Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Review: The Walking Dead "What Lies Ahead"

Non Spoiler Review:
After what seemed a very long wait and a summer of controversy with AMC replacing showrunner Frank Darabont, The Walking Dead at last returns for its second season. Beginning shortly after the destruction of the CDC, the survivors leave Atlanta hopeful they can find refuge at Fort Benning. On the way the RV breaks down, beginning a series of events that puts everyone (of course!) in jeopardy.

The survivors also begin to show strains in their relationships, as Shane comes to a decision about his future given the ongoing friction with Lori, while Andrea holds Dale accountable for forcing her to escape from the CDC with him. Rick must face the consequences of his decisions again when he attempts to find a balance that will ensure everyone's survival.

A great premiere episode that maintains all the tension of last year and delivers great character moments, gore and shocks. Having followed the books, I'm very excited at where the next few episodes will go, and while the ending was anticipated, it delivered a very well-executed shock.

Spoilers Now!
Still in Atlanta, Rick continues to try to contact Morgan via the walkie-talkie and updates him on their situation and plans. He's troubled by what the scientist told him (though stops short of telling Morgan), and advises they're going to try to reach Fort Benning 125 miles away, hoping to see him and his son there some day.

On the road, Shane teaches Andrea how to clean her gun in the back of Dale's RV. But their convoy reaches a traffic jam of vehicles and the RV breaks down at the most inconvenient time. While repairs are made and others go searching for supplies, Andrea stays inside trying to put her gun together. Shane finds a van full of water bottles and there appears to be plenty of supplies to stock up on from the dozens of vehicles, so the group has a moment of elation.

Dale and Rick spot walkers approaching and quickly realize it's a large horde. They take shelter under the cars. T-Dog cuts himself on a broken door while trying to take cover, and a walker comes into the RV forcing Andrea to hide in the bathroom. It tries to break in and Dale tosses her a screwdriver from the roof and she violently kills it.

Daryl manages to save T-Dog from a walker and covers them both with corpses, while the rest of the group watch the zombies file passed until most appear to be gone. But Sophia screams when she sees a lingering zombie and runs off the road into the woods with two in pursuit. Rick takes off after and manages to catch her. He gets her to hide while he leads them away, and tells her to make her way back to the highway. He manages to kill both, but finds Sophia gone. Rick and Daryl go off searching for her while the rest continue gathering supplies.

Andrea is pissed with Dale for taking her gun. He doesn't think it's a good idea given her death wish at the CDC, and Shane seems to agree, for the fact that the rest of them don't have proper training.

While waiting, they hear a civil defence message on a car radio which implies the signal was coming from within 50 miles. But they now have enough gas to double back and take a different route.

Meanwhile, off exploring on his own (bad Lori!) Carl finds a bunch of axes in a car and wants to keep the hatchet but Shane doesn't have any patience for him and tells him to give them all to Dale. Lori isn't impressed with him snapping at her son, so he admits his meltdown at the CDC was a mistake and he's leaving the group, planning to just slip away when he has a chance. He doesn't want to make it any harder on Carl than it already is.

Daryl and Rick kill another walker, seeing it fed recently given there's flesh in its teeth. They cut open its stomach but find no evidence it was Sophia. They return empty handed but promise to start searching in the morning. Carol asks how Rick could have just left her in the first place but Shane supports his decision. But it's evident the rest of the group aren't as agreeable with his choice.

Come morning, they begin a search with everyone, and Rick distributes the hatchets Carl found as he and Shane don't want people firing guns off in the woods. Dale remains with a bandaged up T-Dog to continue repairs. Carl wants to go with them, so Lori and Rick agree.

Andrea tells Dale she's not going out without her gun, and says he needs to stop being paranoid about her. He forced her to save his life, not the other way around. She wanted to die her way, and he took that choice away from her. She's not his little girl, she tells him, and certainly doesn't have any gratitude for what he did. Everyone else overhears their tiff and Dale is left hurt.

The group comes across a tent in the woods. It just has a dead man inside who killed himself. They hear some bells so take off in that direction and come upon a church. There are three zombies inside which they manage to dispatch easily, and they realize the bells are just an automatic church recording.

Shane and Lori have another conversation about him leaving, unaware that Andrea is sitting nearby and listening. Lori doesn't want him to just disappear given what it will do to everyone and Carl. He's the one who's losing them, he says. Andrea comes out when Lori goes inside and Shane sees she's overheard it. She wants to come with him to start over somewhere else. Neither of them belong in the group, so she asks him to consider it.

They split into two groups, with Carl going with Rick and Shane and the others heading back to the road. Seeing how Andrea and Carol are both treating them, Lori defends Rick to the others and tells them they have to stop blaming him for Sophia's disappearance. If they want to take off on their own they're more than welcome.

Dale tells T-Dog he had the radiator fixed yesterday. If the others know they're mobile, they'll want to move on, so he's just guarding against the arguments for the greater good for as long as he can.

Rick takes a moment to pray in the church. He's not a religious man, but asks for some sign that he's doing the right thing. As they trek through the woods, Rick, Carl and Shane see a buck. Shane plans to shoot it, but Carl is fascinated and steps up to have a look. The buck doesn't move to run. In awe, Rick and Shane watch Carl approach closer and closer. Rick seems to think that's his sign. Then the buck and Carl are shot.

The Verdict:
The church setting this week allowed for a lot of prayer and reflection on the nature of god in The Walking Dead. It seems their world is absent of a god, or at the very least has one with a twisted sense of humour.

This episode was all about making choices to save the group versus the individual, and the reality of their tenuous situation. Heading off to Fort Benning seems the best logical move, and getting stranded on the highway was a very effective and tense sequence, introducing the zombie horde (something not talked about until well into the graphic novel).

The strain is beginning to show on Rick, and next week is certain to put the pressure on. I realized watching him talk on the radio to Morgan how it echoes his future habit of talking on phones without anyone on the other end. 

The Dale/Andrea dynamic got some energy with her pointed remarks to Dale. The whole gun thing all rings true to her behaviour at the CDC, but I wish she'd get out and shooting soon. Having her overhear Lori and Shane makes me realize the rest of the group must have been privy to the two of them being together on some level prior to Rick's arrival. Dale, on the other hand, is certainly showing his fatherly side, both in trying to control Andrea, as well as the entire group by lying about the state of the RV. How long before that comes back to bite him in the ass?

T-Dog seemed to get quite a nasty cut, and when we next see him he looks okay (infection, anyone?). He got the short end of the stick this week, with very little to say aside from bleeding over everything. But it was nice to see Daryl rescue him without a second thought. Daryl's quickly become a favorite.

After watching the promo trailers for the Hershel farm, Carl's shooting wasn't a surprise, but it was a really well done and twisted scene, playing on Rick's joy at getting his supposed sign and immediately driving the knife into the audience for a fitting conclusion to the first episode. Everything worked this week and I'm excited for a longer season and the introduction to more characters from the graphic novels.

Where's Sophia? I'm wondering if she's made it to the Hershel farm already or if her disappearance will be stretched out across further episodes. Carol's a loose cannon, so the group dynamic will certainly suffer the longer Rick's held to account for his tactical decision.

Some lingering questions: How did the people in the cars die? There seemed to be a lot of corpses just sitting there, but wouldn't they have reanimated regardless of being bitten (given of what is known of the virus in the graphic novels?). Of course, that plot point might not be carried over to the series as we've yet to see someone just die naturally, but one wonders how people would simply have expired in their vehicles. And what was the purpose of the civil defence broadcast? It seemed to be casually thrown in and immediately forgotten.

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