It has been a long wait, but “The Walking Dead” finally returned Sunday night with a brand new episode, “What Lies Ahead,” to kick off the second season of the highly acclaimed AMC show. The 90-minute premiere was everything viewers have come to love about this show; zombie killing mayhem, and more importantly, great character moments. With so many changes taking place (head writer Frank Darabont is gone and the budget was cut), “The Walking Dead” has not suffered at all. It is still on par with what last season gave us in terms of quality. It may even exceed those standards.
For those who do not follow the show, “The Walking Dead” takes place in the aftermath of a zombie outbreak. Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), a former police officer, wakes up from a coma to discover a wasteland and joins a group of survivors, eventually being reunited with his wife and son. The show follows this group of survivors as they try to escape death and struggle with hidden turmoil amongst themselves. Secrets, lies, and deciet may get them before the zombies do.
Season two begins with the group leaving Atlanta, because there’s nothing left for them there. The scene before the credits does a good job of grabbing the viewer’s attention, as Rick is once again trying to contact Morgan (Lennie James) on the radio, the man who saved his life in the series premiere and has not been seen since. After opening credits roll, the viewer is immediately thrust into the tension and suspense the show does so well. The group is confronted with a herd of zombies and are forced to take shelter under abandoned cars in the middle of the road. While the scene is just them hiding as the dead walk by, it is intense because the show is so unpredictable. It is a great opening for the season, as it sets the tone perfectly.
Following the zombie herd, the group is faced with the uneventful disappearance of Carol’s (Melissa McBride) daughter, which kick-starts the rest of the episode. Carol has had it rough, even by these standards. Her husband was abusive and now her daughter is missing. The rest of the episode accounts for the group, mainly Rick and Daryl (Nomran Reedus), tracking her down. When they do not find her in the woods, the group moves on in the direction of church bells, thinking she may be sounding them off. What they find is far more disturbing and strange.
During all of this, the viewer gets a good look at the possible dramatic storylines that will be fleshed out as the season progresses. Andrea (Laurie Holden) is angry with Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) for not leaving her to die in the explosion during last season’s finale. She overhears Shane (Jon Bernthal) and Rick’s wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) arguing about the fact that Shane intends to leave when he gets the chance, and she wants to go with him. Shane himself has been secretly at odds with the group because of his affair with Lori while Rick was in the coma and presumed dead. and the tension between him and Lori, with Rick clueless to the situation, has been dramatically rising.
The characters are what make this show so great. Everyone loves zombie-killing mayhem, but when it comes down to it, the show is unique and accessible because the characters are developed and relatable. “The Walking Dead” is not so much about the zombie apocalypse as it is about a group of people with human flaws who happen to be in the midst of a living-dead outbreak. It is about how those flaws put them at odds with each other and how they interact with one another.
But that is not to say there was not a good amount of bloodshed in this episode. During the opening sequence, Andrea goes one-on-one with a zombie in the camper and stabs it in the eye repeatedly. Then Rick and Daryl are forced to open the stomach of a zombie to make sure it did not eat Carol’s daughter, and later on Rick busts the head of one zombie open with a rock. The show did not appear to suffer much from the budget cut. It was apparent in a couple scenes that they had to tone down the zombie killing, as a lot of it was off screen, but was still well-executed.
While the opening sequence is a nail biter, so is the final scene. It is meant to be a peaceful scene where Rick, Shane and Rick’s son come across a deer. They marvel at the beauty of it because they probably have not seen something like that in a long while. But a shocking turn of events ruins this moment of beauty.
Overall, this episode did not disappoint in the slightest. It has been a year since last season’s finale, and it was well worth the wait. If you are not into zombies, do not let that discourage you from watching it. “The Walking Dead” is a must-see, and easily one of the best shows on the air right now.
“The Walking Dead” airs Sunday nights on AMC at 9 pm.