene, which is countered by at least three really obnoxious "character" moments where people melodramatically bitch at each other.
And yes, I am including Andrea's (Laurie Holden) bitch out of Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn). It would be nice to have a female character in this show who is actually strong, independent, or doesn't rely on the men to define her. Andrea's little speech about wanting to die was just too much for me, especially when paired with her inability to clean her own gun. Luckily there are men around to show her what to do and keep her from killing herself.
Clearly it's all being done to set up her rise as the show progresses, but as it is presented it's cliché and weak.
I didn't mention the fact that our only black character, the atrociously named T-Dog (Irone Singleton) has now split his arm open wide on a piece of jagged car door and is lucky to be alive. From what I understand, it's going to get infected and his prospects don't look good – although maybe they'll cut T-Dog's arm off instead of pushing Rick in that direction.
I also didn’t mention that because AMC fired Darabont (WTF AMC???), the Stephen King / Joe Hill penned episode planned for later this season will not be happening. Thanks money men. Thanks for that.
Not that any of that matters, apparently. This Season Two Premiere got more ratings than god, so it's all going to look like AMC was right to do what they did.
But they weren't.
I'm going to keep watching, but I'm not sure if it's going to pay off. Especially after a 4 to 4.5 bullet opening sequence collapsed into a at best episode thanks to the meddling of the network.
We'll see what happens next time.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot. His first novel,The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook, or can be sampled and/or purchased at Smashwords. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.