“The Walking Dead” is one show that keeps your eyes glued to the television set. It appears that the third season premiere will double up on its ability to grip the audience’s attention. The Grimes Gang ain’t so chatty nowadays. They spent a long winter homeless, perpetually on the move, searching for food, besieged on all sides by an endless zombie herd. They’ve devolved into pre-agrarian hunter-gatherers. They have no hobbies, unless you count “Amateur Beard-Growing” and “Competitive Zombie Eye-Gouging” as hobbies. They have nothing to live for, really, beyond the vague instinct that being alive is better than being dead. But they did find some totally sweet silencers. So they got that going for them, which is nice.
The season premiere of The Walking Dead reintroduced our happy band of apocalypse survivors in a fantastic, almost entirely silent sequence. They cleared out a walker-infested household with raw, military precision. The size of Lori’s belly indicates that we have time-jumped far, far away from the barn-burning season 2 finale. In the process, the show also essentially announced that it has reached the end of its Awkward Adolescence. The characters are no longer debating the meaning of life in a dead world. They’re just trying to stay alive. The new normal was confirmed in the first scene, when Daryl Dixon found a pretty pet upstairs and committed the Owl Kill of the Week. Then Daryl stood over the owl’s corpse and yelled, “That’s how many licks, bi***!”
There was a nice moment of peace, with all the characters sitting quietly in the living room. The moment didn’t last. Walkers emerged from the forest. There’s a giant herd of zombies circling the Grimes Gang — or it might be more accurate to say that the Grimes Gang is a tiny herd of humans in a zombie world. “It’s like we spent the winter going in circles,” said Rick. Not to harp on a point here, but it was impossible to hear a line like that without getting the meta-message. Read that line as “It’s like we spent [season 2] going in circles,” and the opening minutes of last night’s episode look even smarter. The gang needed a new purpose; the show needed a new purpose. Rick and Daryl set off on a hunt for food — pause to imagine Daryl as the dad in the hunting mini-game of The Oregon Trail. And they accidentally discovered a sanctuary.
The Prison was one of the key settings in the Walking Dead comic book. The basic layout has been tweaked a bit in the adaptation, with the addition of a gigantic fenced-in field out front, which quickly became a killzone. Rick led a strike team of melee professionals on the ground. Daryl Dixon took out a raft of walkers with his crossbow. Carl is a silence-toting, cowboy-hat wearing enforcer, with long unruly hair that makes him look like the coolest problem child in junior high. Carol — Carol, people Carol! — has become an ace shooter, and took up position in the sniper perch. At a certain point, you have to just start laughing: The Killing Field sequence ended with a long shot showing the walkers slowly being picked off, one by one.
Two of the most adrenalized action sequences the show has ever had– and the episode wasn’t even half over. The characters took a moment to rest. They built a campfire. They played “Never Have I Ever.” Hershel’s youngest daughter — Beth, aka “That Blonde Girl You Forgot Existed,” heretofore best known for her magical powers of Being In A Coma” — treated everyone to a nice, eerie little song. T-Dogg started making plans to dig a well. Hershel noted that the soil would be good for tomatoes, cucumbers, and soybeans. Carol gave Daryl a back massage and asked, “Wanna screw around?” Daryl blushed. (ASIDE: During the Walking Dead panel at this weekend’s New York Comic-Con, Norman Reedus pointed out that his character — for all his white-trash-superhero bluster — has zero game. He can stab a zombie through the eye with an arrow and skin a family of squirrels, but he breaks just like a little boy. END OF ASIDE.)
But Rick wouldn’t let them rest on their laurels. “This was a great win,” he said. “But we gotta push, just a little bit more.” On the Big Wheel of Leadership, Rick’s current governing policy has shifted from “Benevolent Despot in a Feudal Society” to “Coach of a Ragtag Band of Hockey Players from the Wrong Side of the Tracks.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave much time for dealing with the womenfolk. A very pregnant Lori begged Rick to talk to her — to say anything. “You wanna talk, go talk to Hershel,” said Rick. “I’m doin’ stuff!”
Of course, it takes violence committed upon a “real” person to have the most jolting effect, and Rick’s hatchet job on Hershel’s zombie bitten leg, combined with the final-seconds reveal that our humans are not the only humans in this prison — well, it made for one swift episode. I’m not looking for big season-setting themes, but I like the siege mentality that’s settling in among our protagonists, I’m looking forward to the fall-out, so to speak, from Lori’s baby, and I like the notion that we have to start wondering who’s the bigger threat: the newly discovered living, or the familiar dead.
Contributor D. Chandler