A stunning debut to the third season of the AMC series, taking the survivors to a bold new location that promises a season of gripping turns.
The second season of The Walking Dead was problematic for a number of reasons. While it maintained much of the human drama of the shorter first year, its departures from Robert Kirkman’s source material and prolonged search for Sophia sapped it of some of the immediacy that the show requires. However, the second half of that same season saw several turning points that galvanised the audience and brought an even darker tone to a show that was already about a zombie apocalypse. The finale of Season 2 was a sock to the jaw, showing de facto leader Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. The promise of the prison just over the horizon was music to the eyes of the comic book series, and this third series debut delivers on that promise.
It has been several months since the end of that last chapter, and the group of survivors are nearing starvation and looking for a safe place to stay. The sense of urgency comes from a very pregnant Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) needing a place to safely deliver her baby without it becoming an instant Happy Meal for one of the undead walkers that plague them at every turn. The discovery of an abandoned prison is like a mirage to them. It’s not too overrun with zombies, and the fences provide ample protection from the outside world. However, more threats lurk inside, ensuring that there will be a few bitings before the episode is out. Indeed, the show’s penchant for killing off its major characters almost claims a victim in the first episode, but this actually leads to a far more interesting development.
From the almost dialogue free opening, it is clear that this season aims to bring the thrills with deadly intent. The aim of The Walking Dead has never been about horror per se, even if everything that surrounds the group is terrifying. It’s about the characters first and foremost, and it is great to see genuine character development for whole group. In particular Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) and “T-Dog” (IronE Singleton) actually get a bit more dialogue this year, setting up some nice arcs for them as well. For the first time the group is also split, with Andrea (Laurie Holden) having been left behind with a mysterious hooded woman in the second season finale. Comic book fans already know her as Michonne (played here by Danai Gurira), and the character that brings about a radical shift in tone in the story, but she was introduced in a ‘WTF?’ moment to mainstream audiences. Here we get a chance to see what she is capable of, and that is mostly cutting things up successfully with a samurai sword. Believe us folks: you ain’t seen nothing yet.
The appropriately titled “Seed” plants all the elements that are sure to make this season a success, and the monumental record-breaking ratings for this episode are indicative of an audience who has faith in the premise. The “Prison arc” is one of the strongest storylines in the original comic, and it promises to play out over several strong episodes this year. Perhaps the only concerning element is the even longer season this year, with a planned 16 episodes tipping this series over into epic melodrama all too familiar for veterans of the first half of the second season. Yet with Frank Darabont now gone, new showrunner and episode writer Glen Mazzara has taken an axe to the infected parts of the series, ensuring that the show will stave off the undead afterlife for a few more years. This is essential viewing.
The Walking Dead screens Sundays 9/8C on AMC in the US. It screens in Australia on FX on Tuesdays at 8:30pm. It is also available on iTunes from Hopscotch eOne.