There’s been an interesting pattern when it comes to The Walking Dead. The series has always had strong season opening (even mid-season returns) but the follow-up episode always seem to come up short. It happened with the second episodes of both first two season and even the episode which came after the mid-season return last season had some big stumbles throughout. It almost as if the writers (who at the time were still working under Frank Darabont’s directioneither as showrunner or the template he set up for the season) put everything they had into making the opening episode really strong and hoping the viewers would forgive them for not doing the follow-up episodes just as strong. Tonight’s season premiere follow-up looks to try and break that pattern. Time and reaction to tonight’s episode, titled “Sick”, will tell if it succeeded or not.
Tonight’s episode begins pretty much exactly where the season premiere left off with Rick and his group trying to save Hershel’s life who had gotten his leg bit during their attempt to clear out an adjoining cellblock. The premiere ended with Hershel minus his bit left ankle courtesy of Rick and his trusty axe and Daryl focusing the aim of his crossbow at the sudden appearance of a group of prisoners who happened to have survived almost a full year on their own in the prison cafeteria. It was this group’s reveal and how the two groups dealt with the knowledge that there were others who have survived just as long.
We learn much abouthow the time Rick and his group spent moving around the backwoods of Georgia between seasons. The episode doesn’t say what exactly happened during those months (a nice change for critics of the series who thought episodes after episodes during the first two season relied too much on exposition scenes to tell rather than show) but we see in the changes to the behavior and attitudes of the group members how those months were. It couldn’t have been a fun time for Rick and his group, but it looks to have made them much more harder and accepting of this new world’s harsh realities. Whether not letting her hopes up when it came to her father’s chances for survival after getting bit and having his bit leg chopped off to Carol becoming even more useful as a member of the group. In the season premiere we find out through a off-chance remark from Rick that she’s gotten quite good with the AK47 and tonight we find out that during their time in the Georgia backwoods Hershel had been teaching her how to perform first-aid and rudimentary battlefield medical work. The scene with Carol patching up Hershel actually gives some clues as to what Hershel’s backstory must be outside of being just a farmer.
Is there a chance that Hershesel could he have been in the military as a medic in his younger and wilder days or was he some sort of civilian emergency medical technician?
Tonight’s episode brought up such questions and without the characters sitting around explaining things that happened. This change in narrative style could be just temporary, but ever since Glen Mazzara took over as showrunner we get less and less exposition and more and more let the character’s actions convey the story. This less is more approach has made for a much more faster pace to the story even when there’s no killing of zombies. It also has made the actors much better in how they’re portraying their characters. Long scenes of quiet diaogue is always good, but in a show that tries to show that survival is a day-to-day or even an hour-to-hour task sometimes such long, extended scenes of just sitting around talking are luxuries that shouldn’t be used like they were a necessity.
There’s a chance that the show could slide back to what plagued the first two season, but for the time being Mazzara and his crew have done a great job with the first two episodes of season 3 to address some of the complaints fans and critics had with the show. We didn’t even have any scenes with Andrea and newcomer Michonne yet the writers avoided the temptation of trying to shoehorn scenes of them in tonight’s episodes which meant sacrificing some time in the prison. Tonight’s episode was all about Rick and Tomas butting heads to see who would end up being the alpha male of the two surviving groups.
We saw how the differences in how the two groups survived has affected them. Tomas and his group of inmate survivors did so almost by luck and having to depend on their prison-honed instincts to get them through. How they’ve managed to survive even with just the zombies in the prison and not knowing the full extent of the crisis would be seen by Rick as a miracle. Our main group on the other hand had to go through almost everything this new post-apocalyptic world could throw at them and they’ve survived. It’s this time out on the road, surviving day-to-day, supplies always on the verge of running out and not knowing if tomorrow might be their last day that has forged this group into hardened battlefield veterans. Make no mistake about it Rick and his group look and behave like war veterans still fighting to survive and having almost having learned an almost preternatural instinct to see danger lurking about.
