Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Walking Dead: Season 2 Episode 1 (What Lies Ahead)

I almost missed tonight's premiere of season 2 of The Walking Dead. Almost. I've been looking forward to it ever since the conclusion of the first season. But I assumed that the season premiere would air on Halloween (or Halloween weekend, anyway) like last year, so I wasn't looking out for it, yet. Luckily, I went online to check the schedule for this year's FearFest on AMC just yesterday, and saw an ad for The Walking Dead indicating that the premiere was scheduled for today. The flesh-eating fun begins again!

Spoilers ahead! Proceed at your own risk.

At the end of the first season, we left the group on their way out of Atlanta, after their short and harrowing stint at the CDC. En route to their next location (I think I heard "Fort Bragg"), they come across a vehicle blockade on the highway. In addition to being an inconvenient obstacle, it provides a great opportunity to forage for supplies - gasoline, water, clothing, and weapons! Unfortunately, the group is soon overtaken by a migrating herd of zombies in a demonstration of how quickly and how easily things can all go to hell in this post-apocalyptic landscape.

The group lays low while the zombie herd marches through, and manages to stay relatively unnoticed. But in the chaos, 12 year old Sophia is chased off into the woods and gets separated from the others. Sheriff Rick Grimes rescues her by diverting the pursuing zombies, but she gets lost on the way back to the highway. The rest of the group tries to track her down, but she's nowhere to be found.

One of the highlights of this episode was the exchange between Dale and Andrea, after he takes her gun away from her, fearing that she'll use it to off herself. If you remember, in the climax to the last season, Andrea had been prepared to take Dr. Jenner's offer of a quick and painless death, after losing all that was left of her family. But Dale, not wanting to go on without her, threatened to sacrifice his own life, prompting Andrea to run off with the survivors. Dale expects some gratitude for saving Andrea's life, but Andrea views it a bit differently. She makes a great argument that what Dale did was not honorable and righteous, but actually quite selfish, and Andrea is not at all grateful for the opportunity to live in this god-forsaken wasteland any longer. The only reason she chose not to die at the lab was because she didn't want to be responsible for bringing Dale with her.

Looks like this series still has its bite in the second season, doesn't it? I have to admit, I wavered a bit at the end of the episode. While searching for Sophia in the woods, the group comes across a (nearly) abandoned church. Naturally, some of the survivors' thoughts turn to God. Carol prays for her daughter's safety, but in bringing back the topic of her late abusive husband, I started to wonder if maybe Sophia ran off intentionally, instead of merely getting lost. Rick, as the leader of the group, has been getting a lot of gruff from Carol about losing sight of Sophia when she first ran off, but his wife Lori does a good job of defending him. After all, Rick's in a tough spot, and he's honestly done the best he could (and far more than could be expected of anyone in his shoes) to keep the group together and alive.

But one can't fault Rick for beginning to doubt himself. After all, it's very hard to know whether you're doing the right thing. In a moment of weakness, Rick enters the church and asks God for a sign, any kind of sign. He's not much of a believer, but right now, he could use the extra help. Then, he and Shane and his son Carl head into the woods to look for Sophia one last time. They come across a graceful buck in the forest, and Carl approaches to touch it. It's a truly magical moment, beautiful even, and I was thinking to myself, as I watched, is this really the direction this series is heading? Religious sentimentalism? Rick gets his sign that he's on the right path, maybe the buck leads them straight to Sophia, and all is well?

But then I thought, this is The Walking Dead. The series where nothing is sacred. The series that's supposed to be really gritty, the series that holds no punches. Something really gruesome has to happen here, or the series will have lost its guts. And I knew, as Carl approached the buck, that this would be the defining moment. What happened in the next few seconds would determine whether The Walking Dead continued to deserve my respect, or whether I would have to consider it to have jumped the shark. And you know what, I honestly expected to be disappointed. And I guess that just goes to show you how pervasive that spineless sort of attitude is that I thought the chances of them going all out and making this show fucking rock were too slim to hope for.

But you know what? The Walking Dead pulled through, and the season 2 premiere ended on a horrifying note that left my jaw gaping into the credits.

You've got me for another season, The Walking Dead.

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