Over the weekend, AMC’s wildly successful series “The Walking Dead” began its sophomore run, and, thankfully, showed no signs of the behind-the-scenes drama that has plagued the series over its summer hiatus.
Personally penned by departing show runner Frank Darabont, “What Lies Ahead” was an exceptionally strong season opener, and possibly the best episode the series has produced to date.
After the disaster that was their excursion to the National Center for Disease Control last season, the band of survivors hit the road, en route to Fort Benning. However, it doesn’t take long for the group to hit their first obstacle: hundreds of abandoned cars that block the road ahead.
This atmospheric set-up lends itself to some nice character moments as each of the characters engages in the not-so-nice task of searching the vehicles and their dead occupants for any supplies. But this quiet introspection doesn’t last long before things take a dramatic turn for the worst — the sudden appearance of a herd of the undead forces the survivors to find impromptu hiding places amongst the wreckage.
It’s a nail-biting sequence that’s all the more suspenseful because the two children are separated from their parents. Unfortunately this situation is just the beginning for the kids as the show wisely puts both Carl and Sophia, the youngest survivors, on the edge of peril many times this week.
This show excels at balancing character-driven drama with taut action-sequences — and this episode has plenty of both. In the best possible way, the series continues to evoke parallels to the early seasons of “LOST” (where immediate survival concerns outweighed the narrative’s sci-fi elements).
As always, the cast is strong across the board. Laurie Holden (“The Mist”) continues to be the strongest of the show’s players, consistently putting forth exceptional performances as the grieving Andrea.
Another standout, particularly in this episode, is Norman Reedus (“Boondock Saints”) who plays the show’s resident redneck, Daryl. This episode showed a different side to the often-antagonistic Daryl, who seems to be evolving into a more reliable member of the group.
With a cast of such gifted performers, one can’t help but wish the writers could delegate the screen-time more evenly among each cast member.
If the show has any problems, they stem from the character of Lori — though to no fault of her portrayer, Sarah Wayne Callies (TV’s “Prison Break”). As Callies has stated, she too frequently comes across as a nagging housewife that takes screen time away from vastly more interesting characters. It doesn’t help matters that Lori has been saddled with a love triangle that has dragged on far longer than it should have.
One of the series’ best qualities is how it adapts content from its source material. Taking a page from the “True Blood” playbook, the series has done a great job in making sure to cover the main plot points from the original graphic novel series, while also deviating enough to keep the show from becoming predictable to fans familiar with its comic incarnation. Well-versed fans can likely see where the narrative is headed in coming weeks, but this episode (particularly its cliffhanger ending) proved that there is still room for the unexpected.
One thing is for sure, if the show can keep up this level of momentum, it looks like we’re in for a stellar second season.