By Darren Franich
Updated October 17, 2011 at 04:32 PM EDT
Gene Page/AMC

If you’re the kind of TV addict who’s interested in how TV shows are made and unmade, then the behind-the-scenes story of The Walking Dead is almost relentlessly fascinating. The zombie-apocalypse series is based on a great graphic-novel series, but last year’s six-episode first season featured massive plot departures from the comics — despite the fact that Dead co-creator and geek demi-god Robert Kirkman is prominently involved in the TV series. Dead is an unusually lavish production, featuring gloriously grotesque undead makeup — a testament to AMC’s ongoing willingness to push the visual aesthetics of television — but that lavish production appears to have resulted in the departure of showrunner Frank Darabont. In the modern TV landscape, the notion of such an ambitious show losing its showrunner is almost unthinkable — imagine if Lost had fired Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, or if David Simon had handed off The Wire.

After almost a full year of off-season drama and debate, The Walking Dead finally returned last night for a thirteen-episode second season. Reviews have been mixed. In his review of the premiere, EW’s Ken Tucker noted that the series is “woefully lacking in the sort of depth of character, twists of plot, and narrative momentum that gives Breaking Bad and Mad Men both their gravity and their spark.” Everyone seems to generally agree that, after the exciting highway-zombie-attack that opened the episode, the premiere got very, very slooowwwww. (And it could’ve been slower: At Saturday’s New York Comic-Con panel, Kirkman said that the premiere was originally two episodes. The choice to combine them into one 90-minute episode meant that, among other things, Dalton Ross’ big scene got cut.)

Given all the behind-the-scenes drama, it’s reasonable to assume that The Walking Dead is still figuring out exactly what kind of show it wants to be. It’s certainly not as brutally pessimistic (or as darkly funny) as the comic book series, and it can’t help but suffer in comparison to its AMC brethren. But it’s also a uniquely meditative action series — the season premiere almost felt to me like a more refined version of Falling Skies, another post-apocalyptic show with none of Dead‘s creeping menace. What did you think of the premiere though, viewers? Was it worth the wait? Do you require more zombie action? Did you remember any of the characters’ names? If they fired everyone besides Norman Reedus and renamed the show Daryl Dixon: Zombie Hunter, would you care?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Read more:

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‘The Walking Dead’ at New York Comic-con: Full report of the panel

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InsideTV podcast: Norman Reedus talks about the ‘disgusting’ season 2 of the ‘Walking Dead’