Let me start off by saying I’m sorry for the late posting. I just got back from two weeks overseas. The way my flights worked out meant that I had to fly back into Bucharest on Sunday night, landing just before midnight, where I hung until my flight home at 7 a.m. The only problem was that my airport stay coincided exactly with the season three premiere of The Walking Dead. Unable to watch the episode on the special AMC preview site that recappers get access to (it only works in the U.S.) and unable to download the episode after it aired (for various reasons), here I am. If you haven’t at some point tried to insist to an immigration officer that you need internet access in order to be able to watch a TV show for work, I suggest you try it. On to the season premiere!
What impressed me the most about this episode is that it’s clear that Glenn Mazzara and his writing staff have been paying attention to their audience. This was most obvious in the first five minutes of the episode. The biggest problem this show faces is that there are very few characters we’re actively hoping will survive. We’ve grown fatigued by their constant henpecking melodrama and so it’s a smart move to reintroduce them into our lives by giving us the complete opposite: silence. No one says a word in the lead up to the credits rolling and as a result, we’re glad to see them all still alive. At least for now.
Instead of the sluggish pace that we were subjected to for the majority of last season, which seemed to move forward a total of about eight minutes over the course of as many episodes, we’re several months ahead of where we last left off. Partly this seems to have been a practical decision: puberty has descended upon Carl and he’s clearly taller and older than when we last saw him. His hair has grown long and hangs in his eyes, although he’s still wearing that Sheriff’s hat and so it’s hard to get a sense of whether he’s pulling this new look off or not. He’s also being treated more like a man than a kid, shooting down zombies with the others.
Lori’s belly has grown too. Television pregnancies are always a little hilarious, the way they are only in the mid-section and nowhere else and it looks a little like one of the prop guys stuck a beach ball under her flannel and called it a day, but then again, she hasn’t been getting much protein into her system lately. In general, Lori is more subdued in this episode than she’s ever been. For awhile, I wondered if they were going to give her any lines at all and I had this flash of Matthew Weiner and Glenn Mazzara in a sort of Overlook Hotel scenario with Weiner suggesting Fat Betty options for Lori’s character. When she does talk, she’s contrite and humbled. She and Rick still haven’t talked about her and Shane (that rusty plot contrivance) but she stands down instead of pushing the issue.
Hershel’s other daughter is not only given some lines but even a whole song. Carl has a crush on her, which makes me feel uncomfortable, as did the totally bizarre exchange between Carol and Daryl where she makes a joke about their “screwing around.” I watched that scene really carefully because in theory a relationship between an older woman and a younger man could be an intriguing development that you rarely see on television. In practice, though, it just doesn’t work and I think that’s because this show is so awkward when it comes to sex, period. Every character is the equivalent of that moment when you meet someone who insists on kissing you on both cheeks but you don’t realize it until it’s too late, you’ve already turned your head and those kisses just end up landing on your ears.
Unlike the farm, the prison is the kind of setting that brims with potential. So many unexplored rooms, so many dark corners. This show has always been stingy with the foraging-for-supplies scenes that are so satisfying in end-of-the-world stories, and we might finally be given some of those here. I’m at the point with the zombies where they no longer seem scary to me and the moment where the gang confronted the zombie guards in their body armor felt more like a video game than a TV show. What I responded to most during these battles was the weariness that has inflicted the gang, that sense of this being their lives now, day in and day out without reprieve. Lori went on about this a lot last season but it was hard to hear her through all the plush padding of those farmhouse Pottery Barn duvets.
I was also glad to see an alternating story line happening, with Andrea and Michonne. As much as I like that prison, those cells could start to feel pretty confining if they’re not broken up with some fresh air. Those zombie slaves, though, seem like something that worked better in the comic book. I’m hoping they get tossed by the roadside pretty quick. I would also love for those non-zombie prisoners that popped up in the final second to not be a hoard of cliché criminals. Because as much as this episode was an improvement over last season, there’s a difference between not actively wishing the characters get eaten … and actually enjoying spending time with them.