"Monster Savings," indeed! On Sunday's kickoff episode of The Walking Dead, the biggest show on TV tried like hell to remain the biggest show on TV, delivering a blockbuster hour that was tonally crowd-pleasing (it's raining zombies!) without sacrificing its navel-gazing core (threeeeee questions). Season 4, I like the way you're thinking. Nerd walkers? Sweet!
Showrunner Scott Gimple is in charge now, and he's in a popcorny state of mind. Yes, we're still at the prison, which is now apparently some sort of Hair-revival commune. Shaky start, shaky start. But lo and behold, look no further than samurai-sword-zinging Michonne (Danai Gurira) for a change in the weather. She was given a horse, a killer smile AND a vengeful mission: to chase down the One Eyed Gov, last season's baddie who essentially felled gal-pal Andrea.
Michonne even had the second-best laugh of the night, slicing the head off a Frankenstein cutout in that ill-fated grocery store. The show desperately needs another rah-rah hero like crossbow hunk Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), and with Tyrese getting the zombie shakes at the fence (dude, what happened to this guy?), Michonne needs to be more relatable, less impenetrable.
After all, this all started as a comic book -- which Michonne (symbolism alert!!!) delivered to a kinder, gentler Carl at show's start. Oh yeah, entertainment, we can do that! Right after that scene, Farmer Rick, formerly a wife's-ghost-spotting bore, was being told by Farmer Hershel, formerly a speechifying pacifist, to toughen up and pack heat. Hersh also told Grimey Grimes that he needed a "bigger ass" for tilling crops. That was the top laugh of the night, a total tension release and sly creative shift. Maybe Gimple's been boning up on Breaking Bad reruns, a show that mastered the balance of intense and hilarious, one reason it's considered the best ever.
Oh, there was plenty of the usual Walking Dead menace. Rick's sideplot involving the loony Dickensian waif girl and her head-bag buddy; the nerdy kid who turns into the nerdy zombie, letting us know something's in the air or the water (virus! virus!) ; the creepy prison kids being schooled by Carl ("They're not people and they're not pets. Don't name them"); and in the goose-fleshiest moment, Carol, still mourning daughter Sophia, ending a kiddie "storytime" with a delightful lesson in how to gut someone.
There were lots of potentially beefy threads being dangled for the long haul ("They don't spread out anymore" -- remember that). But the ep's stand-alone centerpiece was that awesome gore-a-palooza in the Big Spot superstore: rooftop zombies inexplicably dropping on the good guys (and followed by a military helicopter -- what the Bruckheimer??!!); a zombie pinata; the chatty new guy Zack, Singing Beth's new BF, getting chomped for being far too peppy on a show that rewards the morose. The whole Walmart-gone-wrong scene was over-the-top and utterly ridiculous — but when's the last time The Walking Dead was that much fun?!!