Like most fans, I was pretty angry when Frank Darabont was fired from the show he had worked so hard to bring from the comics page to the tv screen. I see his Stephen King adaptions as the best of the bunch, and The Mist is a straight-up modern horror classic in my opinion. So how could this show go on without him and his brilliant guidance?
Surprise surprise surprise. Go on it did, and to be truthful? The Walking Dead actually improved (greatly) when it returned to finish up it's second season, even with the budget cuts that had been imposed on the program, and Darabont being shown the door. The pace was leaner, the action more frequent, and the scares more intense.
Now that the gang are finally through with their defacto camping trip on the farm, which last seasons finale wrapped up nicely with a capper episode that more than tilted it's hat to Night Of The Living Dead, it looks like we can get on with the action. Dale is out of the picture, having been eviscerated by a walker, and the Rick/Shane/Lori situation is now pretty much over, with Shane having been dispatched by Rick in a confrontation that finally came to fruition.
With season 3, we come back to the group, who since we last saw them, are now more threadbare and harried than ever, as they scavenge abandoned houses, staying on the move and avoiding herds of walkers . A few months have passed, and relationships have changed and grown. Lori is now nearing her delivery date for the baby she carries (which may or may not be her husbands), Hershel looks like an old Motorhead roadie with his now long hair, Carl is growing up fast (watch for the eyes he makes at Hershel's daughter Beth...oooooh!) and becoming a hell of a shot, Carol seems to be stalking Darryl in couger like fashion (a move I saw coming a long long time ago), and Glenn and Maggie are more commited to each other than ever. Rick himself has finally grown a pair and taken firm control of the group, becoming the one primarily responsible for their safety. T-Dog is still kind of "just there" but I have the feeling his character is going to get a lot more to do, soon enough.
Andrea, who T-Dog thought she went down in a group of flesh eaters during last seasons climax, has indeed survived, and hooked up with the soon-to-be iconic tv character Michonne. Those who read the comics series know how heavily Michonne figures into things, and what a bad ass she is, with her muzzled zombie "guard dogs" on heavy chain leashes and that samurai sword of hers. These two are out there somewhere on their own, making their way through the apocalypse with each others' help.
Another component of the comic makes it's way into the show in a huge way in the premier, and that's the prison. We caught a glimpse of it as season 2 wrapped, but now after going in circles for months, the group has finally stumbled upon the place they end up fortifying and making into some kind of home for themselves.
For the first time we see the collective really operate as one seamless unit, as they cut through the cyclone fencing in the prison yard and start claiming it as their own. All feelings of sympathy or pity to the rotting walkers has been replaced with a determination among them all to do what it takes to survive, and even hopefully find some semblance of real safety from the flesh eaters, and in that regard, as they literally carve out a space for themselves within the infested prisons walls, in hopes of building some kind of life. Heads split and roll, and a lot of infected blood gets loosed in this premier episode, with sharp edged weapons and hand to hand zombie eradication taking precedent over bullets-to-brains.
My favorite gore moment comes when, while clearing the prison yard, some undead prison guards, covered in impenetrable riot gear, descend upon the group. When the helmet is removed from one of the shamblers, it's flesh comes with it, revealing the skull beneath the skin. Savvy gorehounds may get a sense of deja vu like I did when Rick plunges a machete into its face, recalling a great Savini effect from one of the Friday The 13th films when Jason slides down a machete that's been plunged into his face.
The other particularly gnarly gore moment comes courtesy of new show character (and stalwart comics character) Michonne, who is introduced onscreen via her dispatching a bunch of walkers with her gleaming Bushido blade, sometimes two or three rotting fuckers at a time. After decapitating one particular zombie we get a close up of it's head, mouth gaping and tongue lolling. I wonder if this is the same prosthetic head that was made of TWD exec producer and fx guru Greg Nicotero, back when he was a bit player in Romero's Day Of The Dead.
Michonne we see has been taking care of a very sick Andrea, who seems to be suffering from something like pneumonia, and we get some dialog letting us know these two have been through a lot together in the months we've been away.
We are certainly in frying pan to the fire mode here, and as Andrea's cohorts elsewhere claim their castle, she and Michonne decide to vacate the meat-locker they've been hiding in, to make their way to a safer place.
Another favorite moment from last night's episode is Lori and Hershell discussing the fact, that since everyone is already carrying the disease, what are the possible ramifications of the coming birth of the child she carries. "What if it's still born, and tares me apart from inside? What if I die in child birth and attack it?". Solid questions, which Hershel quells with his country-doctor manner and sage like wisdom.
But that good nature and book of life lessons doesn't save Hershel from falling to tragedy himself, when in the show's closing moments, as the group look for his daughter Maggie, and Glenn, he is bitten by a walker he assumed to be "dead". Cue vicious scene of impromptu leg amputation courtesy of the ever more aggressive Rick, and you have a season premier that really delivers on the promise of more action. The episode wraps up with the group discovering a number of prisoners who have survived, in a perfect secondary "oh shit!" moment.
The character development seems to be not so many talking heads now, which to be fair is kind of how the comic is, but doesn't necessarily work as far as pacing for a show people look to be terrified by. Now we get the sense of drama without it stopping the program it's tracks and tripping up the momentum and intensity. Factor that in with the fact that we are about to meet the megalomaniac Governor character, who is building what he says is return to normalcy with a town a little too perfect, and the impending return of Merle, Darryl's violent hick brother who we last saw in season one handcuffed to a pipe as zombies approached...and I think it's pretty safe to say fans of the series and the zombie genre in general are about to be taken on a hell of a ride.
I'm a little spoiled in the fact that I actually get to experience new episodes in a movie theater setting with a few hundred other fright fans, which of course amplifies the experience, but I still thought this was one hell of a premier episode, and I am looking forward to the new characters entering the fray. If you live in the Salt Lake City area, consider yourself invited to the big screen showings as well, every Sunday starting at 6:30 pm at Brewvies, sponsored in part by ScreenAnarchy!