'The Walking Dead' season premiere review: Running away from/killing zombies. Is that all there is?

The Walking Dead returned on Sunday night for a second season of running away from/killing zombies. The pace and depth of Robert Kirkman’s source comic-book was significantly more swift and detailed than this opening episode, which pretty much just made sure we knew the living cast is beating a hasty retreat from Atlanta and heading for Fort Benning. Really, if it wasn’t for Daryl’s crossbow (which I’ve come to think of as a character every bit as vivid as Daryl or any other human in the show), I wouldn’t have been entirely sure which side to root for.

Character development? These people are, for the most part, unchanged — they’re The Walking Living. Sheriff Rick is still stiff-upper-lippy unless a member of his family is in danger (more about that later). Shane is still perpetually low-boiled-steamed and has had a “meltdown” over the continued yearning he has for Sheriff Rick’s wife, while Lori herself looks perpetually startled and emotionally torn. Andrea is still understandably upset over the death of her sister (mere days have gone by since that event), while Dale’s face seems to have frozen into a look of frantic intensity, whether he’s trying to comfort Andra, or is scrounging for spare parts to repair his Winnebago.

The gross-out scenes continue to be impressive; Sheriff Rick using a rock to bash two zombie heads flat was squishily satisfying — it constituted bloody realism in this horror-story context. So was Andrea’s piquant use of a screwdriver-into-eye-ball defensive move.

But this, AMC’s biggest ratings hit, is starting to look like its most lightweight piece of programming, woefully lacking in the sort of depth of character, twists of plot, and narrative momentum that gives Breaking Bad and Mad Men both their gravity and their spark. Perhaps The Walking Dead is pacing itself, since its episode order has been more than doubled. But that’s the producers’ problem — we need to get invested in the new season with more decisive drama than what were were given this night.

Mild Spoiler Alert: You may not want to read what follows if you haven’t watched the season premiere of The Walking Dead.

The disappearance of young Sophia was less suspenseful than inevitable — why wouldn’t a kid get lost on one of these frightening expeditions? And it led to the most trite moment in the series thus far: Sheriff Rick in a church, praying to Jesus after coughing up a manly-man’s preface — “I’m not much of a believer” — and asking for “some indication I’m doing the right thing.” I’m not ridiculing anyone’s attempt at faith here; indeed, I think the entire concept of a “walking dead” contingent cries out for some spiritual analysis: What does it mean, theologically, to be a zombie? At what point does the soul leave the body? Alas, this was not on the show’s mind. Therefore, I’m simply saying that The Walking Dead needed to dramatize Rick’s plea to the Almighty in a manner we haven’t seen in a thousand other TV shows and movies.

As for the final scene, the wounding of little Carl: It was the best-directed moment of the premiere (by Gwyneth Horder-Payton from a script by now-walking-dead producer Frank Darabont), with the positioning of the beautiful deer and the shot that pierced both animal and boy. It was more frightening than any of the zombie moments.

Next week we’ll meet some new characters, and the cast and producers have already given interviews asserting that this will change the dynamic, making our core characters invaders themselves, intruders who threaten the (relative) peace of others. I hope it adds elements of drama that will enliven the series.

Agree? Disagree?

Twitter: @kentucker

Comments (217 total) Add your comment
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  • Matt

    Unfortunately, the source material is not that terrific either. We need a zombie show written by Jason Katims.

    • Katie

      Why were the zombies just sitting there in church? I would like an explanation for that. Were they in there worshiping? Very strange moment.

      • Carlos

        @Katie; maybe the Zombies were in church praying and asking for salvation for God. LOL

      • ltchy

        Those zombies would be what Rick called Lurkers (like the one in the bus in Atlanta, last season) as opposed to the Roamers we saw in the Herd. l guess that one can only stumble around in a closed up square so long before just… not. (l can’t say ‘decide’ because they’re not really supposed to think, per se). Maybe it was just a ‘compulsion’ to sit and wait, than keep bumping into a corner? The chairs facing the altar would be a given, making it appear that they were praying, rather than just on ‘standby’…

      • Ryan

        They were waiting for their next meal.

