Despite the fact that AMC’s “The Walking Dead” drew larger numbers of viewers in its first season than the channel’s frontrunner “Mad Men,” the channel allegedly fired creator Frank Darabont and drastically slashed the show’s budget, even while stretching out this season’s length from six episodes to twelve. Curious, to say the least.
Based on the series of graphic novels by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, and Tony Moore (which are amazing, in case you’re wondering), the series aired last Halloween. As I wrote then, AMC didn’t skimp on the gore. The channel, along with Darabont, cooked up a brutal little vignette about Deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), who awakens in the hospital to a world gone completely mad. Rick manages to meet up with his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), son Carl (Chandler Riggs), and former coworker Shane (Jon Bernthal). Little does Rick know, Shane shrugged on Rick’s mantle in his absence – and everyone’s gone a little bonkers. The zombie apocalypse holds a morbid fascination for many of us, not because of the actual walking dead, but because when the world ends, people have to examine themselves and each other more deeply than ever before. Are you the survivor type? Yes? Well, then how do you handle it? These are the truly tough questions zombie tales dredge up.
When last we saw them, our little band of the living had just escaped by a hair’s breadth from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. In the season one finale Dr. Edwin Jenner (Noah Emmerich) welcomed the ragtag troop of survivors into his lovely, if somewhat cold, CDC facility – and they showered in decadently hot water for the first time in what seemed like years, read real live books, and slept in actual beds. Unfortunately, all was not as it seemed – of course. There’s no such thing as “safe” in the zombie apocalypse. The CDC blew itself to smithereens, taking one of our minor protagonists with it – but not before Dr. Jenner whispered a dire secret in Rick’s ear. What’s this secret? we wonder; Where will they go? Will they ever resume a normal life?
These are the questions Darabont left us with last winter, and here we get some anwers. Not to that first pesky question, of course; the writers want to keep us on the edges of our couches waiting for the Big Answer. As to where they’re going, our passel of breathers are headed toward Fort Bennington, which is the next beacon of hope. 125 miles may not seem like a lot to us with our first world problems, but every car on the side of the road poses a new problem for anyone trying to move in the post-apocalyptic world.
When Dale’s RV breaks down, the crew encounters a “herd,” a cadre of walkers that move together. Their best option here seems to be to hide. (This doesn’t make a lot of sense, since we already established in the first season that the walkers can smell living flesh.) But when little Sophia makes a run for it, Rick and the remainder of the survivors are forced to wait her out. Rick and Darrell (Norman Reedus) open the belly of a walker to find out what he ate (a woodchuck – which tells us these zombies eat all kinds of flesh, not just the human variety). They have no choice but to leave Sophia in the cold, dark forest for an entire night, surrounded by the undead. It’s a prospect that’d terrify Genghis Khan.
Meanwhile, our bedraggled group finds a church. They take solace in whatever they can – whether it be JC, “opting out,” or the idea of scattering to the winds. Lori, who’s getting tired of, well, basically everybody’s bullshit, gives her part of the party a stern slap in the metaphorical face, and then Rick gets a sign from God…and then another.
The episode poses more questions than it gives answers. Though it boasts a tense, starkly drawn opening, it slows to a near-crawl (or shamble, if you will) in the middle third – but it sure does end with a bang.
The quality of physical gore in this season seems to have taken a plunge, which is unsurprising but disappointing. Computerized bloodsplatter just doesn’t look like the real thing. (Not that, you know, I’m acquainted with bloodsplatter. Knock wood. Ahem.) Hopefully AMC can keep the ball rolling despite its apparent troubles – and here’s hoping our survivors, young and old, keep on keeping on. Not much hope for the human race without children, no?