Here we are again. Another season of blood-curdling, spine popping, heart-stopping, organ-grinding (monkey not included) zombie action with AMC's The Walking Dead. Last season, we were introduced to the post-zombie outbreak world in seamlessly amazing style, and then the rest of the season of was a little too up-and-down. Enough so that I considered whether I should resurrect (get it?) these reviews at all. There were some substantial ups last year, though, excepting the bland bait-and-switch of thugs tending to a hospital/rest-home and a somewhat chemistry-less romantic/cheating subplot that has yet to rear its head. But, hell, over the off-season, they shook the show up, getting almost an entirely new staff of writers to try the whole thing again. What we get, luckily, is a great product in "What Lies Ahead," even if it hasn't completely abandoned some of the overwrought melodramatic parts of last year.
"What Lies Ahead" has one obvious literary vibe right there in the title. It's the season premiere, so yeah, what DOES lie ahead? But also, what lies, as in un-truths, are up ahead too? It seems like Shane and Andrea have some incentive to become anti-heroes. And then there's Lori... and all that business with Rick's not-being-dead-but-her-needing-a-little-lovin'-anyway. So, we get a little wink-wink, nudge-nudge here. The conflict upcoming will more than likely stem not only from the undead hordes, but from good ol' fashioned human fucked-upped-ness. Hurray, right? The episode opens with Rick making a probably fruitless transmission over that walkie-talkie. This serves to catch up the audience as much as anything, and while Rick may have really given a summary like this, saying things somewhat like "once we were many, now we're few" (allowing for some convenient montage images of the people from the group who have been lost, many, again, of whom we didn't like or didn't really care about), but that seems a little unlikely. Essentially, the opening 5 minutes are pretty fucking contrived. That doesn't mean they're without emotional effect, but well...
After the hand-holding opening minutes (I almost chose to go with "hand job") to cater to the new influx audience, "What Lies Ahead" gets right into the action. The group is divided among three vehicles, leaving the CDC area, taking the highway, presumably to heaven rather than hell. No one looks very happy. Andrea still wears depression on her face. Dale is quiet. Rick and Lori seem to be in the best shape. But still, no one is high-spirited. This is a group of sadsacks. And who wouldn't be when confronted with the end of humanity? Well, the gang rolls up on a traffic jam, actually a car graveyard, that they try to navigate, but then, oh man, the radiator hose on the RV breaks... again. It's a well to which the show has gone two times previously, and it's a little tired. So, instead of going somewhere unique, the gang is stranded again. The group splits up to loot the vehicles and corpses, and Shane even finds an essentially boundless source of freshwater in the form of a water delivery truck. Oh the joy of it! Oh nothing could possibly go wrong! Things are looking up. And that's when the zombies show up.
Everyone hides and the zombies move through, no prob, Bob. But then Sophia, daughter of the formerly abused wife Carol (her asshole husband was eaten, so there's some karma), gets caught up with a straggling walker. Start up the banjo chase music!! Rick, of course, goes after Sophia, finds her and tells her that he'll distract the now two walkers while she runs to safety, but Sophia doesn't make it back to everyone. Nope. She just disappears. And this is where the tension gets interesting. Daryl and Rick begin a search, even gutting a zombie to determine if he may have eaten the little girl, but it turns up nothing. And meanwhile, Andrea wants a gun, but the misogynistic menfolk won't let her have one. Dale is at the forefront because he doesn't want her to off herself. And she doesn't much like being coddled. That's the key to "What Lies Ahead." Andrea is turning into the bad guy here. She's rapidly making a The Stand style turn from good group to bad group. And she's keen on breaking Shane away from the group too. And he's being less and less kind to Carl and Lori. Bottom line, the group is fracturing. And now there's a little girl lost.
More searching happens. They don't find Sophia, not yet at least. But there's a spiritual moment. And we also find out that Dale fixed the radiator way faster than he said. He wants everyone to regroup and he's being a little bit of an ass about it. The kind of ass that might get people eaten. "What Lies Ahead" sets an interesting stage. The Walking Dead is a soap opera with zombie set pieces, and it may still develop into something essential. This season shows that the gore is still top-notch, and that these remaining characters have a lot of drama yet to plumb, but the writing needs to get a little more inventive. This is not a video game. There's not enough interactivity for bad things to just keep happening in the same contrived way. And it could've used a little more build up to some of the emotional issues. But. BUT! I'll be watching next week. And I will be hoping that this show turns itself around. It can't live forever on Andrew Lincoln's sad, strong glances.
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