        Seriously, it has already been explored but not explained in detail. If you have watched the show, you would know that even though they are zombies, they still have ties to their past lives. In the pilot, the guy’s dead wife kept trying to open the door to their house. These people were probably dedicated members of the church and sitting in the pews was familiar to them.

      • derek

        They were likely sitting when they turned, and there are no humans around for them to feast on, so they just continued sitting there. It’s not like they had anywhere else to be.

      • Stupid and Banal

        @Katie – I thought they were just regular tea-baggers.

      • Shakes

        Maybe they were bitten and ran for church to pray before they turned. Now they just been sitting there in a trance like state until food arrived. We also know zombies in pop culture often have some sort of reflex memory, the little girl in season one picking up a teddy bear, the zombies in the original Dawn of the Dead going to the mall.

      • SLB

        Yeah, like i would believe in god after knowing zombies exist.

      • kim in kentucky

        @Shakes – very good theory!!!

      • The Show

        I thought it was fantastic USA Today gave it a rare 4 out 4 stars, but of course the guy who loved James Franco and Anne Hathaway at the Oscars, and raved over this year’s tepid and unfunny Emmy Awards would not like it, hey Ken What did it need? Jane Lynch coming on screen and making a lame joke about laugh tracks or lesbians!

      • It is me

        @ Katie – Simply zombies praying to the original zombie. Made perfect sense to me.

      • Blake

        @ Katie It is very simple what they were doing. If you have watched any george romero movies you would know that one of the focus of any zombie film. Is zombies retaining the memories of their former lives. Those zombies in the church were experiencing past memories of their former lives which involved attending church

    • Myprettypony

      I love the comics…yeah Rick can be a little heavy handed and holier than thou, but there are some seriously intense story lines….I cried at the end of the assault on woodbury. Not many graphic novels have made me cry.

    • Mo

      Yes, the source material is very soapy and the characters there don’t have great motivation, either. The episode was all right, but I do hope for more surprises of the “holy crap, I can’t believe that just happened!” kind that Breaking Bad (and Mad Men, but not so much) offer, rather than the “100 ways to kill a zombie” kind that was on display today.

      Oh, and really? A TV-14 rating for this? REALLY? Fringe is TV-14. Mad Men had an episode rated “M” just because there were strippers wearing pasties in it. I just saw Jane Eyre, which had a PG-13 rating because there was a close-up shot of a minor wound and (gasp, horror) a painting of a nude. And THIS is TV-14? Who are the AMC executives blowing to get that rating? *End rant*

      • Anna

        Hate to break it to you, Mo, but welcome to American TV. Violence, gore, murder – OKAY. A flash of thigh, or *shudder* a hint of nipple? The travesty!

        While sex sells in advertising, the slightest hint at it in the media/movies/tv will get parents and the FCC up in arms.

        I personally would rather have my child see natural human breasts than a person/zombie be dissected right in front of them. Or stabbed in the eye. Or bashed in the head. You get my drift…

      • Anonymous

        Wont spoil it.. but if what happened at the end of this episode wasn’t a “holy crap, I can’t believe that just happened!” surprise then idk what is.

    • Echos Myron

      Katims is a mediocre screenwriter, and his episode “Always” had absolutely no business getting the Emmy over “The Suitcase.”

      • Brit

        Okay Matt Weiner, whatever you say.

      • Kevin

        I agree 100%.

      • Tom

        No television episode anywhere in the world last year was the equal, much less better, than Mad Men’s “The Suitcase” Better than any movie last year too.

    • Dirk

      The source material is fantastic! The season premiere was great as well, not sure where all this negative nancy stuff is coming from. I’m a little worried since Frank Darabont is gone, and who knows how it will be when his influence completely gone. But this was a strong episode, on most other sites I’ve been to, they’ve been calling it the best so far. Maybe you were just in a bad mood or something.

