Sunday night, “The Walking Dead” returned for a second season, after a year that included a highly-acclaimed first season, Golden Globe nominations, record ratings for AMC, the firing of the entire writing staff, and — most controversially — the dismissal of showrunner Frank Darabont. Would the show, about a ragtag group trying to stay alive during a zombie-filled apocalypse, come out of the gate strong after all the off-screen controversy?
Absolutely. In fact, the second-season premiere establishes something that the brief six-episode first season really didn’t have time to do: a sense of who these refugees are. For most of the first season, we basically saw the group running from the “walkers,” or otherwise avoiding getting bitten. Some made it, some didn’t. There was some character development in the first season, mainly regarding the affair between Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal) and Lori Grimes (Sarah Wayne Callies), with a little existential angst from camp tough girl Andrea (Laurie Holden) mixed in for good measure. But, for the most part, we saw people running and shooting… and running some more. This episode shows us some more insight into why these people are running.
Of course, that character exploration took a back seat to the episode’s most shocking moment, which came at the very end. On the search for Sophia Peletier (Madison Lintz), who de facto group leader Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) lost in the Georgia woods as he tried to lure away two walkers who were chasing her, Rick, Shane and Rick’s son Carl (Chandler Riggs) come across a sign of life they haven’t seen in ages: a deer. In a long final scene, the three look at the deer in wonder, realizing that there is a reason why they’re constantly running in fear: there’s life and hope out there.
Watch The Season Premiere Below:
As Carl slowly approached the animal, you just knew something was going to happen, but what? The last thing anyone would have guessed was that Carl would be shot right in the chest. Actually, he took a bullet that went right through the deer, which means that the deer was the target. What does this mean? People who have read the “Walking Dead” graphic novels may know what’s coming next, but newbies like us can only guess. It’s pretty obvious the hunter was another non-walker. But who?
Before the big, final shocker of the night came a series of smaller surprises, but ones that bode well for the upcoming season:
Shane and Andrea want to skedaddle. Both want to leave the group, but for their own reasons: Shane wants to separate himself from the pain of being around Lori and Rick, and Andrea just wants to go somewhere and end it all, especially after the walkers got her sister Amy. She was especially angry after group elder Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) forced her to escape the about-to-implode CDC building in the season-one finale, telling him he had “no right” to force her hand like that.
A herd of walkers! We now know where some of the rumored budget cuts that AMC and Darabont allegedly fought over might have come: only shoot the zombies’ feet! Yet again, a group of post-humans come out of nowhere to feed along the highway where the group is stopped. That’s the second time that’s happened, but unlike when a herd invaded the refugees’ camp, no one got eaten, though Andrea came close; thankfully, Dale was able to drop her a screwdriver in time for her to get her hungry pursuer in the eye.
Wonder which person will be the unlucky one the next time it happens? Our bets are on T-Dog (IronE Singleton), who almost got eaten when he ripped his arm open trying to hide from the herd. Of course, Daryl (Norman Reedus) was there to save him, even though T-Dog was responsible for leaving Daryl’s brother Merle (Michael Rooker) on that Atlanta roof in season one.
Carol grows a backbone. The walkers were a blessing to Carol (Melissa Suzanne McBride), because they ate her abusive husband Ed. To that end, with her daughter Sophia missing, she had enough gumption to blame Rick for leaving her little girl behind, then when the group found the abandoned church in the woods, she thanked Jesus for the death of her husband. Can’t get more backbone than that.
For the most part, though, the premiere was a low-key return, spending most of the episode concentrating on the search for Sophia. What it did was set up some of what we might see in the coming weeks. Yes, the group is still running. But if this show is to succeed during this more traditional, 13-episode season, it’s going to have to slow down and show the audience who these people are and why they keep running. Otherwise, the chase will get old.
But so far, so good. Will Shane and Andrea stay, and how will that affect the group’s dynamic? Will Rick buckle under the pressure of having to be the brave one? Will Daryl forget about being a racist jerk and assert some leadership? And will Lori ever tell Rick what happened when she and Shane thought he was dead? We’re definitely looking forward to finding out.