There are a lot of things The Walking Dead is not good at. Season premieres are not one of them. I think Frank Darabont’s excellent series premiere was a big reason the show was able to catch on with the public at large as quickly as it did. And “Seed,” the season-three premiere, may have been The Walking Dead in its best form — lean, mean and not getting bogged down with overwritten melodrama. “30 Days Without an Accident” continues the trend. It’s a mostly gripping hour of television that immediately plants hope (likely of the false variety) that the show will rebound from last year’s second-half swoon.
The episode mostly concerns itself with two separate storylines, both simple and well told. In the first, a crew from the prison — where the group has been living happily and even somewhat prosperously since fending the Governor off — goes out on a supplies raid at a nearby big-box store. Everything’s going just fine until the rotting roof over their heads gives way and zombies start dropping down from above. It’s a tense and exciting sequence with some awesome gore and a great “ticking clock” device in the military helicopter parked on the roof that’s going to come down and crush everyone if they don’t quickly escape.
The other storyline finds Rick stumbling across a grossly unclean and disheveled woman in the woods near the prison. She claims to be looking for food to take back to a nearby campsite, where her husband waits. Rick joins her for a walk back to the camp, wanting to meet the husband and find out a bit more about the couple before he invites them back to the prison. The fact that husband turns out to be not exactly alive isn’t really a surprise, but the story is sparse and unnerving in the way The Walking Dead‘s best tales are. The excellent make-up work on the woman also helps raise the creep factor to a high level. My only real complaint here is that Rick seems to still struggle way too much with these type of situations. I know the guy’s unstable, but zombies have been around for a few years now. Shouldn’t this kind of thing be old hat for him by now? Must we continue to see Andrew Lincoln channel Brad Pitt’s “what’s in the box?” breakdown every single time he comes upon a bit of unfair human suffering?
Even outside of these two stories, things of interest are happening in the Walking Dead universe. Daryl has become famous inside the prison, with starry-eyed teenagers wanting to shake his hand. Michonne goes out on long scouting trips, hoping to bump into the Governor, who’s used more effectively here as a bogeyman lost to the wind than he was in season three when he was actually on screen. Yet another member of The Wire joins the cast. (First we got Cutty. Now we have D’Angelo Barksdale. Oh, please please can Lester Freamon show up at some point?)
If it was any other show, I’d be downright giddy with optimism. And it is a good sign that “30 Days Without an Accident” was written by new showrunner Scott Gimple, who also penned “Clear,” last season’s stand-out episode. But still, this is The Walking Dead. We’ve all been down this road before. We’ve all seen excellent episodes that are defining examples of what this show should be that are then followed by weeks of go-nowhere plotting and characters behaving in ways that defy rational belief.
So, yeah … this was a really, really good episode of The Walking Dead. But that doesn’t mean next week’s will be. Try not to get too excited, okay?