      • Corinne

        Agreed, it would be one thing if this was going into a 3rd season but this is only the 7th episode of the show all together. Ken must have never watched AMC crapfest known as The Killing, which was nothing but 12 hours of melancholia and red herrings. I originally was torn on this show cause quite frankly zombies give me the wiggins, but am drawn in by the fact that the walking dead are the least of there problems. Can’t wait to see what else this season has in store.

      • Joe

        I’m starting to wonder about our boy Ken… he reminds me of the restaraunt critic in “Ratatouile”. Just because it’s a genre show doesn’t mean you have to be “above” it.

        As for character building… how about a pilot episode that gives us a chance to reconnect with the show and the events of the past 6 (only 6!) episodes, the last of which aired last November/December? Still, did you miss the whole changing of the roles and dynamics in the group, with Daryl the redneck being thrust into a leadership role while Rick has to sit back and follow him, all the while feeling terrible about the loss of Sophia? Or how about how the group is responding to that loss?

        And no plot twists? You did watch the final minute and a half, right? I think you saw it, since you referrenced it later in your review.

        I know that my first thought after the credits rolled was, “Wow, that’s how you do horror and tension on expanded basic cable” (yes, taking a pot-shot at the much lauded and much less interesting American Horror Story). The tension throughout the show was palpable, the characters make sense and are evolving (slowly, yes, but the series is seven episodes and only days old in show-time), and the make-up/effects are top-notch.

      • Eirodann

        I’m with you. I like the way this has been paced. Character development takes time and, in the time frame of the show to date, we have only been with these people a few weeks. I am very intrigued by the shifting dynamics between the characters – when we joined the group, Shane was the leader…until Rick arrived, but now that Sophia is lost Daryl steps up. Maybe Ken should have a cookie or something, I think his blood sugar is off.

      • Peg Bundy

        This show is approaching the tedious baloney that was The Killing. Remember how they had a cliffhanger at the end of every episode that was immediately resolved in the next episode?

        The people hiding under the cars while the herd of zombies went through was great. But after that, as soon as the girl was missing, the show came to a screeching halt. A whole bunch of filler and standing around, talking about feelings. Finally at the end, another cliffhanger!

        So in other words, Ken is partly right. This show needs better structure and writing.

    • B

      Who the hell is Jason Katmis? Why the hell would you care if you didn’t like the source in the first place? And who the f@#$ gives a s@#$?

      • Matt

        Easy there, bucko. Just looking for some good television. Put a paper bag over the zombies and there is no one to care about on this show.

      • Nagham

        If Charlton Heston would have survived from his ecierpenxe as roles like Omega Man, what do you guys think about Will Smith? He played Dr. Neville in the recent remake I am Legend and he’s survived some tough situations with non-human creatures, like in Independence Day.Regarding which celebrity I would want to meet, I’d pick a scientist, like John. I would want to meet Neil deGrasse Tyson. He’s got the brilliance of Einstein mixed with the personality of Lando Calrissian.

    • Kim

      Give it time. I remember watching “Mad Men” and thinking, “Not much happening here,” but the slow development makes the eventual payoff even more satisfying.

      • Riley

        I think the last 60 minutes having all the commercials, may’ve contributed to those who thought the episode was slow, But that allowed us to enjoy that first 25-30 minutes commercial free… which I SO appreciated! I will endure all the commericals towards the end for that!

        Also, this is Only the 7th episode! Sheesh! Like any good story, it takes time to develop characters. I thought the changes in Daryl have been Huge yet understated. Think about it… he went from a hot headed redneck to… leading Rick through the woods, offering a comforting word to a mom who’s daughter is missing in zombie woods, and saving the black guy who dropped the key to his brother’s handcuffs. It doesn’t have to hit you in the face to appreciate it!

        What I love most, was the writers didn’t take away the redneck Daryl we love, with his comment to the Crucifix, after bashing in the head of a female lace veil wearing zombie… “Yo, JC, you taking requests?” LOL

    • Brandy

      The comic series is awesome. So far it’s been way better than the show, which I also like.

