10/13/2013, 7PM (EST), AMC
For a show whose concept and production are this audacious for television, The Walking Dead has a strange way of easing up. Sometimes it works—the close of last season’s “I Ain’t a Judas”—but more often than not it imbues the show with an unnecessary and repetitive sense of inertia. ‘What’s the point’ is a fundamental question undergirding the series, and it’s one that many shows pose. The Walking Dead does it differently in that it has tethered that question to its most fragile, desperate thread. These characters carry on their shoulders the fate of humanity, in the multitude of meanings, and worse yet: there is no path to victory. Survival is the closest thing you get. At times, the show’s even warned us to not take that for granted. One moment, survival is all we can think or plan for. The next, it only seems a slow bullet.
Rick spent much of last season feeling that bullet rip, rotation by agonizing rotation, through his brain. He lost hold of his sanity. He lost hold of the soundness of his leadership. He lost his wife. It appeared he might have finally lost his son as the boy was meant to be. But he appeared to come out the other end. He’s asked by a mad woman in the premiere if people like her, like him, “can come back from” everything they’ve done. He can’t possibly answer her. Even as winter’s come and gone and moved fruitfully into spring since, Rick has only scuttled a little ways from the precipice. He has a garden. He isn’t carrying a gun. His boy isn’t offing surrendering teens. He isn’t in charge. If last season ended with Rick at last getting a grip, “30 Days Without an Accident” has that sense of relief that has largely been absent from The Walking Dead’s forsaken world.
After a first act of table-setting, the episode breaks into two storylines distinct in aim and execution. One involves Rick stumbling onto a woman without much of a faculty left. Green and sickly, the woman jitters lightly, her pattern of speech anxious and staccato. We know what that means in post-apocalyptic fiction (“We’ve had to eat anything we could find—dead animals, rotten fruit…”). She explains how desperate her and her companion have been, the things they’ve had to do. She searches in Rick for cause to hope. Even if she’s mostly posturing for a fresh meal, part of her must recognize in Rick the vague fragrance of disjunction, the sort that drove her to her and everyone else in The Walking Dead’s pantheon of nutsos to their particular brand of desperate. But he’s not her. We see it as plainly as she does.
Herschel may be right that Rick never would’ve become this woman, who keeps in a sac the chomping zombie head of her companion and stabs herself to death. However, Rick had been on a route to self-destruction, and unlike this crazy, there were almost a dozen people within his blast radius. This portion of the premiere is executed with an effective calm, even if it lacks something really fresh for Rick’s arc. He’s a character toward whom the show’s gravitated less and less in its best moments. Often he can show up in any given episode and fulfill several versions of the tortured leader. But it’s reassuring to see the show orient Rick right off the bat. He’s in a well-tread place, but he’s on the other side.
On the other hand, The Walking Dead can reach high-octane heights of artistry and badassery almost entirely unique to the series. Though “Accident”’s setpiece in the department store could’ve used any combination of characters and lost nothing, it’s a well-produced example of the action and macabre humor that real in fans. Now with 35 hours of television under its belt, the zombie hackings have yet to completely desensitize us to the series’s gore. As long as the writers come up with visual treats like a walker hanging from the ceiling by its entrails or another’s forehead sliding off like a peel when stiff armed, we will have reason to get excited for the hustle and bustle.
These characters either exist at one end of some binary—the Governor, Merle, Andrea—or seem afloat in the vagaries of a world still reformulating its morality. As a result, the predicaments we find the characters in often pique the interest more than how the characters are responding internally to these predicaments. We either know exactly what’s going on in their heads, or we know there could be any number of processes and considerations. In other words, they’ve been narrow or aimless, the show infrequently nailing the tough task of complexity.
There are encouraging shades of nuance in the premiere, just as they showed up in the final quarter of last season. The Walking Dead on a good Sunday can hit about as hard or engineer its narrative as cleverly as the next show.
Carol graduated last season into a full-fledged character with Daryl potential. Fitting, then, that they fell for each other (and turned out to be far and away the most endearing, sympathetic couple of the show’s run). “Accident” thrusts some more agency her way, teaching the community’s kids self-defense under the guise of “story time.” With the successful merger of the prison camp and Woodsbury leftovers, the community seems to have indulged a bit in the newfound harmony. When Carl sneaks into “story time,” Carol asks him to not tell Rick. What sort of swing does Rick still have in a small colony that’s established a governing board, on which he doesn’t sit? I look forward to finding out—and seeing how this new hands off Rick takes to a friend feeling it appropriate to operate in secrecy.
So, our crew and the Woodsbury folks have settled the refortified prison. There are stables with animals, a courtyard echoing a marketplace, a democratic government, crops, and regularity. Teams go on the typical runs. Zombies piling onto the prison’s outer fence are rid of like weeds from cracks in the driveway. It’s a community. This is also The Walking Dead. It cannot stay this way. The Governor is still roaming, Michonne hunting on horseback. That’ll have to be dealt with at some point—and hopefully it will be swiftly, as the character, despite his inconclusive arc last season, has for a while seemed as drawn out as he could be. But change is in the air. Perhaps some of it deadly. All of it a welcome, albeit safe, return.
- If the Zombies Civil Liberties Union must first spearhead against Carl, god help them.
- Herschel might want to keep a closer eye his youngest daughter. Nothing like lurking death, a pragmatic sense of romance and the presence of crossbow awesomeness to possibly ratchet up a teenage girl. Should we recall one of the Governor’s gems? “Adolescence is a twentieth century idea.”
- How many walkers? How many people? Why? Why. Nothing like insecurely looking to a psychotic woman—or the general vagabond—for reassurance. (Jokes aside, a perfectly apt background check.)
- Daryl, Glen, Carol, Sasha, Hershel—the governing body. In celebrating the reintroduction of democracy, if the writers let the fans vote for which member got killed first, I’d undoubtedly punch my hole next to Glen. Dude. Get over it. You haven’t lost anyone firsthand. He and Maggie need an injection of life into their relationship. Maggie gets it. Of course she does. C’mon, Glen.