The Walking Dead Season 3 Episode 1:
Joe Chiarenzelli is an editor on The Gadfly Press who cares way too much about television.
Sarah Baver is a graduate of St. Lawrence University with an Honors degree in philosophy. Her thesis focused on philosophical zombies (which totally aren't like regular ones) and she is generally zombie enthused.
The premiere episode of Season 3 was aptly summarized by my roommate as we watched the final scene: “Well, that escalated quickly.” Indeed, there were many moments throughout this opening episode that demonstrated the writers’ intention to succeed at what they had failed to do for most of Season 2: pick up the damn pace. From setting shifts to character developments, here’s what I found to be most noteworthy:
The gang found the prison by the second commercial break. In sharp contrast to last season, there was little time wasted in getting to the location that will serve as the center of much of the show’s conflict. Although most of last year’s storyline also took place in one main location, the farm, this season’s setting won’t contribute to a similar slow build-up of action. The prison has already presented the gang with many challenges, and they are actively taking steps towards securing their safety, which is a marked difference from Season 2’s perpetual diddle-daddling.
Ricktatorship has proven to be an effective form of government. Much of the reason why Season 3 is already moving at a faster pace has to do with Rick’s leadership. It is evident now that the frequency of Rick and Shane head-butting last season prevented the gang from deciding on a clear path of action. That, combined with Dale’s gadfly persistence, created doubt among the gang that Rick was in charge. Now with both of those characters removed, Rick has assumed unquestioned control of the gang. And, he has proven that he deserves this much power by both his ability to make difficult decisions quickly and willingness to take on the most dangerous tasks, such as a near-suicide run to close the prison’s gate. This new development in Rick’s character, however, borders on rashness. Case in point: Rick doesn’t stop to blink when he makes the sudden decision to chop off Herschel’s bitten leg. Rick, who was once known to ruminate on ideas as frequently as a goat does on his cud, has significantly altered his leadership style. At the end of this season, we’re left wondering two things: first, will this new leadership benefit the group (will Herschel survive?!); and second, what exactly, brought about this change in character?
What’s up between Rick and Lori? While Rick’s leadership has the gang operating as a well-oiled machine, there is one notable weak link: Rick and Lori’s relationship. It seems as if Rick sees Lori not as his wife, but rather as the expecting mother of a child who may be his. Their lack of intimacy is highlighted by the closeness of Glenn and Maggie as well as Lori’s tendency to have serious conversations about the baby’s imminent birth with Herschel. Instead of telling Rick that he would have to put down her and/or the baby if they turned into walkers, she informs Herschel of this wish. All of this leaves us asking ourselves what transpired over the winter that drove such a distance between Rick and Lori.
What happened during the winter, anyway? It is obvious that each member of the gang has developed in some way in the time between Season 2 ending and Season 3 beginning. Most distinctly, Carl has matured in both his poise and marksmanship. In the opening scene, we see Carl helping to clear a house of walkers, so it is apparent that he has grown-up off-camera. We also witnessed the character developments of T-Dogg (he’s actually doing something meaningful!) and the relationship between Andrea and Michonne. The paired narratives of the gang and Andrea and Michonne also help to add more to this season’s dynamic.
I think you’re right there certainly seems to be an accelerated pace that was missing in some of the previous season’s farm tales. I also agree with most of your points except for maybe the second. I think that while the Ricktatorship has helped keep everyone un-undead, we’re being set-up to find parallels with the Governor when he finally comes into play. Lori’s issues seem to be a product of Rick’s more dominant role in the group dynamics, too. She seems to be almost scared of Rick in my estimation and that may very well be because she knows about Rick killing Shane.
There seems to have been some major advancement in the way that they shoot scenes because I had a few moments when they were clearing out the prison where I was almost as excited as when I was watching the pilot. I’m also curious about what has happened during the time between seasons, as I would estimate a jump of about 6 months judging by Lori’s pregnancy level. Carl all of a sudden is a “man” who seems to have a little crush, the group has started seeing Rick as an effective leader and, T-Dogg has started laughing like Jay-Z (speaking of that, how relieving and horrifying was the group’s joy after clearing the zombies from the yard?)
