The Walking Dead, Season 2, Episode 1: “What Lies Ahead”
Written by Ardeth Bev and Robert Kirkman
Directed by Ernest Dickerson and Gwyneth Horder-Payton
Airs Sundays 9pm ET on AMC
After the over-the-top ending to Season One, in which The Walking Dead indulged in a 24-style countdown and a massive explosion it clearly didn’t have the budget to pull off, things are wisely kept simple in the slightly extended Season Two premiere. With no CDC or immediate source of hope to cling on to (besides the new, eventual destination of Fort Bennett), “What Lies Ahead” sticks to zombie-movie bread and butter: tension and gore, in ample amounts – probably the smart choice, given that this is the establishing hour for the show’s first full-length season.
Our esteemed crew of heroes seems at first to be more unified than ever, but quickly amasses visible fissures – Andrea turns out not to be too pleased about having been forcibly pulled out of the CDC explosion by the well-meaning Dale; Shane plans to book it and fly solo rather than continue to face Lori, following last season’s attempted rape; and increasingly, the group seems to be at odds over leadership. That issue comes to the fore when Carol’s young daughter, Sophia, goes missing in the woods, which acts as the episode’s principal driving incident, threatening to expose and widen the group’s inner conflicts.
Thankfully, given the concerns that the Season One finale left us with, the great majority of “What Lies Ahead” works. While the initial staging of the zombie “horde” attack bristles a bit – how is it that Dale’s looking out with binoculars and with a high vantage point, but only seems to notice the teeming mass when they’re twenty yards away? – the sequence proper is one for the books, though it’s not even close to the hour’s bloodiest moment. No, that honor goes to Daryl’s seriously nasty zombie autopsy, which he undertakes in order to determine if little Sophia has become lunch for a wayward walker. That turns out not to be the case, but that doesn’t stop the hour from taking a dark turn.
After not one but two scenes in which characters pray to a statue of Jesus (one, Carol’s, is quite affecting – the other, Rick’s, falls a little on the cornball side), we get the memo that this is going to be one grim season of TV when little Carl gets shot through the chest by an unseen assailant, who was (in all likelihood) actually gunning for the nearby deer – and this immediately follows Rick’s plea for a sign from his heavenly Father. Killing off one of the young’uns is a sensible plot move to keep the group more unified, but it might behoove the show to, as the characters plead, let a little hope in now and again, especially given that we’re already burdened with an openly suicidal character. With that said, “What Lies Ahead” marks several steps in the right direction; let’s see how the season progresses as it gets further away from ousted showrunner Frank Darabont’s vision.
Even the most peaceful moments of The Walking Dead, end in sheer horror. “What Lies Ahead”, the season two premiere of The Walking Dead TV series ends with Carl slowly approaching a deer only to find himself caught in a crossfire. But than again, when has any zombie film ever ended on a happy note? Why should a television series be any different?
The wait is finally over for the anticipated return of hit AMC TV series and thankfully it’s off to a fantastic start, albeit with a tragic ending. The 60-minute episode, written by Robert Kirkman, with some parts directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton and others by Ernest Dickerson, does a terrific job of getting back to the basics of what fanboys have come to love of the comic book series. Long gone are the ridiculous subplots of the CDC or ethnic street gangs hanging out at nursing homes. Tonight’s season premiere picked up pretty much where the season one finale left off, with the survivors hightailing it out of Atlanta, plunging us back into the zombie apocalypse with that long set piece on the highway. Of course even on the road to hell some things just don’t change, including traffic jams: “This is a graveyard, I don’t know how I feel about this,” Lori quickly points out.
The Walking Dead works best in three ways: as a road series, as a western and as a survivalist tale – all of which are present and accounted for in “What Lies Ahead.” Where last season ended on what could be considered a low note, the second season premiere, hit a home-run. What follows is a thrilling game of hide-and-seek, and eventually seek and find.
