The Walking Dead returns with a new showrunner and a decidedly different tone. So how does one of the most highly anticipated premieres of the season do?
Let’s bitch it out.
Scott M. Gimple begins his tenure by providing what is clearly a ‘set-up’ episode for the rest of the season. It’s likely to be considered slow by many viewers, but ultimately, it’s necessary. We need to see how are characters are doing after the battle with Woodbury before their worlds are inevitably turned upside down.
The prison has now become the idyllic haven that it was initially envisioned to be – complete with pig farm, vegetable crops and soup kitchen. The threat of the walkers is still very much present, as evidenced by the ‘clearing of the fence zombies’ that’s on the daily chores list, which is in stark contrast to the sheltered environment that The Governor (David Morrissey) setup in Woodbury.
We open with a much more sane and leveled Rick (Andrew Lincoln) who has embraced his role as Farmer Joe after stepping down as leader in the now defunct ‘Ricktatorship’. We’re told that a council, comprised of Daryl (Norman Reedus), Carol (Melissa McBride), Hershel (Scott Wilson) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) is now serving as the governing body of the prison folk. Yes, it all seems to be a well-oiled machine where people are actually smiling and hooking up, rather than cowering in fear in the shadows.
Setting up the goings-on of the prison is a necessity, but boy is it ever boring. ’30 Days Without An Incident’ drags on as it tries to lighten up the mood. Sure, it’s nice to see Rick coming back to the world of the living after being put through the ringer last season, and it’s also nice to see Carl (Chandler Riggs) regaining some of his childhood innocence as he struggles with naming the food. But there’s a sense of foreboding to it all. We know that sunshine and lollipops isn’t going to last very long, so the result is just to grin and bear it, with the hopes that something far more interesting lies ahead. It’s like putting on the base coat/primer before the real colour gets applied.
The calm before the storm accounts for the majority of the episode, but Rick’s little encounter with crazy Clara (Kerry Condon) deviates from formula by giving us a little character development and some much needed drama. Clara’s presence is multi-layered, as her effect on Rick reminds him – and us – of the events that transpired last season. Rick’s cautionary approach when they first meet shows us that he’s learned something from the past, but when he’s overtaken by emotion when she takes her own life, it shows us that the past can’t simply be dismissed or forgotten. Clearly Rick sees shades of himself reflected in Clara; he’s still haunted even if on the outside it appears that he’s moved on. It’s a lovely little vignette that brings some depth to a largely perfunctory episode.
I have the sneaking suspicion that this season we’ll return to character development as opposed to zombie-killing action. Gone are the long drawn-out moral debates, but what remains is what I think is best encapsulated by Maggie’s (Lauren Cohan) statement to Glen (Steven Yeun) when she confirms she’s not pregnant: It’s no longer about survival but living. How are these characters going to live in this world? It’s likely to be a different journey for each of them. Rick’s encounter with Clara gives us a glimpse into the complexity of these journeys, which I for one, am excited to see.
- Carol is teaching the kids of the prison to defend themselves under the guise of reading them fairy tales. I’m happy to see Carol taking a more proactive role in this all, but I’m confused as to why she has to keep it a secret. Perhaps in Woodbury it would be necessary to hide what she was doing, but prison life seems to be much more realistic about the dangers that lie beyond the fences.
- It’s great that we have a functioning farm, but the realist in me can’t help but question where the hell they were able to find a pig AND a horse with the number of hungry walkers out there.
- I’m all about seeing everyone get their happy on, but all the kissing and goo-goo eyes in the first 15 minutes is enough to make me hurl. ‘Pookey’? Really?!
- D’Angelo lives! It’s nice to see Lawrence Gillard Jr. back on television, but so far his character Bob Stookey is as interesting as a cardboard cutout.
- This premiere episodes introduces way too many new characters (and there’s more to come!) A big attack has to be on the horizon to level things off a bit
- I suppose the shower of zombies that happened at the ‘Big Sp!T’ is meant to amp up the premiere, but ultimately I was bored. Perhaps that has something to do with the casual way the gang enters the stock-up mission with silly banter about ‘not saying goodbye’ and Daryl being a homicide detective. No sense of urgency or threat = our main protagonists are safe. Besides, the helicopter crashing down into the store looked terrible. Ringer called: they want their green screen back.
- Woo-hoo on Melissa McBride and Scott Wilson finally making it in the opening credits roll, released from the kiss of death that is “Guest Starring” billing. Hopefully this means they’ll stay around until season’s end, or, at the very least, get a spectacular death scene.
- Looks like the gang has a ‘new threat’ by way of a Contagion-like virus. Too bad it’s shoved down our throats throughout the episode (i.e. The repeated cuts to the walker bleeding eyes, all the talk about Violet the pig and of course, what happens to Vincent Martella’s Patrick). As if our heroes don’t have enough to worry about with the walkers and The Governor lurking around.
- Although it’s a good move for Rick (and likely The Council) to screen potential new members to the prison, I couldn’t help but laugh when Rick tells Clara to “answer me these question three”. When did Rick turn into a Bridge Troll?
What did you think viewers? Were you happy with the premiere? Do you think the pacing of this episode is what we should expect for the rest of the season? How do you think the airborne virus will factor into things? Will the prison continue to be a viable habitat all season long? Who’s next on the chopping block? When will The Governor return? Chime in with your theories in the comments section below.
A gentle reminder that we adhere to a SPOILER FREE zone here, so please keep any plot points from the graphic novels to yourself.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9pm EST on AMC