If you mention 'Walking Dead' season two to someone, it's likely that their response will somehow include the phrase 'that goddamn farm,' which is certainly a valid reaction. After a slow, turgid season two, (although admittedly, it did pick up a lot in the last couple episodes) season 3 of 'Walking Dead' hits the ground running with an hour that consists primarily of zombie killing, which is really all we've ever asked for. The main problem with season two (apart from it's slow pace) is it's indecisive characterization, and by choosing in this hour to instead focus on goal-oriented, getting-shit-done storytelling, we're spared a lot of scenes in which characters whine about their lives and/or act out of character.
I assume this is a given but just in case, SPOILERS AHEAD!
When we last saw Rick and the gang, everyone's favorite sheriff had essentially declared himself Dictator of the group, and Andrea was presumed dead and running around with Michonne, who we don't really know much about yet besides the fact that she's awesome. We caught a glimpse of a nice, defensible-looking prison at the end of last season, but apparently the group has been wandering around in circles all winter, clearing houses for places to sleep, and killing owls for food. As evidenced by Carl almost eating a can of dog food in the cold open, it’s been a pretty rough time.
The opening sequence sets a definite tone for what’s to come; bloody, exhausting, and meticulous. We watch as Rick, T-Dog, Daryl, and an unexpectedly armed Carl clear a house of Walkers in no time, only for the group to be forced to abandon it when a horde comes marching through. The impression we’re given is that the hordes are becoming larger and more numerous as the zombies clump together. Nowhere is truly safe.
Rick and Daryl run across the prison pretty early in the episode, and while Daryl doesn’t seem to think much of it at first, it’s obvious that the possibilities are racing through Rick’s mind. His relationship with Lori is falling apart, his son is becoming a hardened survivor, and it’s clear that Rick can’t do this for much longer. So, in order to secure a future for his family and friends, he decides to push them to their limits, to do everything in their power to ensure that this place can be their new home.
The scene where the gang clears the yard of Walkers is awesome. It’s clear that in between seasons they’ve worked out a system, and it seems to be one that works. They have a formation that they stick to, and they use those who aren’t fighting as bait / a distraction, and it seems to work out pretty well. It’s clear that they’re all elated once the yard is cleared, and Lori begs Rick to let them relax there for a few days, to enjoy the space that they’ve earned, but Rick insists that if they push themselves, and clear a cell-block of the prison, it will be worth the exhaustion. He and Lori seem like they can barely stand each other in this scene, and while I was extremely annoyed by Lori’s disgust at Rick for killing Shane last season (she asked him to!) it made much more sense here, portrayed as guilt for her role in all of that ugly business.
There’s a sweet, nice scene where Maggie and Beth sing a song around the campfire. I don’t really have much to say about it, but it was a nice little bit of characterization for the Greene girls. Also, Carl seems to have a crush on Beth now, which totally weirds me out, ‘cause even if Beth is supposed to be, like, sixteen or something, the actress that plays her is definitely, like, twenty-eight. So that’s a thing, I guess.
Meanwhile, Andrea is sick, and Michonne is taking care of her. Andrea keeps insisting that Michonne just leave her and go, but obviously she cannot. These two have formed a connection between seasons, and I’m curious to learn more about what they’ve been through. Beyond that, there’s not much to remark upon with this plot thread. Michonne still has her zombie pack-mules, which continues to be a weird, awesome image (in a show that was sorely lacking in weirdness before Michonne showed up).
The other little character bit that I really liked was the little scene between Carol and Daryl. This relationship has always seemed weird and forced to me, and giving them that fun, flirty little moment with the backrub was a great way to acknowledge their tension in a playful way, without having them just come right out and bitch about it like they would have last season. Instead, they act like actual human beings. Imagine that.
There were a lot of ‘let’s clear this area of zombies’ sequences in the episode, and my favorite was the one in which Rick, Glenn, Maggie, T-Dog, and Daryl clear out the cell block. They have a system and formation that seems to work very well, as they make short work of lots of zombies, despite not using guns. It’s great to see this teamwork, and it goes a long way towards making it feel like time has passed, since not much else has changed besides Lori’s stomach getting bigger.
There are some ‘settling-in’ type scenes in the cell block, and I’m relieved to have a primary setting with more personality than that goddamn farm. The prison may not be the homiest place ever, but at least it’s interesting.
The fourth and last ‘clearing the area of zombies’ sequence is where things start to go off the rails. The dark, creepy series of hallways that Rick and crew attempt to navigate turns out to be crawling with Walkers, and the group quickly gets separated. Hershel, in an attempt to be awesome, which is becoming a habit of his, gets his ankle chomped on by a stationary Walker that he erroneously assumes is dead.
The final scene of the episode is gross, sad, and an example of this show at it’s best. Rick’s reaction when he begins to cut through Hershel’s leg is a revelation that even though Rick has killed countless zombies, and seen horrible things, it still kills him to hurt a friend. But he will do it if he has to, and without a moment’s hesitation. I really liked the performance of the actress that plays Maggie in this scene, and I’m glad that she’s been bumped up to ‘Bad-ass Zombie Killer’ alongside Rick, T-Dog, Glenn, and Daryl.
Then those prisoners show up, say what we’re all thinking (“Holy shit”), and we cut to black, with Hershel bleeding out on the floor, the Walkers outside the door, and some new faces to contend with. I’m gonna be honest, this premier makes me super excited for the rest of the season, assuming they can maintain the momentum they’ve established in this opener, without getting bogged down like they did at that goddamn farm.
Welcome back, ‘Walking Dead.’ I didn’t even know how much I missed you.