I’m also curious about the way the show is working the virus’ schematics out. Thinking about the conversation Lori has about the baby’s prospective still-borness (bornernity, bornerness, how does one say that?) and Herschel’s leg bite, how exactly are we to view how this thing works? Let me be more precise, if everyone is infected, how do they not get the disease until they die, do they have to have direct blood exposure, does it sit around all latent until death causes a breakout? If cutting off Herschel’s leg does ultimately end up leaving Herschel legless yet alive, how does that work? He certainly can’t have the virus not move throughout his body in the time between he gets bitten and when Rick amputates it.
But, I know we have to maintain a suspension of disbelief to enjoy the show and I certainly think the plot elements and tone are in place to really elevate this show into an area akin to some of AMC’s prestigious machines.
I think you’re right to note that Rick’s leadership has developed this way in order to create a strong parallel between himself and the Governor once that character is introduced. What’s also interesting to consider are the qualities of Shane that Rick has now begun to embody. Consider again Rick’s decision to chop off Herschel’s leg – six months ago, this action would have been more characteristic of Shane. In fact, Rick might as well have rubbed his head and said to Herschel “m’ask you somethin’?” as he reached for the hatchet because he was Shane reincarnated for an instant.
In response to your question on the virus: it’s fascinating how self-aware the characters have become off-camera. Six months ago, we would have found it unrealistic for Lori to have that kind of conversation with Herschel. Now, however, we see how much the gang has begun to put the puzzle pieces together: if everyone is already infected, then bites themselves aren’t responsible for inducing zombification. Rather, it is only after a person has died does the virus become active and reanimate the body. Initially, we had assumed a person would only transform into a walker if they were bitten. This assumption, however, was spurred on by the fact that walker bites were usually fatal – they have a tendency to bite deep and hit major arteries. Now we realize that this relationship was strictly correlational and not causal. You can survive a walker bite so long as you receive life-saving treatment, and we’re waiting to see whether this is the case for Herschel. If so, it will mark a major step in the gang’s ability to combat walkers in an entirely different way that doesn’t require handguns or screwdrivers.
Any guesses on this season’s theme based off of what we’ve seen in episode one? I’m pegging the loss of innocence as the overarching message for this year. It will be intriguing to see how a newborn baby is handled in this environment in terms of how the physical setting of the prison contributes to his/her upbringing as well as how the social milieu affects the gang’s reaction to the most literal representation of innocence and purity a human can encounter.
In terms of prediction, both you and I know how the comic handled this baby and for a show that is pulling in the ratings (did you see the ratings on this premiere? Insane!) to go down the same route is something that I personally would love to watch. But I think, in regards to theme, that what we will see is Rick being cast as akin to the Governor and eventually realizing his assumed role in the group is effective but not ethical. In the process I think we’ll see the show hit the notes of good ol’ American values and democracy and that whole deal.
It’s interesting to think about how the gang has become aware of the dynamics involved with how the virus works, I hadn’t thought of it before you mentioned it. It points towards what I think is a more mature and less gimmicky approach that we’re seeing. Of course one episode isn’t grounds to pronounce that the show is tacking in a different direction but once the last bit of last season and the first episode of this one are taken into account I think we can see that there is a lot of forward momentum that’s been built up. In terms of a “loss of innocence” I think that, even if they tried to, it would be difficult to do on a show like this. Who exactly still has any innocence left after what these folks have been through? Carl is a little sociopath who got his “caring grandfather” type figure’s guts ripped out and Sophia is a re-dead undead. But, if by loss of innocence you mean that they will realize their “heroic” leader and his absolute control is a double edged sword (not all killing zombies effectively and clearing prisons, if you will) then I think you’re right. Especially once the Governor is introduced we will see the road which Rick’s total control can lead down.
Lastly I just wanted to say I’m excited for another season of rotting corpses and being angry about Carl, and I think we’re in for a real humdinger (because that’s a word people used).
This week in T-Dogg: I don’t know if instructing an actor to laugh a certain way can be racist, but if so, this episode had a great example.
What will happen next week? Will T-dogg start rapping? Will Herschel be a spooky zombie for Halloween? Will Lori get ripped open from the inside? Let us know what you think in the comments.