But since it falls unto my lot/That I should rise and you should not/I gently rise and softly call/Good night and joy be with you all
When we last left off with the Walking Dead, things were not looking favorable for them. The show, I mean, not the characters. While season 2 had its bright episodes, the overwhelming impression of last year was one of disappointment and missed opportunities. Lori was shrill and awful, which was the only consistent thing about her character arc. Carl was unable to obey the simplest of instructions. Shane, the sociopath, stood out as a voice of reason. The actual voice of reason was killed by a lone walker who surprised him in a completely flat field under a full moon.
It can only go up from there, right?
“No one is listening, Rick. They want someone to take the burden of leadership but they refuse to recognize that it might be ugly and unpleasant. There’s a part of them that wants to be coddled. Rick is done coddling. He’s done democracy. This group is broken and maybe a firm hand is going to be what fixes it.”
I said this in my recap of “Beside the Dying Fire.” The firm hand did seem to be what the group needs. Season 3 opened up with a nearly five minute dialog-less introduction that told us more about what happened over the hiatus than half of the episodes from last year. What had been a fractured, bickering group left by the side of the road has become a lean, organized squad. Their first squad swept a house, dispatched the walkers inside, and searched for food while the less capable members hung back and kept out of danger. Lori’s gigantic prosthetic belly let us know several months had passed. Everyone looked starved and wary, ready to make a meal out of own and canned dog food. Hershel – whose appearance onscreen at Comic Con NYC earned massive applause – looked like he had aged decades in the space of a couple of months. And when a horde approached the house, the survivors high tailed it out of there without a word.
Tight, convincing storytelling in five minutes. Hopefully this is an omen for the oncoming season.
What do we know about the survivors? They spent the winter going around in circles, evading meandering hordes. They’ve picked over the habitable areas and are feeling hemmed in before they stumble across the prison. They’ve all improved their fighting skills – Carl is a good enough shot that he goes in with the rest of the fighters (not men, since Maggie is also in the forward team). Carol’s glimpse of bravery by the burning barn paid off. She’s more assured, confident, and tired of waiting on Daryl to get the hint that they should just be doing it already. The little blonde girl has a nice singing voice. They can make a plan and stick to it. In short, Shane was right. This group didn’t need democracy. There was too much chaos for democracy. They needed someone with a firm hand to take charge, and that’s what Rick has done. After his meltdown at the campsite last year, he’s kept to his promise that he’d be the hardass they need.
It’s come at a cost. Rick looks completely strung out. He managed to get the entire group through the winter, but I imagine that if he had lost one of them, Rick might have snapped completely. He can’t forgive Lori for what she did, and it’s not the sleeping with Shane part that’s bothering him. It was her doubt and her accusations that broke their bond. He’s alienated from the group, his wife, his child, and the only thing that seems to keep him moving forward is the sheer instinct for survival.
Towards the end of the episode, while trying to clear zombies out of another prison block, Hershel gets bit by an obviously dead-but-not-really-dead corpse. (Let’s recap this for a second – the only person in the group who has any medical or farming training and is, in short, probably the most valuable member of the party, gets bit performing a rookie move.) When they pull Hershel into the commissary and find a couple of minutes of protection from the zombies, Rick doesn’t hesitate to hack off Hershel’s lower leg before infection* can spread. Last year, Rick wasted precious time trying to save another man’s leg and was almost over run. This year, he makes the hard decision in no time at all.
Andrea and Michonne
We don’t get to see much of these two ladies, one of whom the fans have been anxiously awaiting since the show was announced, in this episode. But we get to see enough to understand what they’ve been doing over the winter, which is forming an awesome friendship. Our first glimpse of Michonne is her decapitating a bunch of walkers to bring some aspirin to Andrea. That’s not a necessity. That’s a kindness. Michonne is willing to hunker down in a walker-overrun town to give Andrea a couple of days of rest. Andrea is willing to drag her sorry, sickness-ridden ass all over the countryside in order to keep Michonne alive. That’s a real partnership between the two of them. I have high hopes for their pairing as the season goes on.
As a by the by, I assume that Andrea is just ill with the flu. It makes sense due to the time of year and it drives home that something that would be a simple inconvenience in a normal time can be life or death after the apocalypse.
At the end of this first episode, I felt re-energized by the series. The pacing was excellent, the writing was more subtle about character development, and the action moved forward. I’m willing to give the show another shot. What about the rest of you fans? Was this enough to rinse the bad taste of last year out of your mouths?
*Everyone is already zombie-infected, as the big reveal last year showed. However, the bites are dangerous because of the disgusting crap in a dead person’s mouth. They’ll quickly kill the bitten from infection and rot.