      Also wanna state, based on the article, that Mad Men is incredibly boring, & isn’t all that great at character development. Saying it’s anything but is just ridiculous.

      • Steph

        Um no. Mad Men receives many accolades, so I know it’s popular to bash. In my humble opinion, it is one of the best shows ever. MM reminds me of a very long Altman movie with the feel of a play.

  • Mad Man

    Awe c’mon. Kinda rough on a show that just premiered. I think there’s some good stuff in store this season.

    • Benny G

      Ken Tucker is going through his Peggy Lee phase,

      • District 12

        this actually made me lol irl, good one!

    • Ryan

      Absolutely nothing wrong with the season premier. I found it to be better than any of the previous season’s episodes. Critisize some of the cheesier moments(cheesy opening monologue; Rick’s stereotypical prayer), but they are minor compared to some of last years’ stories [Racist rednecks (Merle), black people with rapper names (T-Dog)]

    • Mother Nature

      I agree. There will be plenty of action this season. One of the things I like about this show is the psychological factor–the hard and monotonous things in life the living are forced to endure. I like the quiet moments, and the stillness built into the episode. The final moments were a horrible shock, and well done.
      Aside from the beginning narration, I have no complaints.

    • Anonymous

      This review would be understandable if we were half way through the season… and if it was like MM or BB, Tucker would probably be complaining that tWD isn’t original.

  • jfms777

    It is still scary as hell, and since this is the first episode of the season, let’s give it some time. But you are right: it is definitely different from “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.”

    • jRo

      Agree and agree. A premiere must accomplish many things. It must resolve some issues raised in last season’s finale and set the tone for the episodes to come–it doesn’t necessarily have the time to twist plots, which are sure to come down the line. It IS different from MM and BB, but a good kind of different. I’m with you, I’m givin’ it some time. Wish Tucker would do the same.

      • Anne

        couldn’t agree more. I mean not quite sure what Ken wants from this, maybe he should just watch his dvr’d reruns of mad men or something.

        Did anyone notice that Norman Reedus was a little bit fatter or was it just me?

      • Sue

        Norman was not skinny last season either – but not “fat” – he seems the same. Just Burly – sort of matching Michael Rooker who playe dhis brother.

      • Big B

        Re: Norman Reedus and his size. This was covered on a podcast featured on EW today where Reedus indicated he’s lost weight due to working in the heat. He also indicated that he is working out pretty much everyday to increase muscle. My paraphrase of course.

  • M

    Ken Tucker doesn’t get it

    • Shadolord

      I agree with you, Ken Tucker missed the bus on this one.

    • darklady65

      yup does it get it at all -_-

      • darklady65

        “doesn’t” was obviously the word that was supposed to be there ;D

      • Tom Strong

        Walking Dead goes right over Ken’s head.

    • adam

      I hate when the only reply that a fan has when someone criticizes what they love is “you don’t get it.” You all act as if this is the most profound show on TV. It’s not about getting it or not getting it. This show, as much as I enjoy it, is not THAT complex.

      • derek

        I know what you mean, but it really does seem like Ken doesn’t get it. No it’s not all that complex, it’s people trying to survive, and yes, it will involve a lot of running from zombies and killing zombies. That’s a large part of why people are watching to begin with, for the zombie action. I love Mad Men and Breaking Bad, but this show isn’t either of those. It’s post apocolyptic fun, so far done very well, I dont need or want it to be anything more. So yeah, it seems Ken doesn’t get it.

      • Brie

        You’re right, Adam. I disagree with parts of the review, but it’s dumb to say Ken doesn’t “get it”. There’s nothing to “get”. Also, the church scene with Rick praying although he doesn’t normally pray HAS been done a thousand times in a thousand movies.

