TV Talk: THE WALKING DEAD 2.1 “What Lies Ahead” — Meredith’s Turn

Devin mostly hated it; Meredith mostly dug it. Read on to find out why.

You know, I wasn’t very excited to start Season 2 of The Walking Dead. Like many of you, the first season let me down in a big way. I found it ultimately boring, meandering and deeply flawed. And I am aware that my sub-basement expectations are behind the following statement, but it remains true nonetheless: I dug the S2 premiere. I just would have dug it a whole hell of a lot more had it only been one hour.

Why two hours, Team Dead? To leave more room for monologues? Okay, I know it’s for advertising reasons, but consider the alternative. A one-hour premiere would have been packed with non-stop action: traffic jam, zombie herd, screwdrivered eye (awesome), kidnapped girl, tracking in the woods, slicing open zombie guts (awesome), Andrea and Dale fight, Shane and Lori fight, church zombie kills (awesome), beautiful buck, Carl shot in the gut (awesome), CREDITS. Imagine how thrilling and devastating that episode would have been! Instead we get insufferable walkie-talkie monologue, action, insufferable church monologue, action, another insufferable church monologue, action, credits.

This show continues to dole out exposition in the most tedious and ham-fisted manner. Everyone stop what you’re doing and pay attention! Carol is revealing important character development via loudly spoken prayer! When the episode opened with Rick transforming a walkie-talkie into a magical exposition machine, staring moonily off the roof and huskily recounting the past several days to absolutely nobody, I was ready to throw in the towel. What a shitty way to open the second season of a show that already has audiences deeply skeptical of the writing team.

But those are the things I didn’t like about the episode, and Devin already thoroughly covered the bad stuff. I don’t agree, however, that ”What Lies Ahead” was a wheel-spinning episode free of character progress. I think great character strides were made: Shane’s attempted rape at the CDC has made it clear to him that being around Lori is not good for either of them, Andrea’s ready to start over without the burden of a paternal figure, Carl’s turning out to be a brave little badass, Dale’s perennial belief that he knows better than everyone is backfiring on him, the group is turning on Rick, Lori finally shows a tiny bit of worth by standing up for her husband and Daryl gets radder by the minute. Sure, Glenn, T-Dog, Rick and Carol are spinning wheels, but everyone can’t be fleshed out in the same episode.

And yes, most of the characters continue to make idiotic choices and act like it’s Day Two of the outbreak, but I can bear that a little longer, because they’re not all morons. Shane, Daryl and Glenn, for instance, have proven themselves to be intelligent, aware of their surroundings and capable of formulating a plan, and three out of ten survivors seems like a reasonable ratio of useful to useless. In the event of actual zombie apocalypse, I hope my group has at least two other useful, resourceful people in it. Besides myself. I would crush it in a zombie apocalypse.

I’m definitely coming around on Shane. This was a great episode for him. As Devin said, he is a man of action, and he won’t allow himself to wallow in a situation that is simmering dangerously. I can’t say I’m fully Team Shane, and I’m definitely not Team Rick Talks To Himself Instead Of Doing Things. I think I’m mostly just Team Not Lori. She lives in the land of wanting it all, aghast that Shane might leave, wanting him to be Carl’s buddy when it’s clear that both Shane and Carl could use a little healthy distance, hugging Rick and actually watching Shane’s reaction over Rick’s shoulder. When she stood up for Rick as the group blamed him for Sophia’s disappearance, it was literally the first time that Lori has ever said one single thing of substance on this show. She’s a nothing character; when folks start to scavenge the cars for supplies, Lori whimpers, “This is a graveyard. I don’t like this,” and everyone rightly ignores her because that statement is both annoying and not at all helpful.

I pretty much hate Carol too, who blames Rick for returning to the group without Sophia while she’s just sitting around on the curb waiting for someone to fix her problems. And are we sure T-Dog isn’t actually a zombie? Homeboy doesn’t talk much. I like Andrea, though; she’s a strong character who won’t be pampered by Dale. I thought their argument was authentic and powerful, and I’m fully on board with her. If she and Shane really do take off, this show’s going to get a lot more boring.

I’ve read the complaints that the premiere was dull, and while I do wish it were shorter, I just can’t agree with that. Despite the fact that Devin’s right about this show never following its own narrative rules, the walker herd was a very chilling sequence. In light of the zombies, The Walking Dead is weirdly short on suspense, and I thought that sequence really ramped up the thrills. The scene with Andrea trapped in the RV bathroom was terrifying, and when she shoved the screwdriver through the geek’s eye, it was a great, surprising bit of gore. And as Daryl dug around in the zombie corpse’s guts to see if he’d recently eaten Sophia, ripping open the stomach lining and muttering, “Yeah, hoss had a big meal not long ago,” I began to suspect that this episode might be fully rad. The squishy sound effects really made it, and as always the effects makeup is flawless. The church zombies were wonderfully horrific, and the final sequence was both beautiful and devastating.

It certainly wasn’t a perfect episode, and I’m clearly making concessions for the show because I’m so pleasantly surprised that the premiere wasn’t terrible. That’s not really the reaction you want from your audience members. But I hope most of ”What Lies Ahead” represents what actually does lie ahead for The Walking Dead. We won’t know until future episodes how much of Darabont’s involvement was helping or hindering the narrative, but I’m at least interested in seeing what happens. That’s more than I could say before this ep. Henri? What did you think?