After the emotional intensity and heart-stopping conclusion of the last week’s season premiere, The Walking Dead could almost be forgiven for either treading water or taking things down a few notches, if only to give everyone a breather. However, although the opening flashback scene is necessarily muted, what follows is as compelling and heart-stopping as before.
Visually, the show remains peerless. There’s a sweeping shot of a sunlit savannah, clear and peaceful, which perfectly fits the one moment of shell-shocked stillness Rick finds in an episode where Andrew Lincoln is stretched almost to breaking point by the intensity of the performance he’s called upon to deliver.
From desperate, defiant anguish to surprisingly tender gentleness with Shane (their friendship, surely soon to be tested, has never appeared stronger or been more impressively portrayed) he finds precisely the right note in every scene – and his American accent never wavers for a second. If there’s a transcendental line representing every attempt by an actor to convincingly portray someone from a country other than their own, Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins is at one end and the man who once played Egg in This Life is slugging it out with Idris Elba at the other and emerging the victor. He really is that good.
Jon Bernthal is excellent as well, of course, and while Rick remains in relative safety, it’s Shane who risks his life in a protracted sequence with new acquaintance Otis (Pruitt Taylor Vince) as they sneak into a school where the Federal Emergency Management Agency had set up a medical station before the world was swamped by zombies.
The playground is now overrun with walkers (including one, in a marvellous touch of black humour, wearing a FEMA jacket) and when they give chase, switching from shambling moaners to running shriekers like Iron Maiden unexpectedly appearing at a Grateful Dead concert, it’s authentically alarming to watch.
The climax of the scene – and the episode – will have you screaming even louder, only this time at FX to ignore their five-day wait and show the next part at once.
Yet despite Bloodletting being overloaded with walkers, densely packed with tension and saturated with gore from beginning to end – hence the episode’s title – it’s a single shot of a child’s car seat, empty and splattered in blood, which lingers longer in the memory than any of the action; that, and the moment when Lori misunderstands something said by newcomer Hershel Greene (the exceptional Scott Wilson) which is momentarily so dreadful it’s heartbreaking. ‘You’re in completely over your head, aren’t you?’ she snaps at him after realising the truth. ‘Ma’am,’ he replies with quiet, dismal dignity, ‘aren’t we all?’
The moral of the episode – that faith is not limited to the religious, and that the marvels of the modern world are as much a miracle to ordinary men and women as the work of God – is as unsettlingly true for us as it is for the survivors of the zombie epidemic.
The difference is that our collective ignorance isn’t a problem… at least, not yet. For Rick, Lori, Shane and the others, it’s a matter of life and death.
Airs at 10pm on Friday 28th October 2011 on FX.
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