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Review #3072: The Walking Dead 2.1: “What Lies Ahead”

Posted on the 18 October 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Gregg Wright

Like it or not, the first season of “The Walking Dead” was a ratings success for AMC. And despite all the production hooplah over lowered budgets and Frank Darabont’s departure from his role as active showrunner (with Executive Producer Glen Mazzara taking his place), the second season of “The Walking Dead” was riding on an enormous wave of anticipation, which resulted in record-breaking numbers for the premiere.

Review #3072: The Walking Dead 2.1: “What Lies Ahead”

For my part, I thought the first season started out extraordinarily well, and then fell into something of a disappointing rut until the unexpectedly impressive finale. I had mixed feelings about the first season overall, and couldn’t decide whether Darabont stepping down as showrunner would be good or bad for the show. The show has been problematic enough that I worried that I might simply lose interest in it eventually. Of course, it’s important to remember that Darabont was showrunner for a good chunk of the second season’s production, and that Darabont is still overseeing the project.

One of my biggest problems with the first season was the ponderously slow pace of each episode. I actually wouldn’t have minded the pace at all if the season had been longer. But for an only six-episode season, I felt like a lot more should have been happening. Thankfully, this problem has been rectified for this season, which will have twelve episodes.

And now, for the premiere itself. It’s not quite as good as the pilot episode, or perhaps the previous season’s finale, but it’s easily better than any other episode of the show we’ve gotten so far. I found myself feeling satisfied with the pacing of the premiere. The episode still progresses at a comfortably slow pace, but the zombies show up relatively quickly, and we get our first really meaty suspense scene. After this point, the rest of the episode is dedicated to the desperate search for a missing child, with the expected drama between the survivors serving as a backdrop.

I was glad to see that Rick’s attempts to contact Morgan haven’t been forgotten. The opening scene is probably one of the more poorly acted of the premiere, so it didn’t exactly leave me feeling confident about the rest of the episode. But things get significantly more interesting during the highway scene. I particularly enjoyed seeing the subversion of the “black guy dies first” trope by having Daryl unexpectedly come to T-Bag’s rescue. Of course, a scene like this is itself in danger of becoming a trope. But the scene is underplayed, and effectively unexpected, so I consider it a good addition.

Daryl might be the most backwards character on the show. But somehow, last season he became my favorite character on the show. And that’s still in effect here. I guess it’s just refreshing to have a character who I don’t constantly feel the need to yell at for their stupidity. And besides, I’ve always liked Norman Reedus. On a related note, Daryl’s crossbow might not seem like that useful a weapon, at first. But considering how important it is in “The Walking Dead” to avoid alerting other “walkers”, the crossbow is actually one of the best ranged weapons a person could have.

And that’s another element of the premiere I liked. The characters are starting to develop actual, useful tactics for fighting the zombies. At this point, they know that they can mask their scent with rotting human tissue and throw the zombies off. And they’ve also realized the importance of stealth. A gun can take out more zombies, more quickly, but it’s really only good for use in last resort situations when the zombies have already been alerted (or for putting one in your own head to avoid the horrible fate of being eaten alive).

The episode ends with a rather effective cliffhanger that seems to suggest an impending encounter with another survivor. I like that the scene initially starts out trying to make us think that this might be the sign from God that Rick is looking for, and then shocks us back to reality. It seems obvious that the shooting wasn’t intentional, but it may very well result in tensions between this other survivor/survivors and our group. I’d be impressed if Carl actually dies, as this would violate the unspoken rule against killing kids in the horror genre. Generally, I think it is a good idea to follow this rule (as you run the risk of generating darkness-induced audience apathy), but I like to see it broken every once in a while to keep things unpredictable. You don’t want the audience to really, truly realize that certain characters are untouchable. Although, given that Sophia is probably dead, Carl’s death might be a little excessive.

Despite my skepticism, I found myself enjoying the season 2 premiere of “The Walking Dead” more than I expected to. It’s looking hopeful that season 2 will be able to learn from the mistakes of the first season. And it sure must help fans of the comics to know that Robert Kirkman is still heavily involved in the show. But it’s too early to know for sure if Glen Mazzara will make a good showrunner. Given how much Darabont was involved with this season, we may not get an answer to that question until season 3. But at least for now, “The Walking Dead” has seen a relatively strong return, which will hopefully translate into a strong season.

Rating: 8/10

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