      • M

        First of all, i didn’t say that the show is complex, although i beleive that it is. What i meant was that he doesn’t get what it is that made that episode so awesome to me personally and i’m sure, alot of others. So chill out

      • Kevin

        I think Ken “gets” Walking Dead. He just wants more out of it. I can’t blame him. So do I. The show he does NOT “get” is American Horror Story… his review of that was a joke and WAY off.

  • Ampersand

    I’m having a real hard time separating the books (which are amazing!) from the show (which would be great if I wasn’t such a nerd and had read the books!)

  • Heath

    Ken, unlike Mad Men, this is a showing that people actually watch. Crtitcs may want the characters to sit around and explore their feelings, but AMC is probably more concerned with getting more than a 0.2 in the demos. A show about, y’know, ZOMBIES is supposed to be lightweight.

    • Valley Girl

      Personally, am relieved, despite my screaming at the TV at times during this episode, that it was lightweight. Sunday night TV is a nightmare for me, having to choose what to watch live or DVR between “Dexter” (live), TWD (DVR), “Homeland,” and “The Good Wife”. The madness!

      • Kiwi3

        Me too! Also had to dvr Boardwalk.

      • Jamie

        I feel your pain, I had to watch Dexter 1st and let my DVR record TWD, will Watch Homeland later… there’s just too much GOOD TV on these days.

        Oh and Ken Tucker, You don’t get it… True story !

  • The Dude

    Under normal circumstances, I would agree with Tucker’s contention that the characters haven’t really evolved or changed and that we’re seeing more of the same…however, since it’s literally been almost an entire 12 months since we last saw these guys, I think it was necessary to re-introduce the characters and keep them consistent so as not to confuse the audience. Was it the best episode? Far from it. Did it provide a nice set-up for the rest of the season? You betcha. I’m looking forward to see where this all goes.

    • wino

      exactly. lets not forget this is only episode 7 in the entire series, give it some time for these characters to grow. until then, im enjoying the suspense and soapy-ness of it all.

  • James

    Overall very disappointing premiere. A show does not have to have a frantic pace but this 90 minute episode was wasted. The search for Sophia was a showstopper (in a bad way). Hope it improves from here.

    • Carlos

      How hope Sophia was eaten by a Zombie. She and that little boy are hard headed and get on my last nerve. I am sick of Rick being the boss and Shane need to get over that skinny witch and learn to jerk off to please himself sexually.

      • derek

        I’ve been wanting Carl to get aced in the comics for years. Although lately, his story has become a bit more interesting.

      • wino

        and who would you want in charge instead? Dale? Andrea? or how about the frail, sobbing Mom? if im in that crew, i want a guy who is/was a Sheriff to lead the way.

      • gregg

        i agree. i thought Shane would be a better leader than Rick. something about rick i dont quite like.His fake accent is starting to get to me. Hugh Laurie has a better American accent

    • allie8

      I agree. My husband liked it but I wasn’t overly impressed. If this was the 3wrd episode into the season I’d say ok but for the premeire? Kinda lame. What mother would allow their kid to be any less than a touch away on a road filled with broken down cars??? And then she just stood there waiting – you’d have to pin me down if my kid was out there. Could have been far more suspensful.Hope it gets better. And Ken is right – Breaking Bad is far better.

      • Kaylee

        The great thing about Breaking Bad is that it balances character development and exciting plot action/twists beautifully. The result is that you really feel something for the characters, get to see them develop and struggle yet also get the thrills of exciting plot twists. Amazing show.

  • anonymous

    The gutting of the zombie was a bit over the top,
    I get the impression that Dwayne and Rick were giggling between takes.

    • anonymous

      Daryl.,, oops!

    • District 12

      Have you seen the behind the scenes stuff from that moment, it was on the Talking Dead show after TWD, and can I just say that the guy who plays Rick has a sexy accent irl, anyways……it was pretty funny hearing them talk about that scene

  • darklady65

    sorry but this show was AWESOME tonight …. it did what it was suppose to do entertain people i don’t need Breaking Bad or Mad Men kind of writing on this show since yes HELLO apples and oranges here -_- …… this show is being watched cause of the ZOMBIES and that is all there is to it you don’t like it then watch something else ….. this premiere just insured and reaffirmed that this season is going to be wicked cool =] ….. sorry to those that didn’t enjoy it but for those of us that did it was just way awesome =]

    • M

      don’t aplogize, it was great!