This doesn’t mean that Rick and his group have come out of their time out in the wilderness surviving fully unscathed. Carl has become more useful and capable of taking care of himself, but at the cost of his innocence and childhood wonder at the world. Even T-Dog has become a very integral part of the group (thank you writers) and has become not just the “red-shirt” waiting to be knocked off for expediency’s sake. The biggest change has been to Rick who seem to have lost whatever optimism he might have had about finding peace and quiet in this new world. He’s now all about keeping his people alive and if that means killing other humans who might pose a danger to him fulfilling that mission statement then he’ll do whatever it takes. We see this change in Rick not through some exposition (something the character loved to do in the first two season) but in how he dealt with Tomas and other prisoners. It will be interesting how Mazzara and his team of writers will deal with Rick and the Governor who, if they’re following the basic outline of the comic book character, had to do almost the same exact things to keep his town of survivors alive through the crisis.
With the episode ending with Rick firmly in control of not just his group, the prison and the rest of the surviving prisoners (not to mention Hershel looking to have survived his encounter with the walker bite and Rick’s axe) it looks like next week’s episode will be focusing on the adventures of Andrea and Michonne and what looks like the introduction of this season’s main villain in David Morrissey’s own brand of despotic ruler in Philip Blake aka The Governor.
- Tonight’s episode was written by show newcomer Nichole Beattie and directed by show veteran Billy Gierhart.
- Anyone who thought that Tomas and his group of prisoner will get through the episode unscathed can’t be blamed for that assumption. If this was season two there’s a chance they would’ve lasted intact for half the first half of the season. New regime looks to avoid that and keep the number of survivors from spiraling out of control to the show’s detriment.
- Sarah Wayne Callies has done a very good job in a tough role that only seems to get tougher. I don’t think she’ll ever become a sympathetic character for the fans of the show, but then again not everyone on the show needs to be sympathetic.
- Then she blows up at Carl for putting himself in danger even though what he did probably saved Hershel’s life for the moment.
- Kudos to all Glen Mazzara and his team of writers for actually making a follow-up episode to the season premiere not have such a huge drop in quality. Tonight’s episode was a strong one.
- The change in how the two Greene sisters acted in tonight’s episode reversed the role Maggie and Beth had while at the Farm. Maggie Green has become hardered by the intervening months between Season 2 and 3 while Beth has become much more optimistic.
- The prisoners were all very interesting but kudos for the writers for not lingering too much in exploring the group’s dynamic with Rick’s own group.
- Love how Daryl’s completely in Rick’s corner now and even willing to do the dirty work for him if and when Rick gives him the signal. Show’s that for all his faults in the early goings with the group Daryl understands that it was with Rick and not Shane that the group had the best chance of surviving. Rick may be doing the very same things Shane was advocating in the first two seasons, but Rick does so with a clear head and focus that Shane never really had.
- The show may never have the Tyrese character from the comic book, but having Daryl Dixon in Rick’s corner more than makes up for it.
- Killing other survivors still doesn’t sit well with Rick, but he looks to have learned that outside the group itself everyone else is expendable. He may not like murdering other people but he will if it keeps his group alive. This may be an ongoing theme for this season.
- With the show having deviated from the comic book’s narrative it’s interesting to see how the show’s writers are starting to mine particular scenes from issues and storylines that happens much later in the comics to use in the show.
- The relationship between Rick and Lori looks to be even more broken in the show than it as in the comic book. The question now is whether the writers will find a balance in keeping their relationship from being too broken. I do like how Rick at the end doesn’t seem ready to break the iceberg between her and Lori or if he ever wants to.
- It’s good to see Lori admitting it on-screen just how much of a bad wife she has been since Rick returned. Her character has always been the one who was in real denial of her situation especially when it came to Rick and Shane now with the months leading up to this season it looks like Rick’s arctic attitude towards her has finally settled in her mind as to who really put the conflict between Rick and Shane into it’s violent end.
- The zombie effects tonight wasn’t as extensive as the season premiere but Greg Nicotero and his men at KNB EFX still did a great job as usual.
- Zombie Kill Count for tonight’s episode: between 20-25.