After months of decomposing and wasting away, The Walking Dead has shambled back into our lives with a renewed vigor, a healthy appetite for brains and a newly risen showrunner in the form of executive producer Scott Gimple. While the episode doesn’t ascend to the heights of last year’s “Clear,” it was a solid, tense hour of television that took small steps, rather than giant leaps for man and flesh-eating-mankind. Like most season openers, “30 Days Without an Accident” doesn’t have to worry about advancing the plot as much as it needs to set the table and give us a sense of potential arcs to come, giving us a sense of where things stand at the prison now that the Woodbury survivors have moved in. And, wisely, the writers give us two primary parallel stories to follow, one thrilling and one chilling.
But first we have to check in with a host of familiar faces around the camp. In the intervening months since Woodbury’s refugees moved in, Daryl, in something of a metatextual mixing of fiction and reality, has become something of a celebrity, resulting in fawning fanboys and fangirls who shout him out wherever he goes. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see #TEAMDARYL written in blood at some point this season. Moreover, Daryl, along with Herschel and several others, is a member of the ruling council, the cool new post-apocalyptic Illuminati that makes decisions for the prison’s population. What about Rick? Apart from his standard issue telephone-based neuroses, which are thankfully absent in this episode, he isn’t quite all the way there, nor is he an active part of the council, judging by his conversations with Herschel, in which he tells Rick rather politically that the council insists that he always brandish a firearm when he goes outside the fences to check the traps.
Evidently, Rick has shied away from violence in recent months, preferring to listen to country-western music on his still-functioning Walkman, and act the part of subsistence farmer. You know something’s up when even Herschel starts making fun of you for how farm-y you’re acting. And Rick, though clearly a subject for concern, isn’t deaf to their advice; just reluctant to take it.
Where “30 Days” shines, though, is in its dual plot structure, following two interwoven plot arcs simultaneously, one of which is a set piece straight out of a horror film and the other more heartbreaking and introspective. The former finds Daryl, Glenn, Tyreese and newcomers like Zack, Beth’s love interest who keeps trying to guess Daryl’s pre-apocalypse profession (“Homicide detective!”), and Bob Stookey (The Wire‘s Lawrence Gillard Jr.), an army medic and, as we’ll discover, a recovering alcoholic, out on a routine supply run to a grocery store. Little do they know a helicopter crashed on the roof, causing severe structural damage to the ceiling, which coupled with the existing rot, leads to a horde of walkers falling through the ceiling like a murderous version of “It’s Raining Men.”
The sequence is thrilling, inventive and a welcome sign that the show’s wellspring of creativity has not yet run dry, especially with the creative gore and creature effects employed by director Greg Nicotero. Later in the attack, newcomer Bob is trapped underneath a liquor shelf that has fallen on him, trapping his leg. As the ceiling continues to rain the undead down upon them, Bob desperately tries to hold off a crawling walker only to have its scalp slide off in his hand. It’s that kind of brilliantly disgusting moment that keeps us both grounded in The Walking Dead‘s horrific reality and coming back for more.
While the show has always enjoyed playing up its horror movie roots, it is also fond of didactic morality plays and ruminating on the state of the world in which its characters live. Rick’s sojourn into the woods to find salvageable meat leads to a detour in the form of a crazy Irish lady who seems, perhaps, the illest-suited survivor we’ve encountered thus far. After appealing to his innate need to save anyone and everyone, Crazy Forest Lady leads Rick back to her ramshackle camp where, surprise surprise, her traveling companion – “Eddie” – is more of an Iron Maiden logo than he is a living human being. In seconds, the Crazy Forest Lady is lunging at Rick with a knife, one that he let her keep, trying to kill him to feed to her disembodied companion. It’s a grim little short story and all of it serves to underline the show’s refrain of “what a terrible world we live in and what terrible things it drives us to do.” Is it possible to hold on to one’s humanity in this brave, terrifying new world? For some, yes, but only some as Crazy Forest Lady aptly demonstrates.
The show saves its mouth-covering trump card for the episode’s final moments though. Fans dreading a rehash of season 2’s relative stasis need not worry, as young Patrick (who I’m presuming has Benjamin Button Disease if he’s supposed to be Carl’s age) ably demonstrates for us. Feeling sickly, Patrick excuses himself from the group and heads to the basement, where he tries to take a cold shower and passes out. We return to his body, dried blood caked on his mouth and, and the camera holds for a pregnant pause. Then, in a telegraphed but still shocking move, his dead, abyssal eyes shoot open with the brutal realization that a viral flu-like infection could spread through the prison like wildfire, turning smiling faces into slack-jawed, undead cannibals. Based on what little I know about infections, it’s probably Gwyneth Paltrow’s fault. It isn’t the big bad guy of the season in quite the same way that the Governor was, but it’s an uncomfortable new development that I’m eager to see play out as their prison paradise turns into a charnel house of horrors.
Odds and Ends
– In a shocking turn of events, they killed off the white characters instead of the recently introduced black guys. RIP Zack and Patrick, you tiny Justin Long, you. Guess you should have been on The Wire.
– Rick’s three questions are pretty brutal: How many walkers have you killed, how many people have you killed and why?
– The moral of the story with Bob putting the bottle of alcohol back on the shelf is that, whether you drink it or not, alcohol is actively trying to kill you.
– Thank goodness that Maggie isn’t pregnant. Li’l Asskicker is more than enough infant for the show.
– Carol continues to delight, as it’s revealed that “Story Time” is actually about training kids to use knives and defend themselves. Hopefully she throws in a Judy Blume novel every now and again for good measure.
– Want to take home some awesome McFarlane Toys The Walking Dead figures? We’re still running our awesome giveaway, so enter while you can!
What do you think of The Walking Dead‘s season premiere? Let us know in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter.