I legitimately thought that season two of The Walking Dead was one of the worst written seasons of television I've ever seen. What Frank Darabont put into motion with season one, Glen Mazzara hacked to bits piece by piece until season two's "Beside the Dying Fire" saw the original showrunner's grand vision maimed and mutilated like so many of the show's rotting, limbless corpses. In season two, Mazzara and his writers continued to baffle me with their disregard for their own show's logic and continuity. In my opinion, they killed off the show's most interesting character (Shane, played by Jon Bernthal), let the show's least interesting characters continue to prosper (everybody else), and wandered aimlessly through a season that seemed more concerned with shock factor than emotional resonance.
Why do I say this? Not to troll fans, to be contrarian for the sake of being contrarian, or even to telegraph my intentions to defecate all over the season three premiere. Instead, I say this to hopefully create some sense of weight to the statement I still can't believe I'm about to write:
If "Seed" is any indication for the rest of season three, then Mazzara and co. are on the right track to restoring my faith in The Walking Dead.
"Seed" begins with an exemplary depiction of the #1 rule of Screenwriting 101—show, don't tell. In what may perhaps be the greatest cold open in the show's short history, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and crew break into a decrepit house seeking refuge and with barely a word spoken convey both the harshness of the winter they have just survived and the efficiency they've gained at surviving (or, at the very least, not dying). T-Dog (IronE Singleton), Rick, Daryl (Norman Reedus) and even Carl (Chandler Riggs) sweep the house room to room eliminating walkers without a moment's hesitation, but the exhaustion of an entire unseen season spent roaming and nearly starving is clear on everyone's face. There is no disappointment spoken at the fact that the only food found in the house are two cans of dog food, but the heavy eyes and sagging heads make it clear that this is just another letdown in a long series of letdowns.
Though the "Ricktatorship" is supposed to be in full swing, it seems as though the group has largely come around to the work Rick has done trying to keep everyone united and alive. Daryl and Carol's (Melissa McBride) skepticism especially seems to have faded so when Rick suggests a calculated plan to eliminate walkers from a prison yard that they can then seal off for some wide open space and shelter, the crew falls along like ducklings in a row. With minimal but calculated effort, the crew turns the walkers into layers and by nightfall, everyone is gathered around a fire listening to Hershel's (Scott Wilson) daughters serenade them as though they didn't have a care in the world.
But Rick, ever vigilant—indeed, even unsettled—suggests that the yard isn't good enough for everyone—including his very pregnant wife—and that based on the number of uniformed corpses they mopped up earlier, there's a good chance that the prison is largely emptied and thus, they can take advantage of whatever infirmary and armory might still have survived.
As the crew moves inside (after a videogame style reveal-conflict-conquering of armored zombies), director Ernest Dickerson's visual style takes over, helping overlook some of the more wonky, obligatory script moments. Dickerson, a former cinematographer, uses a contrast between light and shadow to great effect inside the cement walls, casting an ominous mood over the new surroundings with minimal soundtrack use. His effective directing meets Mazzara's script halfway, helping to overlook some of the more ham fisted exposition, while keeping the tension between Rick and Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) palpable through the use of a potent concoction of unspoken words and heavy stares.
We're also introduced to a conflict that will cast an intriguing shadow over the upcoming season—the potential implications of Lori's pregnancy. If it's stilborn, will it become a member of the undead and tear her apart from the inside? If she dies during childbirth, will she come back as a walker and devour her young? The questions are worrisome enough, but adding to the tension is the fact that she expresses these concerns with Hershel, not with her husband.
Perhaps karma exists in the world of The Walking Dead because Lori's secret bearer eventually finds himself sans chunk of his leg after one of those pesky horror tropes finds its way shoehorned into the episode (zombies are awfully good at playing possum, aren't they?). Anyone familiar with zombie movies knows that a bite from the undead requires one of two immediate courses of action: 1) put the injured out of his or her misery or 2) sever the affected limb to try and stay the infection. Can you guess which one Rick goes for? In one of the show's most grisly and surprising moments, Rick takes to the leg almost without hesitation hacking not once, not twice, not thrice, but…you know what? I don't even remember because the gruesome sloppiness of the act was so fantastically cringeworthy that I lost count partway through. Nevertheless, Hershel's leg comes off, but the activity has attracted the attention of more walkers glaring at the group through a nearby metal mesh divider.
Except they're not walkers. "Holy shit," declares one of the uniformed men who just witnessed the brutality. And with that, we know that Rick and co. are not alone inside the prison walls.
"Seed" is an effective episode because it highlights what's best about The Walking Dead while giving a minimal amount of airtime to the flaws that can trip the show up. The episode's only real misstep is how it deals with the pairing of Andrea (Laurie Holden) and Michonne (Danai Gurira)—that is to say, barely at all. The two are shown on screen conversing for about a minute (an odd flip-flopping talk where an ill Andrea insists on being left behind before easily and apathetically seceding that point) before they move along with Michonne's armless zombies in tow. I know that Michonne is supposed to be a badass character in the graphic novel, but for me, the mysterious character who's spoken barely a dozen words and who looks about as comfortable with a sword as Daryl with a book of poetry hasn't proven anything yet.