ZPAA ratingLate teen and up
Gore level8 out of 10--Whoa, a black and white comic book gets the full color, full motion, "realistic" treatment. Lots of zombies and other dessicated corpses who aren't walking around populate the episode and are pretty unpleasant to look at. Some of them are killed in especially brutal ways, like a screwdriver to the eye socket several times. Two characters perform a zombie autopsy to check the contents of its stomach (you don't see them carving into the cadaver but you hear it and see a bunch of nasty stuff pulled out). A bloody wound on a human. Zombies eating animal carcasses (no people eating, surprisingly).
Other offensive contentSome bad language (no f-bombs, also surprisingly); lying (for the greater good, no less!); a speech from one character complaining that she didn't get to die the way she wanted (i.e. commit suicide); ambiguous attitude toward God/Jesus Christ (the old "give me what I want and you can make me suffer" offers are made by characters).
How much zombie mythology/contentNo new developments for the Walking Dead zombie mythology other than zombies wander in large packs, which some characters call "herds." Quite frankly, that's one of the usual characteristics of zombies across stories, they menace and are more menacing as an implacable, unhesitating group.
How much funLots of good tension and interesting discussions make for an engaging story and good character development.
Synopsis & ReviewAfter the CDC blows up at the end of Season One, Rick and our gang of heroes decide to leave Atlanta and head for Fort Benning, which presumably is safer and more defensible. Maybe military forces are still there too.
Along the way, they become stuck in highway detritus, forced to stop and reevaluate their situation. And the radiator hose blows on their RV. They start to scavange all the nearby vehicles. Soon a horde of zombies passes through on the highway. Everybody tries to hide under cars but T-Bone gets stuck with a fresh flesh wound and no car to hide under. And Sophie, the twelve-year old child of Carol, gets chased into the woods by two zombies. Thus the action begins for the new season of AMC's TV adaptation of The Walking Dead.
The episode has lots to recommend it. The zombies are well done and the special effects are pretty seamless. More importantly, the drama is well played out with interesting, challenged, and flawed characters. Lots of different subplots are dealt with just enough to keep the large cast engaged and help the viewer remember all the different story threads from the previous season.
The show also acknowledges how hard it is to do the right thing, and often the characters, especially Rick (who's in charge), do the best that they can in the given circumstances. Others don't often appreciate the difficulty and implicitly (through scornful looks) or explicitly (by arguing with decisions) undermine their confidence and authority.
During the search for Sophie, a bunch of the characters wind up at a Baptist church, which gives two characters a chance to make a deal with Jesus to get what they want. Carol wants Sophie to be safe and offers up herself in exchange. She cites a whole litany of things that she's prayed for and received (mostly dealing with the punishment of her abusive husband who we saw get it last season). We don't see how her new request plays out yet. Rick asks for some confirmation that he's doing the right thing. The end of the episode gives an answer to that, though it is a cliff hanger; we'll have to tune in next week to find out for sure.
An interesting aside: Someone once explained the difference between religion and faith to me. Religion is the age-old relationship that men and women have had with those higher powers that they acknowledge. Typically, the people offer up something to God or the gods to get a good harvest, a cure for an ailing mother/spouse/child/etc., revenge on enemies, better weather, a successful ball team, and so on. Faith is just trusting in God, not expecting anything back but doing the right thing and doing what He asks because He asked. The episode quite clearly shows people of religion but not of faith.
I am watching the show through iTunes, where my season pass included a five minute featurette, "Inside The Walking Dead: Episode 201, "What Lies Ahead,'" about the making of the episode with the actors discussing their characters' actions and motivations. That was also pretty interesting (the actors gave insightful comments about their characters, which isn't typical in commentaries/special features that I've seen). It is full of spoilers, so watch the episode first. Also, Andrew Lincoln, who plays lead character Rick Grimes, has a British accent, which is very surprising since his American South accent seems pretty spot on. Kinda like hearing Hugh Laurie speak when he isn't playing House.
The premier episode is available on AMC's web site as of this writing (October 20, 2011).