When we left Rick Grimes and Co., they had been forced into a giant shipping container against their will at the hands of a seemingly untrustworthy man called Gareth. I don’t know why they agreed to go in there, but it was a great way to leave us on a cliff-hanger for about six months. If there’s one thing that The Walking Dead does well, it’s cliff-hangers. Oh and gore. Lots and lots of gore.
When we re-join them, things are looking just as bleak. We don’t know exactly how long they’ve been in there, but we’re guessing quite a while. They’re all a bit grumpier and hairier, plus they’ve had enough time to fashion some rudimentary tools to ambush their captors when they next pay them a visit. Unfortunately for them, things don’t quite go as planned and we wind up with four of our main characters – Rick, Bob, Glenn and Daryll – along with four throwaway extras, all lined up and ready to be put to the slaughter. Literally. Yes, we all guessed right, these guys are cannibals and our favourite zombie killers are going to become someone’s dinner. Unless something happens to divert their attention, which it inevitably does.
As opening sequences to series go, this is probably one of the best I’ve ever seen. Indeed the only one I remember being as good in recent years was the first episode after last year’s mid-season break of The Walking Dead, when we found out what happened to the Governor and the people of Woodbury. Both were equally intense and I was on the edge of my seat hoping no harm came to them. What a way to welcome us back to the series.
As the next couple of episodes pan out, we’re reminded that nobody is safe from harm and can be dropped at any point, and the particulars of this are absolutely horrific (especially for Bob). We’re also treated to some extremely fast pacing, especially considering the bad guys move so slowly. But that’s the critical point, the reason they’ve kept us interested for so long. Over four seasons, they’ve evolved the main threat from being the easy to recognise zombies to the not-so-easy to spot untrustworthy survivors. By now, all of our team are more than capable of fending for themselves and they could just head off to Washington D.C. in their mini bus. But that wouldn’t make for an interesting story. We’re constantly looking around the corner for the next threat, but I can’t remember the last time they were genuinely under threat from zombies.
I wonder how we’d feel if we joined our main survivors now, without prior knowledge of how they got there. I think we’d be far less if we didn’t know that Rick used to be a good person, a sheriff no less, and that his wife died in childbirth, or that she was giving birth to the baby that came as a result of an affair she was having with Rick’s former partner in crime-fighting Shane, or that Rick is now looking after this child. In reality all we’re coming across are other clones of our characters, all of whom probably lived perfectly normal lives before the zombie apocalypse, and who have had to make a series of insanely difficult decisions to survive. The only difference is that we don’t know their back story and we have been on a long journey with Rick Grimes and Co. Yet we cheer along as they murder potentially innocent people without a trial, because that’s what our people need to do to survive. In many ways it brings up questions for the way we live our own lives, making decisions often to maintain the status quo, fearing change and the unknown. I predict over the coming series these questions will keep coming back to us as more groups are encountered, which is pretty hefty work for a series ostensibly about bludgeoning zombies.
There were a couple of occasions where I thought the show let itself down. Main characters are losing the ability to make rational choices with seemingly the only purpose being that the writers need an interesting plot twist. The biggest example of this was when Glenn and Maggie decided to ditch all their friends and join some people they barely know and go on a road trip to Washington D.C. Clearly the only reason to do this was to keep the viewers interested when they flick to the scenes with this half of the group, but it was completely unbelievable that they would ever make that decision on three levels: Abraham would never push the group into making a stupid or hasty decision that is clearly detrimental to the group as a whole; Rick would never back down so quickly when he risks losing their only means of transport and two critical group members; and Maggie would never leave with the group when the reason to stay is to find out the whereabouts of three of their fellow survivors, of which one is her sister Beth. It is this final point that really is the killer for me. It is a blatant way to twist the plots up and make the season interesting but it’s a shame it had to be via such a blatant loss of integrity to three strong characters.
That said, there are plenty of open ends at the moment (Where is Beth? Do we trust Father Gabriel?) and with a character-driven plot, plenty of blood and gore to keep us shocked and enough deviations from the comic book to keep everyone guessing, I predict I’ll still be on the edge of my seat in five months when this season comes to an end.
The Walking Dead screens in the UK on Monday nights on Fox and Fox HD at 9pm. All three episodes covered in this review are available on demand, with the first one expiring on 9th November 2014.