Last Friday saw the return of hit zombie drama The Walking Dead and as we were treated to an extra long episode, all fears of a drop in quality were put to rest. The TV news story of the summer was the announcement that showrunner and creator Frank Darabont had left the show. So the fan base was up in arms, but rest assured his influence is still heavily felt in the first episode.
So what we have here is a continuation of last season’s finale. With the city overrun, no sign of a cure and a general hopelessness washing over the survivors, our hero Rick decides it’s time to leave for greener pastures. However they don’t get too far as an impressive set piece stands in their way. The highway car graveyard is a great backdrop to the action here. It is both a blessing and a curse as our cast can rummage for supplies in the abandoned cars. But it also seems like a death trap as the most intense moment of the series so far plays out.
The creator of the comic the series is based on writes this opening gambit. He picks up the story threads from last season and goes to town. As always with this series we are treated to a plethora of character beats, each one as compelling as the next. With Andrea still reeling from her sister’s death being a highlight. Honestly Laurie Holden does not get the recognition she deserves as an actress. Her Andrea is a fantastic mess of a character. She understands the situation perfectly and her devil may care attitude to her survival is utterly compelling. Andrew Lincoln is as always the centrepiece of the ensemble cast as Rick. There is such humanity in his performance, which allows us to get behind his character fully. In fact the whole cast deserve some recognition as they do a wonderful job.
For all you gore fans out there, this episode is chocked full of blood. In fact it is quite visceral and one scene in particular is played as both horrific and light hearted (which will make sense if you see it). The entire zombie action seems to have been notched up and the whole highway graveyard sequence is a highlight. However the most horrific part is the cliff-hanger as we have a calm before the storm moment. The viewers and survivors are presented with a serene moment of hope and then out of nowhere a moment of true horror befalls a member of the cast and we are just left hanging. It is a beautifully executed finale to a well-craft episode.
Although the budget of this successful show has been cut (which is a bizarre move on AMC’s part), you wouldn’t notice as the production is what you would expect of any high profile American show. The special make-up effects for the zombies are sufficiently gruesome. There are a few CGI moments at the beginning, which don’t convince as our survivors leave the city. But on the whole this is still a solid production. The colour palette is as depressing as the characters situation and the choice to have the highway graveyard really sells the post apocalyptic setting.
The aptly titled “What Lies Ahead” brings back to our screens everything we loved from the first series. It mixes scares and tension with humour, which only enhances the character development on display here. After all the fallout from Darabont’s departure many fans would be worried on how the show would survive. But it seems to be in capable hands. With this episode it cements it status as not only a great bit of zombie fiction, but also a compelling character drama.
Word by Dan Cole