The biggest criticism of The Walking Dead’s second season—at least until the finale—was that it was too slow. The peacefulness of the farm gave the characters a chance to pause, relax and wrestle with big (but not always life-threatening) issues. It didn’t always provide for the most thrilling episodes, but it gave audiences a chance to invest more deeply in this group of survivors. Season 3 looks ready to reap those dividends.
Opening memorably without dialogue, we see that Rick’s gang has survived the winter. Six months later (judging by Lori’s belly), Carl has learned his way around a pistol and developed a crush on Beth, Hershel has stopped shaving, Carol has developed a randy sense of humor, Daryl has developed a taste for owl, Glenn and Maggie are still in love, and T-Dog—holy crap, did you guys remember T-Dog was still alive?
Also Rick has completely stopped smiling. The all-business sheriff who took control at the end of last season has been keeping them all alive his way, and that means no kid-gloves for Carl, no affection for Lori, no hesitation to make a plan (no matter whose body part he has to sacrifice).
We only get a few glimpses of Michonne and Andrea—just enough to show us how close the two women have grown and to tease us what a total badass Michonne is with that katana. She decapitates a trio of walkers in a routine trip to the drug store for some aspirin. And she still drags her armless, jawless pet zombies with her.
She wasn’t the only one piling up the bodies, though. As the survivors took control of the prison, zombies were dropping like the rotting corpses of undead flies. Even the walkers in riot gear were no match for this more-seasoned group of zombie killers (I particularly loved the moment when Maggie smiles so proudly after stabbing a riot-guard zombie up through the throat into its brain).
Among the few moments of quiet contemplation were a lovely campfire song from Beth and Maggie—an Irish ballad called “The Parting Glass” (watch Glen Hansard sing it here )—and an emotional montage in the prison set to Patrick Watson’s “Noisy Sunday.”
With the baby quickly approaching, Lori is in panic mode. What if the baby is stillborn—a zombie monster inside her? What if she dies during childbirth and attacks her new child? There’s even more on the line this season.
But mostly it was gruesome zombie action, including a sneak attack from a lounging zombie which lead to even more gruesome amputation with a hatchet. That was only the the feint at the “holy shit” episode ending that the show has become so good at. The real one came with the actual line “holy shit!” from one of the prison’s talking residents.
Picking up with the same energy where it left off in the Season 2 finale, The Walking Dead has hit its stride. The survivors are working together in synch, but they’ve got all new problems—alive and undead—to overcome. One of the things that’s made the show so great is the time it’s taken to develop characters and explore humanity in extreme scenarios. But now that we’ve gotten to know those characters, we just get to watch the stakes raised on a new, amazing set. Who needs words when there are zombies that need dispatching?