I'm going to refrain from saying too much, but I have a few thoughts on last night's Season 3 premiere of The Walking Dead - an episode which seems to indicate that the show is moving in a much heavier, much grittier, much gorier direction befitting the zombie hordes at the centre of the post-apocalyptic series.
(Warning: Spoilers from last night's The Walking Dead follow.)
It's clear, right from the opening scene, that The Walking Dead feels it has something to prove: as Rick and his group of starved, battle-hardened survivors silently clear a house and search for food, it's apparent that the group has somewhat adapted to the world in which they live - everybody moves with a purpose and they communicate without words, which implies a tightness, a familiarity with each other. Even previously annoying characters such as Carl, the annoying son of Rick and de facto matriarch Lori, are contributing in this new social order.
If it wasn't so clear that every last member of the group is miserable, it would almost be admirable.
But for all the brilliant action in last night's premiere, and there was plenty of action, the show is drowning in misery - not just at the situation everyone finds themselves in, but at the realisation that surviving in this world just isn't enough. In a show that confronts death so directly, it's an odd thing to realise that our central group of survivors aren't really living either. (Insert your own take on the double-meaning of the show's title here.)
It's showing on their faces, too. Andrew Lincoln was brilliant last night, conveying Rick's distress that things haven't gone as well for the group as he might've hoped in the wake of his takeover at the end of last season. Sarah Wayne Callies, as annoying as Lori Grimes is, is in fine form playing legitimately scared, particularly in the face of giving birth. The supporting cast, including fan favourite Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), are used sparingly but well.
Desperation is also the state of mind for regular Andrea (Laurie Holden), who is sick and ready to embrace her own death. Fortunately, newcomer Michonne (Danai Gurira) is having none of that; interesting, too, that the ready-to-quit Andrea has run into a character that seems to be embracing this world.
That said, it was the action that drives this show, and last night's premiere may have been the best episode of The Walking Dead, in that regard, since that brilliant first season - I loved the intensity of that opening scene, the clearout of the prison grounds (complete with Rick ripping a helmet off a zombie guard and taking its facial skin off with it)*, and that frantic and intense chase through the darkened, maze-like hallways of the group's new "home", even if Hershel (Scott Wilson) must feel a little hacked off with how things ended for him. Bloody gruesome, that.
I'm going to give it a few episodes before getting too excited, but the premiere looks like a show that might be back to, or even improving on, its best - and how much of that comes down to show-runner Glen Mazzara putting his own stamp on an entire season, as opposed to inheriting a half-finished season from his predecessor, remains to be seen.
But this was a very strong start, an episode that looks like the opening to what could be a great season of The Walking Dead, and a big improvement on a lacklustre Season 2. I loved it.
What did you think - did you enjoy the first episode of The Walking Dead S3?
(*) Anybody else reminded of zombie shoot-em-up Left 4 Dead during that clearing of the prison yard? Just me? Okay.
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One last thing: when I went to the TVNZ website to research this post, I noticed that Mitre 10 Dream Home is still accepting votes - the new series, to air next year, is taking place in Christchurch, and TVNZ has asked the public to vote on which families will take part in the show. I think the setup, and the setting, for the show is great, so head along to the website, check out the families hoping for a spot on the show, and place a vote.
Chris is taking part in Movember. If you'd like to donate, or just laugh at his ridiculous 'stache, click here.