Reviewed by Kevin Finnerty
“Hey, look, I don’t need all the answers. Just a nudge, some sign.” That’s Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) talking to God in the form of a life-size crucifix above the altar in an abandoned church in the second season opener of the apocalyptic horror drama, The Walking Dead.
Traveling along a desolate highway, Rick and his wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), his best friend, Shane (Jon Bernthal), and the rest of the survivors are trying to determine what should be their next move when Dale’s (Jeffrey DeMunn) RV overheats and breaks down. The gang spreads out and begins to search the stranded cars and trucks filled with corpses for water and supplies, with Dale being the lookout for hungry zombies. Not long after Shane discovers a delivery truck full of fresh water and it looks as though the group should be on their way soon, both Dale and Rick spot a herd of zombies walking their way. Terrified, the group quickly hides under the cars – except for Dale who remains on top of the RV lying down on its roof and Andrea (Laurie Holden) who’s still sitting in the RV unaware of the army of zombies until they are already walking by.
The zombies are almost past the group when one of the walking dead sees little Sophia (Madison Lintz) hiding under a car and goes after her. She manages to barely escape his grasp and runs into the woods with two zombies chasing her. Rick rushes out after her and after finally cutting her off, carries her to a hidden spot by a stream, placing her into a small hole and telling her to stay put while he leads the two zombies away. However, once Rick has disposed of the two flesh-eaters, he returns to the hole to discover Sophia is gone. Rick goes back to the highway, thinking she might have returned to the group, only to find her mother frantic with worry and no sign of Sophia. So the group begins a search for the little girl hoping to find her before they are forced to leave to avoid any more zombie encounters.
The Walking Dead is a horror/soap opera that has excellent special effects and a strong cast. Andrew Lincoln is solid as Rick, the leader of the survivors who struggles to stay strong for the group but privately questions his own decisions and courage. Jon Bernthal is at times a bit heavy-handed with his performance as Shane, Rick’s best friend who while Rick was in a coma for 6 months during the uprising of the zombies saved and began an affair with Rick’s wife, Lori. Seasoned character actor Jeffery DeMunn is one of the casting highlights in the series as Dale Horvath, the retired, profound, observant, elder handy man in the group. Dale’s one goal is to keep the group together and alive for as long as he can.
The superb make-up on the actors portraying the zombies is first-rate, and the zombie animatronics are worthy of an Emmy. Be warned: this show is not for the squeamish due to all the gory special effects and zombie attacks.
There are a few weaknesses in The Walking Dead season two, episode one (“What Lies Ahead”) that prevent it from being a truly suspenseful, engaging episode of the series. The first is with the pacing which at times slows to a crawl and has characters discussing and debating issues which would normally be shelved for a safer and quieter time. The first half of the episode has tight pacing with tense and suspenseful scenes on the highway. The band of survivors hide from the zombies while a few battle some of the undead. During the second half, however, the writers seem to forget about the urgency to find the little missing girl by having the characters take way too many breaks and by having personal conversations about leaving the group, who should have firearms, etc. The three way love triangle between Rick, Lori and Shane feels old and tired as well, as does the dialogue between Lori and Shane. It’s during these scenes that the horror/thriller series turns into a melodramatic soap opera and all suspense and tension vanishes.
Scary and extremely gory, The Walking Dead is an uneven, at times gripping zombie thriller which steals, or if you prefer “borrows,” plot lines and scenes from other big screen zombie films and effectively recreates them for the small screen. If the viewer is a fan of the genre, he or she will find it very entertaining. If not, make sure to quickly change the channel before the zombies attack.
The Walking Dead season two episode one premiered on October 16, 2011 on AMC.