FX, 16 October
The band of survivors find themselves trapped on a wreckage-blocked freeway, and one of their number goes missing…
The much-anticpated second season of The Walking Dead kicks off in fine style with ‘What Lies Ahead’, coming as it does hot on the heels of rumours of budget cuts, behind-the-scenes troubles and the unseemly departure of acclaimed showrunner Frank Darabont. None of that seems to matter, given what’s on screen. This expanded opener—running at a little over an hour—piles on the tension and the gore in equal measure.
Laurie Holden, as former attorney Andrea who lost her sister at the end of the previous season, steals this episode, especially in her firecracker confrontation with Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn), the RV king. It’s an electrifying moment that shows, despite the shambling zombie threat and the copious grue, that this series is really all about character.
Given his loss of young Sophia (Madison Lintz) is the engine that drives this episode, Andrew Lincoln’s Rick makes little impact in this instalment, with the focus given over to best friend Shane (Jon Bernthal) and his relationship with Rick’s wife, Lori (Prison Break‘s Sarah Wayne Callies). It sounds soapy, but it’s working well amid all the zombie action.
A tense set piece comes early in the episode when a ‘herd’ of the shambling undead make their way through the trapped convoy and everyone has to hide under the vehicles: it’s a genuinely tense sequence, with the threat increased when T-Dog (IronE SIngleton) slashes his arm with his blood likely to attract the predators. Also notable are the deliriously gruesome effects peppered through every zombie encounter…
The overall aim of the survivors seems to be to get to Fort Benning, but given how little forward progress was made in this episode that might be a long shot. Everything builds to a shocking climax: it was clear that Carl (Chandler Riggs) tagging along with dad on his excursion into the woods was a bad idea, the only question was what exactly would go wrong. Well…
Attentive viewers may have noted the screenplay credit for one ‘Ardeth Bey’, a character from 1932′s The Mummy. It’s also Frank Darabont’s pseudonym, combining the variant spellings from that film and the 1999 remake, fact fans.
Verdict: A great opener, deserving of the seven million plus audience it attracted.
Episode 1 ‘What Lies Ahead’: 8/10
Brian J. Robb