The Walking Dead returned on Sunday night for its third season, and returned to its roots. By which I mean: Killing zombies. After a season spent largely squandered by debates about morality and the frailty of human existence, with lots of maundering soul-searching, The Walking Dead needed to realign itself. Similarly, viewers — including me — need to shake off the idea that there should be deeper character development. Just because it’s on AMC doesn’t mean it’s of Breaking Bad or Mad Men quality. We have to take The Walking Dead on its own terms. And those terms are, I repeat: Killing zombies.
Director Ernest Dickerson, working from a script by Glen Mazzara, filmed our doughty band of heroes shooting, stabbing, eye-gouging, and head-squirting their way through reams of zombies, to arrive at what looked, initially, like an abandoned prison. It wasn’t — zombies are like roaches, they creep into any damp space — but they battled their way into the left-for-the-dead penitentiary. Dickerson, who began his career as a superb cinematographer (Do the Right Thing, The Brother from Another Planet), is a wonderful TV director, able to bring out lush colors and a kinetic energy to shows as various as The Wire, Dexter, and Lincoln Heights.
In the premiere, Dickerson, who also directed four episodes of Dead last season, conveyed the claustrophobia required of any good Dead episode — that feeling of dread you share with the human protagonists as the zombies just… keep… on… comingggg…
The chin-scratching indecision that characterizes the dragginess of both Sheriff Rick and Hershel Greene was downplayed on Sunday night, in favor of a more Howard Hawks-goes-gonzo scenario, as the team of survivors manned up, every man and woman among them, to take control of the prison. That they view the site as a place where they’ll be more free is a nice cheap irony. The fact that the prison looks likely to become a stake-a-stand battleground in the manner of, say, the 1976 John Carpenter film Assault on Precinct 13 makes the Dead more appealing.
While we didn’t see much of Danai Gurira’s Michonne, there was enough to make her tough warrior and her jawless, armless slaves intriguing indeed.
And now: SPOILER ALERT: DON’T READ FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE SEASON PREMIERE OF THE WALKING DEAD
Of course, it takes violence committed upon a “real” person to have the most jolting effect, and Rick’s hatchet job on Hershel’s zombie bitten leg, combined with the final-seconds reveal that our humans are not the only humans in this prison — well, it made for one swift episode. I’m not looking for big season-setting themes, but I like the seige mentality that’s settling in among our protagonists, I’m looking forward to the fall-out, so to speak, from Lori’s baby, and I like the notion that we have to start wondering who’s the bigger threat: the newly discovered living, or the familiar dead.