Sunday night’s Season 3 premiere of AMC’s zombie apocalypse drama felt all out whack. T-Dog speaking? Carl acting responsibly? The group working together as a cohesive unit? Lori being only slightly irritating? What is this, The Walking Dead from Bizarro World?
After meandering all over the map in Season 2, maybe The Walking Dead has finally found its feet. Maybe the writers realized watching a bunch of hateful and often inexplicably illogical people bicker at each other for episodes on end wasn’t the must-see TV we’d hoped for.
Or maybe we’re just seeing what really would happen if a group of survivors spent enough time with each other at the end of the world. Season 3’s premiere, titled Seed, picks up seven months after the events of March’s Season 2 finale, which saw Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and the rest of the crew routed from the farm owned by Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson), when a herd of zombies descended on the place en masse.
It’s spring now, and things have grown. Lori’s pregnant belly, Hershel’s beard and Carl’s, well, whole body. The episode’s cold open (and if it wasn’t obvious by now, there’s all kinds of major spoilers ahead) has Rick, Daryl (Norman Reedus), T-Dog (IronE Singleton) and the rest of the group wordlessly raiding a house for supplies while popping walkers in the head with silenced handguns (silencers! At last!) Even Carl is in on the action – apparently killing Shane’s reanimated corpse in the Season 2 finale proved to daddy that little Carl can actually be useful for something.
The house is a wash, and the gang must flee. Which segues into another new element this season: a new credits sequence! All dramatic and montage-y! With a sheriff’s badge in the dirt representing Rick, crossbow bolts in a tree representing Daryl, a slimy centipede representing Lori and so on. The final element in the credits montage is the West Georgia Correctional Facility, the prison that will be home to much of this season’s drama. Cue ominous music.
When the group stumbles across the prison during a stop to get water and “wash their panties” as the always eloquent Daryl puts it, Rick’s eyes gleam like a kid on Christmas morning. Before you can say Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200 Shot Range Model Air Rifle, Rick has put together a plan to clear out the yard between the prison’s inner and outer fences, which involves him running in to close a gate while the rest of the group alternately shoots, stabs and yells at the zombies to draw them away.
The plan is a success, but since Rick has turned his intensity setting up to 10 and ripped off the knob, he can’t relax. He’s got to patrol the fence, he’s got to snarl at Lori and he’s got to plan for their survival. He has no time to listen to Hershel’s not-Maggie-daughter whose name I can never remember sing her campfire ditties. And he can sleep when he’s dead. Except when he’s dead he’ll then turn into a zombie, since the other bombshell dropped in Season 2 is that whatever disease is reanimating the dead happens whether they’re bitten by a zombie or not. You die, you turn, and you wander around and gnaw on the dwindling numbers of the living.
But wait, where’s Andrea and her mysterious friend Michonne, with the katana and the armless zombie pack mules? In a couple of brief scenes we learn that a) Michonne is a crazy badass swordswoman who can decapitate two zombies with one swing, b) she and Andrea have travelled together throughout the winter, during which time Andrea saved her life on more than one occasion and c) Andrea’s quite sick with some undisclosed illness, but Michonne refuses to leave her behind. OK, all caught up, back to the prison!
Unable to just relax and enjoy their new zombie-free green space, Rick gets the group together for a foray into the prison, cleaning out the straggling walkers inside, many of whom are prisoners still locked in their cells. The only thing more depressing than being in jail? Being a zombie in jail. No one to talk to, no one to eat and no way to die. Seriously, don’t think too hard on it or you’ll just get bummed out.
Things look dire during the prison raid when a bunch of zombies dressed in riot gear come shambling toward the group. It’s hard to hatchet a walker in the brain when he’s got a Kevlar helmet on, see. Fortunately, the resourceful Maggie (Lauren Cohan) realizes it’s simply a matter of pushing their heads back to reveal their throats then burying a knife in the exposed undead flesh. Ew. Delightful.
Truly, the zombie body count in the premiere episode was staggering. Maybe it’s a sign that zombies aren’t going to be the primary concern this season, once the evil Governor (David Morrissey) comes into play. Let’s give the audience bucketloads of gore up front so they’re too full to complain later.
Still unsatisfied, Rick organizes a third sortie deeper into the prison. The foreboding dark hallways and grim rotting corpses are a clear signal that the poop’s about to hit the fan, and hit it does: when the group gets split up by an unexpectedly high number of walkers shambling around the corridors and Hershel doubles back to locate Maggie and Glenn (Steve Yeun), he falls for the old zombie-playing-possum trick and gets chomped on the leg by a walker. Not just chomped – the thing appears to rip out his Achilles tendon like it’s separating a fruit roll-up from the plastic backing sheet.
Very, very bad news for the gang, but a great surprise for viewers, including folks like yours truly who have read the comics (where no such fate befalls Hershel – in the comics it’s Dale, who is already dead and gone at this point in the TV series, who gets bit on the leg.) Hershel is pulled to safety by the group, but Rick knows the only way to save him from imminent zombiedom is to remove the leg. Which Rick does. With a hatchet. And it is so not pretty.
Wait a sec! Something’s moving over there! Daryl raises his crossbow and takes aim at a group of zombies dressed in prison uniforms closing in on them. Except… they’re not zombies. In the final line of the episode, one of the (very human) prisoners says exactly what the audience is thinking: “Holy s**t.”
OK, The Walking Dead, you’ve got our attention. Now just keep up this kind of pace, keep raising the stakes, and keep letting the bad times roll. And we, your hungry faithful, will keep tuning in.