Zombie shuffle keeps us on edge of seat

What is it?

Zublime zombie ztuff. I know, we're not supposed to use the 'z' word for The Walking Dead, so we used three of them. Zeries three is one episode old and already has a cracking tension, not wasting a frame before trying to raise the already very high bar on its standards.

Our view

When your season three curtain-raiser opens with a shot that pulls out from the eye of a zombie, from deep in its cloudy pupil, you know that those in charge have decided to try and take a good if not great series, and make it even better.

That single, glorious shot is followed up by a near-silent pre-credits sequence that sees our band of not-deads take a house, execute a perfect owl-ectomy, and move on in perfect unison. Utterly dialogue-free, the scene speaks volumes.

Young Carl is now a battle-hardened combatant in his own right. Comfortable with a silenced pistol and calm in the face of shuffling death. Similarly Daryl is now clearly not only a fully accepted part of the team, but has taken the role as Rick's offsider left vacant by Shane.

It's the team as a whole that we learn so much about without a word. This clearly isn't the first house they have cleared, it may not even be the first house today. The gang work as a well-oiled machine, precision in the execution of a task, ruthless in the disposal of the walkers.

Full credit to FX for broadcasting this without any “previously ...” intro, as the dialogue it would have inherently contained would have clashed with the television mastery in this opening scene.

Which leaves the episode nowhere to go in terms of quality post-credits but down, though to be fair, it's not much of a drop. This is just the sort of opening sequence that announces the return of a series with a silenced shot to the decaying head, not a whimper.

Back on the road the team have clearly been on the run for a while, evading a herd of walkers. Lori's nearly-there pregnancy is clearly weighing on the mind of Rick, so when a quick hunting trip with Daryl reveals the prison that has featured so clearly in the series trailers, a plan forms. You can tell because Rick smiles for what I think is the only time this episode. The plan is ... well it's obvious really. Fences work to keep people in or to keep walkers out and allow for a good set for at least a season of drama.

We know from last season that this is not a democracy any more, what it is, is a highly trained walker removal machine. As the group clear the grounds surrounding the prison, it is demonstrated that even more than house-clearance specialists, these guys are now the not-ninjas to this shows not-zombies. Their willingness to spray ammunition around is concerning for anyone familiar with dystopic narratives, but that's the only complaint about this precision conquest.

Then just when you're thinking it's all a bit too easy, night falls, the group sit around the campfire and the inter-personal dynamics come out to play. There's tension everywhere, particularly between Lori and Rick, even more so when Rick points out that they still have to take the prison block to get to the medicine and food. Daryl also suggests they should find the armoury proving that at least he's read up in the genre.

Another walker slaying later, including the red herring of walkers in riot gear – sure they're harder to stab, but they're pretty bad at biting through their helmets – sees the team inside and the episode have a bit of a lull. Thankfully Lori has a panic attack as she takes the revelation from last season that everyone is infected and spins it into the thought that if her child is still born it might eat its way out.

Welcome to The Crawling Dead?

Now is a good time to think of other things, so I'll mention the few scenes scattered throughout tonight's ep of Michonne and Andrea who are ... well somewhere else. Andrea has a nasty case of Unnamed Disease and Michonne has a samurai sword and case of whoop ass that she keeps on opening. She also still has a pair of walkers, trimmed of jaws and arms that she's keeping on leashes. No we still don't know why.

Back in the prison with the hideous image of babies performing DIY caesareans still stewing in all our heads, the elite of the elite take to the inner corridors to try to locate the supplies. For some reason the only medically trained member of the group is included and ... well now I'm getting ahead of myself.

Whoever crafted this sequence clearly played a lot of Doom as a kid, because the prison is soon a darkened maze with the team all spooked and jittery as they round every corner. I particularly like the evil genius in the music department who has shrill strings building to ... nothing, then silence preceding the walkers reveal.

It's not clear why these walkers terrify the group who have until now been so ruthless in the face of decaying shufflers, but the team scatter, are split up and Hershel is bitten in the calf by a walker who was playing possum.

The episode ends with some of the team walking the halls, some of the team back in the cells contemplating the unborn undead and some of the group trapped in the cafeteria removing Hershel's leg with a wood axe and coming face to face with a glimpse of the long-expected new characters.

And if you watched that amateur amputation with an axe without flinching you're already undead.

In a sentence

Light on the dialogue but quick with the graphic emergency amputation, Walking Dead shuffles back on to our screens with a silenced shot to the decaying head, not a whimper.

Best bit

The opening. So beautifully executed, both the action and the television making, from the zombie eye to the foreboding wood axe find, without a single word being uttered.

Worst bit

There was a lull around the time when everyone was finding a cell where the drama was only "quite good", that's about as "worst" as this got.

Next episode

Tuesday 8.30pm

Worth watching again?

Always.

Grade

A+ for Awesome Amateur Axe Amputation at the Ankle hour.

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