The Walking Dead: “What Lies Ahead”

Posted on October 17, 2011

Maybe we’re reading too much into it, but “What Lies Ahead,” might just be genius-level writing simply as the title of this premiere episode of season two. Not only does it reference the title of a horror movie, What Lies Beneath; not only does it serve to explain that this episode is setting the tone, plots, and character arcs for the coming season, but it also serves as a sort of pun: the dead don’t lie beneath these characters, they’re literally ahead of them – and behind them, and surrounding them on all sides.

Right from the get-go we are thrown back into the world of The Walking Dead at roughly the exact moment we last saw them; on the road out of Atlanta, the smoking ruins of the CDC in their wake, and Fort Benning (hopefully) on the horizon. And just in case we all forgot what the characters are all up against, we find them in the middle of a horrifying herd of walkers, in a set piece that sets the tone for the series: horror is sometimes terrifyingly still and quiet. Hands up: who held their breath through that entire scene as the cast huddled under cars in mortal terror, hands clamped over mouths for fear of making a sound? And wasn’t there something strangely beautiful and disturbing about that threesome of zombies just sitting in the pews of an empty church, facing the altar, seemingly out of instinct, because that’s what they did in life? Three mindless beings, going through the motions of prayer and meditation; a tiny pantomime congregation.

But we have to be honest. As much as the horror in this show can be unnervingly top-notch, it’s the character work that makes the story and there were times – just as there were last season – when we found ourselves rolling our eyes or fidgeting in our seats because people were saying unlikely things or doing unnecessarily stupid things. Foremost among these were any of the scenes involving Lori and Shane. A reminder: the very last scene these two had together resulted in him sexually assaulting her and her leaving bloody scratch marks in his neck. Now, she’s berating him for not being nice to her son and pleading with him not to leave the group. Um…what? One of the things we like about Lori – about most of the characters, in fact – is that they’re very human; meaning, they’re inconsistent and sometimes hard to root for. But this was a bit too much for us to handle. We might buy the idea of her having conflicting feelings about Shane if he was more of a romantic figure, but he is constantly exposed as a dangerous, potentially violent piece of shit of a man. Oh sure, there are shades of grey there, but if they want us to accept that she somehow has feelings for him – even after he attempted to force himself on her and she violently resisted him – they’re going to have to do a lot better than that to convince us of it. But – again, in that nuanced way of drawing characters in conflicting shades – she did have that wonderful moment where she basically told the rest of the group to get over their shit and stop blaming her husband for not being as perfect a hero as they’d all like him to be.

As for Rick, he continues to walk that fine line between Barney Fife and John Wayne, and we still love him for it. That he can be so completely unaware of the drama playing out between his wife and his best friend doesn’t exactly make him look like the smartest guy in the world, but that still doesn’t take away from his moments of great heroism, like going after Sophia without hesitating, or his moments of great heart, like pleading with God to give him some form of hope because the hope he has is only an illusion and he’s hanging on by his fingernails.

Andrea also got a great moment when she tore into Dale for not allowing her to be her own person and own her decisions. We can’t come firmly down on her side because she is being kind of a bitch about it to him, but she has the right to determine her fate, especially in a world like this. And Dale infantilizing her, even if it’s with the best intentions, is understandably infuriating. In fact, Dale, as likeable as he is, does come across this episode as somewhat controlling; not only with Andrea, but also with the group as a whole, by lying to them all about the status of his RV. Yes, he’s doing it for good-hearted reasons, but it’s another instance of him taking decisions out of people’s hands against their will, and in this case, against their knowledge. He’s an interesting character and the fact that he sets himself somewhat apart from – or above – the group gives him a slightly darker edge.

But we still find ourselves yelling at these characters for their stupidity. For all the talk about staying in each other’s sight lines, they all wander away from each other with a frequency that makes no sense. Given everything they’ve been through, the way they sauntered all over that highway before the herd came was a little unbelievable. Then again, the staging on that scene was odd, because Dale was supposedly keeping watch on top of the RV but somehow missed the gigantic herd of zombies until they were right upon them. In addition, we couldn’t understand at all why the group was hanging around that church for such a long time knowing that a child was missing somewhere in the woods. Why would Carol spend all that time praying instead of tearing through the rest of them to help her find her child? Sure; great character moment, but it had us saying “Hello? Did everyone forget the missing girl and the sun going down? Pray later.” And why the hell did Lori and Rick take Carl into the woods with them? Why did she leave him with Rick and Shane? Don’t tell us it was because she wants Shane to play nice with him because that just makes her seem reckless.

Still, there was way more to like than to complain about here. Several conflicts and storylines have been set up or continued, from the inexplicable triangle of Shane, Lori, and Rick, to the missing Sophia, to Andrea and Shane’s plan to leave the group, and possibly to a darker side of Dale emerging. And to top it off, we got another kid shot, just like in the premiere episode of season one. Horror, melodrama, kids getting shot and an impromptu zombie autopsy just to see if he happened to eat a little girl recently. What more could you ask for from you horror TV? A solid opening to what looks to be another great season.

Two bits o’housekeeping: Please don’t spoil anything from the comic series in the comments section, especially now, when certain events from the comics are taking center stage in the story. Secondly, to the tiny handful of people who asked what happened to our Boardwalk Empire posts, the fact that only a tiny handful asked is indicative of why we’re taking a break from them. The topic simply doesn’t get much of a response. BE isn’t the easiest show in the world to write about on a weekly basis, and with The Walking Dead back, we’d rather focus on the crowd-pleasers. We may check in on the show from time to time.



[Photo Credit: AMC]

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