Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Walking Dead 2.1 'What Lies Ahead'


“It’s all about slim chances now.” – Rick

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Zombie epic The Walking Dead’s TV return has been one of the most hotly anticipated events of the year, and not just amongst fellow geeks – the series really seems to have captured the imaginations and attentions of the wider public in a way I personally would have never expected.

A lot of that has to come down to the fact that this isn’t just a show about a zombie apocalypse, in the same way Lost was much more than a show about some plane crash survivors on a mysterious island, this is a character piece seasoned with a variety of social, psychological and spiritual themes.

Of course we can never totally relate to what these people are going through, but everyone knows how they would deal with adversity and the side of them that brings out – some lead, some follow and some go through a crisis of the soul that changes them for either the better, or tragically the worst.

The characters in The Walking Dead are facing an impossible situation but they are all real people and even those who may seem the strongest are struggling to come to terms with a world that no longer resembles anything even remotely like what they are used to.

The first season of the show was at times slow but for the most part having only a six episode season pushed things along at a quicker pace than perhaps the writers would have liked. It certainly would have satisfied action-junkies’ appetites, but as a result there felt like a lot of dead weight being dragged around by the surviving group in terms of character development – a lot of that got trimmed as the season progressed but many characters outside the main family dynamic felt under-developed.

‘What Lies Ahead’, like it’s season one counterpart, premiered at a feature length running time but felt decidedly less epic in scale than the series premiere but that wasn’t a bad thing necessarily.

The slow pacing of ‘What Lies Ahead’ allowed several characters to really get some spotlight and served to only exacerbate the tensions within this motley crew.

The pacing may have felt more pronounced in this season-opener but at no point did the episode feel like it was dragging and there was certainly enough of what makes the show popular to appease both fans of character and gore.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t highlight just what an exceptional scene that entire highway encounter with the walkers was, from the moment Dale spotted that first walker through his binoculars the entire scene was a master class in tension.

I did, if I’m being completely honest, take issue with some of the logic and continuity in that scene however. First of all I’m pretty sure it was established in the first season that the zombies weren’t capable of much more than shuffling along, yet here we saw them opening a door and crouching down to look under the car.

If I was being cynical I’d say this was just down to continuity errors in the writing, which would be understandable given all the behind the scenes turmoil the show went through during its hiatus, but instead I’m going to sum this up by theorising that the walkers are actually evolving, which if correct can only be a bad thing for our merry band of survivors.

The same can’t be said for the fact that they didn’t detect most of the group when they were hiding. The episode ‘Guts’ in season one was almost entirely centred around Rick and Glenn having to coat themselves in the remains of dead walkers to blend in with the pack as they could smell humans.

Even here we saw Daryl hiding himself and T-Dog under bodies, yet the majority of the group just hiding under cars went undetected, until those final moments of course when Sophia was discovered and ran off in to the woods.

Little pedantic issues such as the above aside, that highway scene was one hell of a set piece.

As good as that stretch was it was the character work that really jumped out of the screen at me in ‘What Lies Ahead’ though.

Andrew Lincoln has always been one of Britain’s finest young actors and he was great as Rick last year, but here he seemed to bring a whole new level of fatigue to this man who is clearly a born leader. The burden of being the man everyone looks to in a world so far beyond his control is now visible not just in Rick’s increasingly questionable choices but also written all over Lincoln’s face, in much the same way that another talented British actor Charlie Hunnam etched Jax’s grief over his missing son all over his face in season three of Sons of Anarchy.

Rick’s increasing sense of desperation and that feeling of being lost were never more evident than at the church – in the past we’ve seen Rick talk to ‘Morgan’ in that walkie-talkie almost like a God-type figure but here we saw him clearly asking the big man upstairs for help and admitting it was something he’d never done before.

Shane meanwhile continues to effectively be devil’s advocate, the ying to Rick’s yang. It’s a tough call to really make the case for whether he’s doing this out of friendship, and trying to help his best friend make the right choices or just to undermine Rick out of spite due to resentment.

Shane is clearly a man who resents Rick uncontrollably but there has also been enough evidence for me that the bonds of friendship still remain strong in spite of what has happened.

Shane’s love for Lori and Carl is still a major element of his current mindset, as evidenced in his chats with Lori in which he revealed he was going to leave the group just to get away from having to see the woman he’s fallen for with his best friend.

Another character broken by a recent loss, Andrea, overheard the second pow-wow between Shane and Lori and now too wants out of the group that is increasingly fracturing further and further apart.

Andrea calling Dale out on his on holier than thou attitude was a tough watch, poor Dale was in his mind, and probably a lot of other people’s minds, only trying to look out for Andrea but his almost dictator-like actions at times are only ever going to cause dissension in the ranks.

The friction between these two characters is fascinating stuff but a little sad all the same as, although Andrea was quick to dismiss it here, they did have a father-daughter dynamic going on for a lot of last season.

Another character getting a bit of a more developed identity is Daryl, who although they appear to be softening him up a little already this season, is still my favourite character on the show.

Bringing us back to those questionable decisions Rick was making that I talked about before, letting Carl even be out there in the woods with them was a big one, but then allowing him to stay on with Shane and he was a sign that this man’s danger-compass is way out of sync at the moment.

Carl taking a stray bullet, from someone we can only speculate is a hunter at this stage, was the ultimate punishment for letting his normally steadfast discipline slip but it will no doubt serve as a reminder to Rick that the world they occupy is now fraught with danger at every possible turn.

The idea of that deer in the woods sums up the new world so beautifully it was almost too perfect a symbol – any fleeting moment of beauty in this apocalyptic world is now almost universally immediately followed by a harrowing moment of grim reality to bring you right back in to the hell on earth you are now calling your life.

I guess the question now for all our survivors is whether Rick is still the man to lead this group after not only overseeing the loss of Sophia but also his own son taking a bullet. Lori was vocally supportive of her husband but will she still feel the same way about Rick as she did in that speech when she finds out Carl was shot?

A Hail of Bullets:

- In case anyone had forgot that tease of Jenner whispering something to Rick before they left the CDC at the end of the season one finale there was a reminder in that pre-credits Rick monologue that whatever it was certainly carried quite a bit of weight.

- The shots of the abandoned highways never cease to amaze, that one of the outskirts of Atlanta as the group headed away from the city was incredible.

- The Walking Dead is a show, quite rightly, that is low on laughs but there were a couple of moments that had me chuckling in ‘What Lies Ahead’. First Glenn’s face, when he was assigned his weapon from that butcher kit Carl found, which was pricelessly like a child on Christmas morning.

And then Daryl, who usually gets most of the best one-liners, remarking to the crucifix statue at the church: “…Yo JC, you taking requests…?”

- Speaking of the church, having some walkers sat there certainly opened up a new can of worms about the mental faculties of these creatures – do they still have some recollection deep down of their former life? Why else would they be sat there in a church rather than out shuffling around looking for another woodchuck to devour?

- Rick and Daryl’s autopsy was perhaps the episode’s most stomach-churning moment (sorry couldn’t resist) but there were plenty of other gruesome shock-value moments, Andrea’s screwdriver through the eye and Rick’s rock to the head the two that immediately spring to mind.

It says a lot about the way in which these walkers have been created that I almost don’t even flinch now when I see something like a screwdriver being repeatedly jabbed through an eye socket – had that been on a living person I dare say we’d have all been wincing a lot more than we were.

The Walking Dead Season 2 continues in the UK on Friday @ 10pm on FX HD


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