Season premieres are an interesting monster with The Walking Dead: with its revolving showrunner office door, every season premiere’s felt like an attempt to establish a new tone and direction, setting up new seasonal plots while introducing a new slew of minor characters to be offed as the season carries on. “30 Days Without an Accident” is no different, introducing us all to Scott Gimple’s version of The Walking Dead… which is pretty much what it always was, with some added visual flair (both in terms of camera work, and the sheer amount of gore). Is it going to be a better show? Only time will tell: “30 Days” certainly isn’t a terrible start, even for an simplistic, exposition-heavy narrative – though it’s predictability does worry me some.
There’s a lot to enjoy in “30 Days Without an Accident”: lots of Daryl, a well-executed action sequence – and of course, the show’s inherent ability to install dread in viewers with the threat of constant death coming around the corner. But a lot of it feels very much like pieces of a formula: have Carol drop some exposition, then show some shots of people walking around the camp, looking grungy but satisfied. Cut to an action scene, see a character come into grave danger and then be saved – and then another character dies unexpectedly. None of this is really “out of the box” for The Walking Dead – and in cases like Rick following a creepy woman back to her camp or Beth not saying goodbye to her boy toy Zack, like neon lights on the bleached-out landscape of TWD‘s Georgia landscape (seriously: why does Rick think this is a good idea?).
Some things are just a little too obvious in “30 Days”, even when it’s setting things up for the season ahead. The most egregious of these is Bob’s alcoholism, the catalyst for the zombie hailstorm that rains down upon the local grocery store: it’s pretty obvious both by the look on his face and the result of him picking up the bottle (zombie attack) that his drinking is only going to lead to bad things for some people (and hopefully not the rest of the minority cast, which continues to grow in the post-T-Dawg world). The same goes for Rick’s sanity: 16 episodes of Rick being semi-crazy last season made it pretty clear the next 16 were going to be a struggle for the ol’ sherriff (“You’re losing the war with your face” Michonne tells him, even though his beard is neatly trimmed… pretty solid metaphor for how the show treats this character), but he’ll pull out of it in the end. These things are easily rectified (say, by Carl descending into full-on sociopathic madness, forcing Rick to really question how he lives in this world), but I’m not sure TWD is heading in these directions.
What we do know is that The Governor is still out there, and the prison is no longer safe: these look to be the two dominating stories early on this season. I say “early” because the hunt for The Governor only has so much legs left to it narratively: we’ve seen how losing children causes insanity, and Rick’s learned his lesson (in fact, he lives in fear of losing his kids and turning into The Governor or the woman in the woods), so the prison wallls caving in and the Bloody Eye Plague taking hold (Patrick coughs all up in the water supply at that shower, by the way… not a good sign, combined with the sick pig laying in the farm/garden area) will most certainly force the group to make a number of important decisions.
This cautious optimism comes with one huge, so-big-rap-songs-are-written-about-it “but”: The Walking Dead needs more characters. Not faces on-screen (we’ve got plenty of those) but three-dimensional characters: as the cast expands and expands, it becomes harder to invest in characters whose interactions are broken up into short scenes mostly explaining emotions and experiences in the past. With so many people to give face time each week, it becomes harder to spend quality time with characters: and it makes the world of The Walking Dead feel more two-dimensional and incidental than it needs to. Having a more solid thematic connection between different plot lines would help – but in all honesty, this is something this show will always struggle with. A rotating cast of minor characters does not make for a deep, complex set of relationships: it’s just not possible on this show, and there are times when “30 Days Without an Accident” shows that strain.
But there’s still plenty to enjoy: the helicopter crashing through the store full of zombies was predictably fun, as were scenes of seeing a happy, relaxed Michonne and flirty Daryl and Carol (though I do smell a love triangle brewing with ol’ emotionally-detached Beth sometime soon). When The Walking Dead steps aside from constant zombie spectacle and goofy exposition (either in small plots like Rick and the crazy woman, or when Carol explains how everything’s been lately), it can still mange to find moments of true humanity in its script, something “30 Days” smartly takes a few scenes to do. However, it’s the gunshots and dramatic conversations that bring in the audience; so we better strap in for 16 weeks of CGI blood, perilous quests – and hopefully, a few surprises along the way.
– Herschel explains to Rick (and the audience who missed all the scenes of him staring into the distance last season) his emotional state, by explaining how a tomato plant works: “things break, but they can still grow.”
– hey, Carl hit puberty!
– Tyrese is banging Karen, in case you cared. He also doesn’t like killing zombies much, something that doesn’t bode well for him in this world.
– let me get this straight: Glenn, Sasha, Herschel, and Carol are the council? Am I missing anyone?
– Beth: “I don’t cry anymore, Daryl.”
– Herschel, ever the hopeful Christian: “you DO get to come back!!!”