Rick and his followers are back, and, without Shane and Dale constantly pulling them in opposite directions, they seem to be functioning like a well-oiled machine, storming ghoul-infested bungalows without blunders, casualties, whiny complaints from Lori, or even a single line of dialogue. Is this The Walking Dead? What with the neat “Eye of the Dead” pull-away opening the season, I thought maybe I was watching a demented version of Lost. At any rate, the show runners deserve major kudos for conveying the group’s new dynamic without resorting to, say, Beth delivering lengthy exposition about their winter off screen.
Rather, “Seed” establishes The Walking Dead’s new status quo by way of action, action, and more action as our heroes secure a house, and then a prison yard, and then a cellblock, and then a dark labyrinth with a neon sign in the front that reads, “Death Trap to Set Up the Cliffhanger”. I like the detail put into each set piece, from those ingenious handcuff chains used to lock gates to the zombies’ increasing decrepitude to emphasise the passage of time. However, I must confess that, by the time the armoured walkers showed up, I felt like I was stuck watching a video game without my control pad.
In light of last year’s similarly paced finale (in some respects, the first episode free of Frank Darabont’s influence), I worry that the new show runners may be ramping up the chills and thrills at the detriment of the characters. After all, save for a very pregnant Lori, our protagonists all seem to have turned into seasoned action heroes, sniping down walkers and signaling each other like SWAT officers. Even Carl’s got a gun! Granted, that’s part of their evolution as survivors of the apocalypse, but Short Round might’ve had a point when he told Dr Jones that a deadly chase is “no time for love” or, in this case, for any of the profound sentimentality that made me fall in love with The Walking Dead.
Consider newcomer Michonne, who seems to have shared an intense bramance with Andrea over the winter. Danai Gurira plays the enigmatic woman so harsh and stoic I had to deduce most of her emotions from Laurie Holden’s reaction shots (I’m guessing that’s the point). Don’t get me wrong. I understand why fans of the source comic book series have been clamouring for her appearance. The character seems straight out of Frank Miller’s id, what with her big hair, quasi-cape, broad strokes (pun intended), and pet walker amputees. However, I question whether she belongs in the grounded, live-action drama Darabont established nineteen episodes ago.
Mind you, we do get a few old-school character beats amidst all the suspense. For example, the tribe has finally accepted a woman amongst its hunters, making Maggie its new, less ambivalent Andrea. Also, we’re subtly reminded that T-Dog can’t do anything right. Meanwhile, Carl seems to have a developed a crush on Beth, possibly inspired by the May-December sparks between Daryl and Carol. At any rate, the latter has certainly come out of her shell, and I like that part of her sometimes wonders whether the group is truly better off without Shane.
In fact, the ghost of Deputy Walsh still looms over all our heroes, especially Rick, whose continued insistence on taking all the risks is starting to feel more like self-flagellation than his usual messiah complex. Like me, he appears to have come to the conclusion that Shane was pushed into committing suicide by bro, and I find myself utterly delighted at the prospect of Lori getting a fair bit of comeuppance. Having mentioned that, I feel for poor Mrs Grimes, whose fears regarding childbirth in the zombie apocalypse strike me as not only horrifying but also legitimate, given how little we know of the walker infection.
By the same token, the revelation that every human being is contaminated in “Beside the Dying Fire” seems to have made our heroes more optimistic regarding one’s chances of survival once bitten by a ghoul. At first, I was dismayed at the thought of Hershel biting the dust before we got to see him adapt to life outside the farm. However, like Rick, I then realised the rules have changed. I like that the writers are still toying with notions of hope and perspective. It makes it easier for me to give them the benefit of the doubt. You see, I wouldn’t want The Walking Dead as a whole to become this action-oriented, but, as a one-off season opener, I find “Seed” pretty awesome.