'The Walking Dead' Has a Gracefully Lurching Return

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Oh thank god. Or thank whatever demon sent the zombie plague to Earth on AMC's The Walking Dead, because last night's season three premiere blessedly built on the action of the season two closer and ratcheted up the jangly tension even more. Might this mean that we're finally done with this show's tedious treatises on the nature of leadership roles and faith and all that boring, heavy stuff? A little of that goes a long way, but so very much of the last two seasons have been spent on non-zombie philosophizing, so much in fact that we came close to abandoning the show a few times along the way. But something about it persisted and so did we, and now we're reaping the rewards of that loyalty, hopefully.

Exhausted and grimy, but also efficient and machinelike, our core group of zombie survivors has been on the run all winter, trying to avoid massive zombie herds which they track like elephants on the Serengeti. The gang seems changed now that they know they're all carrying the zombie virus or whatever it is; emotions have boiled down to simple survival, with hope becoming a practical day-to-day concern instead of a bigger-picture wish for deliverance. They're better like this, frankly. Even fragile Carol has toughened up and is firing an assault rifle and making cute with Daryl. Team leader Rick is still having problems with his pregnant wife, Lori, but the trouble is muted, devoid of its melodrama, becoming simply a cold, bare fact. On the run as they are, these people don't have time to get very soft.

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So maybe it should give us pause that they've found a creepy prison that they hope to hole up in, as they're clearly better off in motion than when sedentary. But for last night's purposes, at least, man was that prison a harrowing setting for some zombie thrills. The scenes of the crew clearing the fenced-in fields outside of the building were brutal and tactical, but once they got inside and started navigating dark, gore-stained corridors, whoo boy was that terrifying. But in an almost elegant way, despite all the viscera. The sequence was expertly choreographed, it featured a lot of zombies, as this show should, and ended with the inevitable downfall of one of the team. That'd, of course, be Hershel, who isn't dead yet, but is now down a leg after being bitten by a walker and then made an emergency amputee by Rick. If someone had to go (or will go soon), Hershel was a good candidate, and it was terrible (in an entertaining way) to see the usually placid, centered medical man of god completely lose his sh-t. We're less intrigued by the living prisoners that were glimpsed at the very end of the episode, and are nervous that this season is going to become some dim-lit Alien 3-style fight for a prison, but we're holding out hope that the propulsive force of this first episode was an indicator of swiftly moving things to come.

Elsewhere in zombieland, poor Andrea is on the run with the mysterious new Michonne, a sword-wielding badass who somewhat ludicrously carts around two armless, jawless pet zombies. Andrea was in a bad way last night, sick with some kind of bad something and urging Michonne to go on without her. But the lady wouldn't budge, so the two eventually trudged off into the woods on their way to lord only knows. It's an interesting and grim idea to bring illness (other than zombie disease, obviously) into the mix, because of course that would be a factor for some, especially after a long winter of migrating. I doubt that Andrea is going to die any time soon, but it was still frightening to watch her all weak and resigned, imagining ourselves in that impossible situation and wondering what we would do. Probably head off into the woods with the sword lady, so well chosen, Andrea.

All told, we welcome The Walking Dead's return, especially if it can sustain the momentum built by last night's strong episode. And hey, if we're lucky, we might even get a little unrequited teen romance amidst all the carnage. Little Carl sure did seem sweet on Hershel's blonde daughter, didn't he? It's cute. Except it probably means she'll soon be devoured by the undead, so, oh well.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.