  • E

    Obviously the writer has not read the comics that the show is based off of, there are plenty of ‘twists’ to come, the current pacing of the show makes sense as it gives the viewers just the frantic, second by second mini issues as the group adjusts to the crazy world, the characters will get more fleshed out as the show goes on. I think it would be a little hard to ‘change’ as the writer puts it, when your life hangs in the balance each and every day.also the story is running in real time, its not like the incidents happened years ago, they JUST HAPPENED!

  • William

    Wow. Did you watch the first season? I would guess not since you don’t think there has been character development. The show has been on for 7 episodes including tonight’s premiere. How much development do you want? You need a slow build. There has been more character development in the past 7 episodes than most other shows on TV. I cannot believe that you would write this for a premiere episode. Guess you don’t really want much credibility.

    • Chris

      I was thinking the exact same thing. This is the seventh episode of the entire series. You HAVE to start off this season with some good zombie action though, and that it did. Also, is Daryl not a complete bada$$?

      • Mo

        Yup, he is.

      • wino

        love , love daryl.

  • Jay

    Kind of surprised on Tucker’s take. Yes, the character development is the weak link, but that was a very strong premiere (pilot level).

    • Justin

      Agreed! I loved this premiere.

    • Peg Bundy

      There were more weak links than just the characters. Why are there some dead people who don’t turn into zombies? Why does the group drive their old beat up POS motorhome past new cars with keys? Why aren’t they stripping down every car they see for parts – and taking gasoline too? Why do they keep traveling around instead of finding one place and making it secure? Why does Rick ramble on the radio to (probably) no one? What happened to Morgan?

      • Maura

        Thank you! And why does it always take them so long to realize the obvious? (“Heyyyy …. we’re stuck here, maybe we should some siphon some fuel from these cars since we’re low on fuel!”) The reviewer is right. One of the things I enjoyed about the first season was that they didn’t act as stupidly as people in horror movies usually do. They were stupid tonight. And you do need breaks from the horror to make it work. The only breaks in this episode were the bad dialogue in the overlong and by-the-numbers church scene.

      • Steph

        Apparently, in the comics everyone who dies also turns. All of the above questions are correct. I would think of stuff like this. I suppose these are not so bright people who may be bada$$ in some ways but ultimately aren’t survivalists.

      • Zombie

        They did siphon gas and take car parts from the other cars. I will give you the question about the dead people in the cars. Why were they just sitting in their cars dead? Was there a poison gas leak or something? As far as staying in one spot, I think they are trying to find more people. If I were in the same position, I would go to someplace like Manhattan where you could block off the bridges and kill all the zombies in town to have a safe area.

  • District 12

    Ken you totally missed the mark, this is only the 7th episode of the series, there has been plenty of character development, its a young show with a lot of growing room!

    • Bob

      He can be a Mr. Crankypants sometimes, so take his opinions with a grain of salt.

    • Bette

      By the way Ken, your Fringe reviews Rock !

  • Justin

    I totally disagree with you, Ken. Remember, this show has had only 7 EPISODES! For crying out loud, how much development do you want in that short span of time? Besides, this is a show about people surviving a zombie outbreak. The main plot of this show, twists or no twists, is survival, plain and simple. The fact that this series is covering the group on a day-to-day basis makes it that much more impressive. There are no massive time jumps or big-time flashbacks, just great characters trying to live every day despite their horrible circumstances.

    • jackgroce2

      Well-said Justin! Tucker’s review, and other unfavorable WD early reviews, are the opening shots in TV critics/writers attempt to start a basklash against a popular show in its second season. It happens all the time, especially if the show has become a phenom like WD (hello, Lost!). Tucker can be such a TV snob douche sometumes!

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