The Walking Dead excels in its ability to balance outright horror, subtle thrills, and great character development. “Ahead” manages to do all three while boasting, perhaps, the best teleplay since the shows season one pilot. From the outset, the tension buildup and level of suspense was beautifully crafted against the quiet abandoned highway and heightened by the barren woods. Even in nature the dead walk. There is rarely a moment of peace and never truly a moment to let your guard down.
Not only were the characters slightly on edge in tonight’s episode, but the stakes have never felt higher for the group as a whole. “What Lies Ahead” is significantly less rushed and more focused than previous episodes; quiet and at times even still, but always patient in getting to where it has to go. Which is not to say we’re not treated with our share of shriek and shrills. There was also plenty of graphic moments filled with sharp instruments and skull crushing nastiness. And who could forget the gut retching scene where Daryl cuts opened the corpse? The look on Rick Grimes’ face was priceless. The difference here is that the gore and gross out moments are in service to the story.
It’s not always the zombies that are the worst enemy and “Ahead” reaffirms this. There’s plenty of tension between each of the group members and their desires to survive. The “blame game” and guilt card is dealt throughout the entire 60 minutes. Dale and Andrea’s relationship or, currently, lack thereof continues. Andrea confronts Dale about talking her out of the CDC – but is she in the right? “No Dale, you’re doing it for you. You need to stop. What do you think is going to happen? You think I’m going to stick it in my mouth and pull the trigger the moment you hand it to me?” says Lori. Did Dale really leave her without an option? Dale stayed behind to convince her not to choose suicide because he cared, but the truth is, Andrea chose to leave because she also cared. As always, Dale is the voice of reason: “I want to hold off on, the needs of the many, versus the needs of the few argument, as long as I can”. Lori and Dale have always been two of the most interesting characters, and fleshing out their relationship only makes for better TV. Hopefully they’ll stick around longer than some.
Rick and Lori of course continue to bicker: “I have a few mistakes under my belt Lori, but so do you.” says Shane. The tension in the air was so thick this week that it was even present between Shane and Carl. As much as the group has banded together, they are still human and like all humans, they let their emotions get the best of them. In the end, any small issue can eventually become a full blown problem that affects everyone.
Andrew Lincoln continues to do a great job portraying Rick and his complexities. He has a wider range of emotions to show in this episode and Rick’s own insecurities become clearly visible to the viewer. Shane has a more nuanced and interesting air about him and doesn’t feel like just a vehicle for advancing a few plot points. I was never a fan of Melissa Suzanne McBride’s character Carol, nor her acting – and the same goes for Madison Lintz as Sophia. We all know that every character in the series is expendable and those of you who’ve read the comic series know just how true that is. Personally I won’t be missing either of them if the show runners decide its time to axe their characters. Less was certainly more and the silent reactions from various group members eavesdropping on others was a nifty touch. Finally, unlike Sophia, Rick’s son, Carl, gets his chance to step up to bat. Not only was he aiding in the scavenger hunt but he bravely volunteered to accompany the search party. Needless to say, I think everyone expects Carl to survive. The real question is, who fired the shot?
Thankfully the TV show has sidetracked dramatically from the comic series, leaving anyone familiar with the original source material on edge and never knowing exactly what to expect. We still don’t know what the doc at the CDC whispered to Rick. However, as time passes, the less I’m convinced that it had anything to do with Lori potentially being pregnant. At this point the series as veered so far off track from the comic series, it wouldn’t be a shock if this was just another red herring to keep all viewers from guessing what was actually said. If Lori was pregnant, Rick would quickly figure out that the child couldn’t be his, therefor looking to Shane for answers. Yet notice the lack of tension between the two? “What Lies Ahead” opens with the Sheriff sending another message to Morgan via walkie-talkie, but just as he is about to share what the doc told him – he changes his mind. I’m not convinced Lori is pregnant and if she is, I highly doubt that is the secret Grimes is keeping.
Listen to The Walking Dead podcast to hear more thoughts from Simon Howell and Ricky D.