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Third season breathes life into ‘Walking Dead’

The Walking Dead returned for its third season Oct. 14 with a swift storytelling pace, picking up where we left off last spring. Based on a comic book series of the same name, the series follows a band of survivors searching for safety in northern Georgia after the spread of a virus that caused a zombie apocalypse.

Having abandoned their safe haven from the zombies — or “walkers” in Dead lingo — our survivors now find themselves roaming Atlanta scavenging for supplies. Ask most fans and you will hear a collective sigh of relief that the group is on the move, since the show’s second season suffered from a static and snore-inducing plot progression. The universal complaint from last season was the lack of zombie-killing, a quantitative criterion for many fans judging whether an episode is good or bad.

Fans craving gore need look no further than the first five minutes of the season three premiere: an adrenaline rush of an opening sequence, with no dialogue, just straight action and killing. Producers noted fans’ grumblings and clearly signalled that they should prepare for a fast-paced gore-a-thon. Viewers responded by tuning in with a record number of 15.2 million, factoring in the encore showing. This number marks the biggest basic-cable telecast of a drama in history.

Our beloved survivors eventually stumble upon the prison shown in the last scene of season two. As leader Rick (Andrew Lincoln) advises the clan, the prison’s gates provide protection from walkers, and it’s likely stocked with ample food and supplies. The group rallies together and takes the prison by killing more than eighty walkers at once in one of the show’s trademark bursts of high-octane action.

As they explore the prison, the travelers discover that they are not alone. This season’s theme appears to be distrust and instability, as the survivors question whether they should have more fear of the walkers or one another. Fans of the graphic novel upon which the show is based will tell you that the governor, the leader of a rival group we are to meet in coming episodes, is one of the more perplexing and interesting characters in the series.

In the season opener we also see that Andrea (Laurie Holden), who was separated from the group when the farm went down, has teamed up with the tough samurai-sword wielding Michonne (Danai Gurira), another fan favorite from the comics. The two make a strong duo whose storyline I am excited to see play out.

As The Walking Dead transitions toward a faster-paced narrative structure, I am both relieved and wary. Yes, the previous season was bogged down in unnecessary subplots and Rick’s mundane soul-searching. At the same time, the show attempted to flesh out characters and demonstrate that the real danger is not just the physical threat of the walkers but also the psychological and moral degeneration plaguing the survivors. The Walking Dead fails to match the artistic standards of AMC’s other lauded dramas, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, because it flounders when addressing questions of what happens to a society on the brink of collapse. I do believe the season is set to be the most thrilling yet, but I hope the show continues to address moral dilemmas and to avoid constantly reverting to uninterrupted zombie killing, even if bloodthirsty fans grumble and groan.