The Walking Dead: The New Slow Burn

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Zombies from Season 2 of The Walking Dead

Twelve and a half minutes. That’s how long it took for us to see our first zombie (other than a flash in the opening montage) in the season two premiere of The Walking Dead. Like last year’s pilot episode, the season two premiere is a slow burn, but when the walkers finally do show up, the situation doesn’t just escalate quickly, it practically erupts.

Sort of. The parade of zombies that stroll up the highway, surprising our band of survivors, results in the execution of only two walkers as the group members hide under cars. The scene, as tense as anything we’ve seen in the series, is indicative of the new tempo that we may see this season—slightly fewer incidents of frenetic carnage, but much more drama. As James Poniewozik described in his review of the Season 1 finale, the truncated first run had to pack a lot of action, plot development and gore into only six episodes. Now that we have a full 13 installments, the show could throttle back a bit on its breakneck speed, which would only serve to make the show more searing.

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From the beginning, The Walking Dead used the landscape of a zombie apocalypse to explore themes of loss and regret, the ramifications of difficult decisions and whether or not it was possible to maintain one’s humanity in the face of society’s destruction. It’s that second theme that features most prominently in the Season 2 premiere, as Rick grapples with the fallout from one of the hundreds of split-second decisions he has to make. For the sake of argument, let’s Monday morning quarterback the biggest one. Why did Rick leave Sophia alone to draw away the walkers, rather than grab her and circle back to the highway? He certainly had reinforcements waiting there, and the predicament they’re now in—with Sofia still missing and Carl now lying shot in the middle of the woods—is certainly one of the worst potential outcomes.

In the coming episodes, we’ll probably see Rick struggle with that decision, and it may help drive Shane’s decision to stay or leave. Even in the direst of circumstances, there can’t be two alpha males, and with both Shane and Andrea feeling, as she said, like one combined third wheel, how long (and in what capacity) they stay with the group will be something to watch.

But serious aspects aside, this is, after all, a show about zombies. There’s plenty of guts and gore in the season premiere to satisfy even the most slavering fans. Although the zombie kill count is relatively low (about 10), we have a handful of new, stealthy weapons to combat the walkers, thanks to young Carl’s brave willingness to swipe a bag off of a dead guy. Daryl’s cross bow has long been the most valuable weapon. Not only is it much quieter than a gun, but as long as he’s willing to retrieve the arrows and wipe off the walker brains, he has almost limitless ammunition. Now that the crowd is using hatchets and axes to hack the zombies to death, you can bet we’ll see many more slow, brutal slaughterings with that gruesome splattering noise that’s become a staple.

A quick stat breakdown:

Most unexpected bout of gore: T-Dog nearly slicing his arm off on the rusty, jagged door of an abandoned car, leading the walkers to literally smell blood in the air.

Smartest zombie kill: Daryl’s stealthy knife to the brain stem to save T-Dog, then hiding under dead zombie bodies while the herd shuffles by. While it had to reek, it was certainly smarter than hiding under a car.

Dumbest non-action: Rick and Shane not shooting the deer while Carl, enamored by the creature, walks up to it wide-eyed. First of all, the kid lives in Georgia–it’s not possible he’s never seen a deer. Second, what did they think would happen when Carl got to the deer? Do deer in the post-zombie apocalypse simply let people pet them? Third, even if Carl hadn’t been shot, the deer probably would have run away, forfeiting enough venison to feed the group for a week.

In the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see how the new tempo allows for more character development as the survivors deal with one crisis after another in their search for another pocket of humanity. Given all we’ve seen so far, though, there will be plenty of blood and guts and squishy sounds to satisfy even the most demanding zombiephile.

What did you think of this week’s season premiere? Let us know.