by Kat Rosenfield
After last season's languorous pace and dearth of zombies, we'd been hoping to see "Walking Dead" season three come flying out of the gate with the titular walking dead front and center. And in a delightful turn of events, the premiere didn't disappoint!
At the start of the episode, the lights come up on two cadaverous gentlemen, who appear to be enjoying a quiet afternoon of shuffling and moaning at home. But not for long! The door bursts open to reveal Rick, T-Dog, and a longer, leaner Carl, whose little-boy baby fat has vanished (along with his innocence, no doubt). The three dispatch the home's current residents with quick, quiet efficiency, and by the time they meet Daryl at the back door, it's clear that they've done this before — a fact confirmed by the appearance of the rest of the group and a now-immensely-pregnant Lori.
The hungry, exhausted group barely settles in before having to flee anew from a horde of approaching walkers, and this, too, is nothing new; we learn that it's been six months since they lost their hold at the farm, and the survivors have spent the winter rambling within the same 10-mile radius, scavenging houses, scraping by. It's not exactly a tenable plan when one member of the party could go into labor at any moment, as Hershel aptly points out. Which makes this the perfect time for Rick and Daryl to stumble upon the most-anticipated setting of the upcoming season: the prison.
And oh, what a prison it is: a concrete fortress that, if retaken, could be a safe haven for the tired survivors and the arrival of Not Shane's Baby. After clearing the outer yard of zombies and securing the fence, the group is downright giddy — enough that Hershel starts talking about planting a garden, the daughters Green have a little bonfire sing-along, and the good ship Carol'n'Daryl reappears as a comfy, practiced flirtation. (Looks like somebody found a way to keep warm in the Georgia winter, hmmm?) It's a quiet contemplative moment, and one that gives us a chance to cut away...
...to Michonne, beheading zombies with a katana.
The mysterious hooded figure and her pet jawless walkers, whose appearance in the season two finale was met with squeals and cheers by those who've read the books, gets only a perfunctory check-in for starters: just enough to tease the fanboys. But she's here, and so is Andrea — still alive, though in rough shape with something cough-and-fever-ish. And even though we only see them for all of three minutes, the women are clearly bonded; though Andrea says she'll just slow Michonne down, the latter refuses to leave her.
Meanwhile, the group at the prison moves ever-closer to shelter, mowing its way through the infested yard in a blood-and-guts spectacular reminiscent of classic season one. (The Zombie of the Week award goes to the walker whose entire face comes off along with his riot gear helmet. Y'know, just in case you thought the show had run out of creative ways to play with dead things.) The survivors are efficient, hardcore killers, and soon, they're the proud owners of a safe, secure cell block with barred doors and real beds.
Everyone's looking cheerful — Glenn and Maggie, particularly — but Lori and Rick are barely speaking. Lori confides to Hershel that she's afraid the baby will be stillborn, or, worse, that it's already dead and getting ready to rip its way out of the womb. Hershel makes reassuring noises, but... wait, they're only just talking about this now?! Women, take note: if you believe your fetus might be a zombie, be sure to discuss it with your doctor sometime before your eighth month of pregnancy.
With a roof over their heads, the survivors need just one more thing: a field trip to the commissary, in the hopes of finding food. But the prison is a dark, dank maze full of torched bodies, mysterious drippings, and, of course, more zombies. After stumbling into a horde and losing their way in the dark, Maggie and Glen get separated from the larger group — and a panicked Hershel turns back to find them, putting his juicy, delicious drumsticks only inches away from the face of a not-quite-dead-walker, who grabs hold with both hands and chomps with gleeful abandon. If you're fearless leader Rick, there's only one thing to do now: drag Hershel into the cafeteria and peform the first (but in all likelihood, not the last) spontaneous amputation of the series! And then look up from the severed limb to realize that you're face to face with a trapped group of survivors wearing inmates' uniforms.
"Holy s**t," one of them whispers. Which more or less sums it up.
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