The Walking Dead is back. As you may have guessed the dead are still walking, and the band of survivors are continuing to struggle in a desolate post-apocalyptic America that has so far offered no hope of a cure. The Season Three opener was a throwback to the show's very first episodes. The stakes were high; the danger ever-present, and there was more bloodshed than all the episodes in season two put together.
Band on the Run
In the sublime pre-title sequence, we see the group burst into a house, wipe out the zombies inside, scavenge for resources before quickly departing to safer pastures before they are overwhelmed by the undead hordes.
This astonishing silent sequence is similar to the actions of the survivors, quick, brutal and efficient. We learn that the group are on the run, never staying in one place for too long. Resources must be scarce, as they scour the house so desperately. Everyone in the group now has to contribute, evidenced by Carl now wielding and using a silencer. Their struggle to survive has reached the point of desperation. Carl finds a can of dog food in the cupboards, but when he suggests eating the meal Rick throws the tin away in disgust.
A great moment is when Daryl discovers an owl in one of the rooms. Drawing parallels to when Carl spotted the deer at the start of series two, there is nothing majestic and beautiful in the creature here. The scene quickly cuts to Daryl pulling the feathers out of the deceased bird; there isn't time to dwell on the remaining beauty in nature any more. Most important is the muteness of the first few minutes. Gone is the humour, the camaraderie that marked the group when living merrily together on the farm. A deadly silence hangs in the air, as if even a breath cannot be wasted in this inhospitable world.
In the Jailhouse Now
The opening sequence perhaps is a response to those who criticised the show for becoming 'the talking dead'; all dialogue and no horror. The first few moments are certainly unsettling for the viewer, as just like the group it seems you cannot rest, with zombies lurking around every corner. The group thinks it has found sanctuary when it discovers a prison. The wire mesh and imposing watch towers might be seen by the survivors as a fortress, but Daryl recognises what the prison really represents when he says, "I ain't sleeping in no cage".
Before they can feel secure in the complex they need to clear out an alarmingly large zombie infestation. Killing is initially easy for the group. They've clearly become proficient at dispatching the undead, luring them to the fence before jabbing at their brains with poles. There's even an unsettling moment where Rick smirks after he systematically takes out the remaining zombies with a rifle. But they were just the undead prisoners; life gets a lot harder when zombie police turn up. Sporting full riot gear, these armoured zombies prove an extra challenge to the group. It's another great moment in a show where the threat of the undead could easily grow stale. To be honest I'm not sure how much longer the writers can keep coming up with new ways for the zombies to catch the survivors off guard.
It seems if they're going to live in a prison, Rick will be their warden. His control of the group seems absolute now, with every order he commands obeyed without question. But as long as they keep on surviving the group doesn't seem to mind. Carol observes to Daryl, "Rick's got us a lot further than I ever though he would, I'll give him that".
The absence of Shane is acutely felt, most notably in the relationship between Rick and Lori. The deadly love triangle between the three was central to the show in the first two seasons, as Shane refused to adapt to a life not only without Lori and Carl but as second in command to Rick. The tension in that trio has now been replaced by a sense of disquietude between the two. Shane's death, secretly desired by Rick and encouraged by Lori, seems to have driven a permanent wedge between the two, a violent wound that won't heal. Heavily pregnant, Lorri is struggling for support over her fears and desires for the baby. She confesses to Hershel, "If we're all infected then so is the baby. So what if it's stillborn? What if it's dead inside me right now and it rips me apart?"
I Need a Doctor
Rick's desire to use every man available might make some sense, but the shocking moment at the end would argue against that. Hershel is bitten in the leg by one of the undead, and a quick-thinking Rick hacks off the infected limb in the hope that the zombification doesn't spread. It looks like Hershel could well be a goner, which puts Lori in a very dangerous position. Carl's life was saved because Hershel was there to treat him, but if the only doctor in the group passes away, who can help deliver Lori's baby? There's always the chance that the other group of survivors they encounter at the episode's end could house a medical professional, but something tells me that the others in the prison will do more harm than good.