Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Review: The Walking Dead "Seed"

Non Spoiler Review:
Walking Dead returns with a strong beginning for its third season. After wandering in the wilderness for some six to seven months, the survivors are reintroduced as a much more cohesive group that's got their shit together. Moses Rick stumbles upon the prison we saw in last season's finale and the vision that it represents their chance at a truly secure home (as well as a place for very pregnant Lori to have her Shane zombie baby). Meanwhile, Andrea and her new BFF Michonne have been wandering around Georgia these last few months, too.

Seed hit all the right notes kicking off what should be an intense new season. Anyone who complained about a lack of zombies last year gets their fill in just this episode. While the character bits were overshadowed by the intense action, there will doubtlessly be time for that in weeks to come—though Lori and Hershel shared a very good scene together on the matter of the baby. 

Having read the graphic novels, the prison arc is one I've been anxiously anticipating. With the introduction of Michonne (who only had a couple of scenes this week but shows a heckuva lot of promise), a 16 episode season, and ratings (as of this writing) as the most watched episode of a cable TV series, Walking Dead appears to have exciting times ahead.

Spoilers Now!
Rick and the gang break into a house for supplies killing walkers as they go (Carl is getting handy with his gun). The house appears to be abandoned, though Daryl manages to snare an unlucky owl for a meal. Cleared of danger, the rest move in. Carl only finds two cans of dog food but Rick stops him from eating and they sit in silence before T-Dog notices walkers approaching the house. They make their way out the back way to their vehicles and drive off. They are a well-oiled survivalist machine.

In the country they attempt to find a route to avoid a massing zombie herd that apparently has been driving their migration. They've spent the winter going in circles, according to T-Dog (which means Lori is very pregnant). Daryl and Rick go off to scout, immediately finding the prison (from last season). Rick seems to have an epiphany. 

It's full of walkers, though, but they return with the rest, cut through the gates and get through before the herd can get to them. There are multiple layers of chain link fences and walkways, allowing them to formulate a plan to clear the prison of walkers in segments. Rick makes the run for the main gate and makes it to another tower where everyone proceeds to pick off the zombies inside. The group camp in the open space and plan all the awesome stuff they can do once the area is secure. Rick scours the gates for any weakness. 

Carol brings Daryl some food on watch and discuss their situation—Rick got them farther than she thought he would, and Shane never could have. She's also become a good shot in the past months. She and Daryl flirt.

Rick thinks the prison supplies could be intact given the walkers are primarily prisoners and guards. That also means weapons, food and medicine—including an infirmary. He wants to go inside and clean it out hand to hand. Lori just wants to recoup for a few days given how exhausted they are. He rebuffs that suggestion. She's obviously walking on eggshells around him as he doesn't want to talk about the baby.

Come morning they begin the arduous task of clearing the prison interior (including dealing with walkers in riot gear armor). They clear one cell block and make camp inside for the night.

Meanwhile, in another town, sword girl Michonne raids a pharmacy for supplies and joins Andrea who is very sick. Andrea suggests she leave her otherwise she'll slow her down. Michonne says they'll leave in a few days. Andrea feels she'll die there, so they head off together (Michonne with her two walkers on chains). 

Lori thinks she's lost the baby, and given they're all infected she wonders if it's going to reanimate inside her. She's also worried about dying in child birth and coming back. Hershel tries to alleviate her fears but assures her he won't let that fate befall her. She thinks Rick hates her.

Rick takes stock of their new weapon finds and begins the next phase of clearing the prison. Deep inside the dark interior they find several severely eaten corpses and run into a crowd of walkers that send them running in different directions. While searching for Maggie and Glen, a walker bites Hershel's leg. They all manage to flee inside a larger room and secure the doors.

Rick makes a quick decision and amputates Hershel's leg at the knee to stop the infection. Rick realizes he's bleeding out when Daryl sees a crowd of faces at the window behind him. He tells Rick to duck as he raises his crossbow. Only these ones are alive, and prisoners.

The Verdict:
Seed was Walking Dead at its best. The clearing of the prison was one of those great moments from the graphic novels that made for an effective bunch of scenes and proceeded logically and methodically. In fact, the opening sequence was brilliant showing the group working as a cohesive team (in total silence)—especially the evolution of Carl. I was also pleased at how resourceful everyone is, even in the most minor of scenes (Maggie grabbing a stray axe before they flee the house), and the conscious use of hand to hand to save ammunition as much as possible. It's those little touches that make everything feel genuine.

As I mentioned, there was a shortage of character moments, but we saw (a much stronger) Carol flirting with Daryl, as well as a great scene with Lori voicing (all of our) concerns that she might be having a zombie baby. 

The only thing that didn't really work for me was the time jump over winter. While it's conveyed that they've been barely surviving, I didn't really get a sense that they endured a winter that was all that bad and it glazes over what must have been difficult plot lines to conceive of as far as finding food, supplies and shelter. I think it makes it more noticeable with Michonne and Andrea, and what they've been up to all this time. Bear in mind that Andrea will now have been with Michonne longer than she was with Rick and the others.

Also on the matter of time passing is how Rick and Lori appear to have grown quite distant given Shane's death and the unspoken paternity of the baby. At this early juncture, it just doesn't feel real that this has been the status quo for six months.

It also came off as a head scratcher how Rick has managed to not notice the prison over all these months. Granted they've been circling around going from house to house, but given its proximity in the closing scene last season, it just seems a stretch that it's not even on the map (!) that they've been using to track their progress.

On the plus side, the time jump does solve some worrying plot problems—the aging of the actor who plays Carl had the series maintained its slow time lapse over seasons. It also kicks Lori's pregnancy to relevancy and we get a Carol who has come to terms with her daughter's death. 

Also of note is that Hershel could very well be the receiver of a lot of Dale story lines given Jeffrey DeMunn's departure. It was Dale who had his leg amputated well into the comic book series, so it was nice to see that come up here as an extra twist. Let the mutilations begin...

So the premiere was a great win for the series, coming off a season two that was (rightly) criticized for meandering around with little action. If it keeps up this pace, I'll have no worries for its future. Note to AMC execs—Mad Men is an amazing series (and one of my favorites), but The Walking Dead is your golden child at the moment, as the ratings prove, so please learn from the errors of your ways in cutting the season two budget and let this show be the epic television it can be.

And lastly—zombies in riot gear. Brilliant.

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