When we last witnessed the grim wasteland of AMC's post-apocalyptic drama, Rick and his fellow survivors had defeated the Governor in a shootout at the Governor's creepy, authoritarian facsimile of an all-American small town, Woodbury. Rick brought surviving children and old people from the town back to his group's home base, an abandoned prison, with the Governor and two of his henchmen still at large. As the new season opens this week, Rick is plowing the fields inside the prison gates while zombies amass outside. In an almost-nice touch, Rick takes on the rhythm of his labor as he blocks out the walkers' hideous rasping with some old-time Southern folk music on an MP3 player … which he's charged up by means the writers, I suppose, figure we don't really need to think about.
Roll the now-iconic title sequence, with its tense, cycling musical theme and frightening, cataract-y visuals. The Walking Dead is back.
This first scene captures maybe not everything but a lot of what's so compelling about the show—and alternately some of what's so frustrating. It's one of The Walking Dead's now-many striking vignettes showing what human resilience might look like if civilization were destroyed and replaced by a horrifying inversion of it. Rick, the show's burdened leader of a protagonist, starts in on a new day of a new quasi-normal life, which we know can only be temporary. We see him iterating a daily routine. We can imagine him taking some uncertain comfort from that. But we know it won't last. Nothing here does. We see him strike something with his hoe. It's a Colt 45 handgun, buried in the dirt. Rick barely pauses before removing the magazine from the gun, tossing both into his wheelbarrow, and getting on with his work. There's a air of vague mystery here. Maybe the gun means something. Maybe it's a clue of significant things yet to be discovered. But it's probably just an evocative souvenir of a gun battle at the prison last season. It's a standard play on The Walking Dead to build short scenes around details that remind us just how intense this apocalypse has been, and then just to move on. The show dwells and re-dwells. Which points to what I'm more and more convinced is the show's key weakness: It depends way too much on its basic premise.