The wait is finally over. After the best part of a year, The Walking Dead is back with all the sweeping elegance, subtle human drama and heart-stopping shocks that made it the finest television series of 2010. Incredibly, it’s even better than it was last time around.
Picking up where Season 1 left off – in the aftermath of the explosion at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and Doctor Jenner’s maddeningly inaudible remark to Rick seconds before his death – we rejoin the stoic survivors of the zombie apocalypse as they head south towards Fort Benning along the interstate, where they’re confronted with the slowly rusting hulks of a thousand dead automobiles blocking the highway and something a hundred times more frightening shambling towards them. It’s all downhill for Rick, Lori, Shane, Daryl, Andrea, Dale, Glenn, T-Dog, Carol, Sophia and Carl from here – and exceptionally good viewing for us.
One of the many wonderful things about The Walking Dead is its economical use of sound. The long periods of silence, punctuated only by chittering crickets or the sound of distant birds rustling in the trees, is incredibly daring; yet it pays off over and over again, building the tension and the suffocating air of dread in a way that a million gory zombies never good.
Yes, the prosthetics are as visually stunning as ever (at one point, young Carl encounters a corpse in a car that looks eerily like the body of a young Ron Howard), but they’d be pointless without the audio that accompanies them – be it the intense, unsettling stillness or the gruesomely sloppy sound of innards being rummaged through in the scene where Rick and Daryl perform a walker autopsy.
‘This ghost bastard had himself a woodchuck for lunch,’ the harpoon-wielding hillbilly remarks while his companion struggles to keep control of his own stomach, Andrew Lincoln giving the most convincing display of barely-repressed repulsion since David Dimbleby suffered Nick Griffin’s odious presence on Question Time.
However, it’s the everyday dilemmas dogging the struggling band of survivors as much as their ongoing predicament with the undead which keeps one glued to their adventures. The walkers are an ever-present threat, of course, but so are the tensions within the group, and the emotions which simmered just below the boil in the previous season are already threatening to spill over.
‘I have a few mistakes under my belt,’ Shane says to Lori, ‘and so do you.’ It’s one of many call-backs to previous events presented as part of the unfolding drama, rather than in one, long info-dump at the beginning, increasing the sense that this isn’t a second season as such – it’s more the continuation and expansion of a single story, swelling and growing more compelling with every passing second.
As for the climax to the episode, well, it’s as shocking and unexpected as anything The Walking Dead has thrown up so far – and it has nothing to do with zombies. But that hardly matters. By the time you reach the closing credits, you’ll be as hopelessly hooked on this sumptuous, sickening and superb show as you were last year.
The apocalypse has never seemed so appealing.
Airs at 10pm on Friday 21st October 2011 on FX.
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