The opening moments of this week’s premiere of The Walking Dead reach deep into the show’s history, showing a selection of moments that go back to the very first moments of “Days Gone Bye” and carry forward to the present day, with Daryl clearing Walkers while attempting to hide from the show’s latest in a long line of smiling threats, Lance Hornsby (Josh Hamilton).
One of the more amusing takeaways from the cold opening is that the villains, from Shane Walsh to Negan Smith, appear to be smiling more often than not, whereas our heroes appear to be serious about the business of survival in a world dominated by the dead. Giving in to the darkness that thrives in petty power-hungry want tobes like Hornsby and Sebastian Milton must have some sort of appeal (Teo Rapp-Olsson).
In this universe, it appears that bad people are more willing to play political games than good people. Lance, for all of his flaws, is at least on the front lines with his pistol, exhorting his clamshells to victory or death at the hands of Daryl (Norman Reedus) and company. Pamela Milton (Laila Robins) is as far removed from her son’s chaos as she can be, speaking to the people through a microphone and a series of loudspeakers, taking carefully PR-adjusted questions from the citizens, and generally trying to stay above the fray as she can while not explicitly blaming her son for his many crimes against decency and the Commonwealth.
“Lockdown” becomes a tale of two simmering pots. One shows Daryl and company attempting to avoid Hornsby and his seemingly endless parade of goons, while the other shows Carol and the folks back at The Commonwealth attempting to organize their evacuation plans as Milton increasingly assumes dictatorial control. Oh, and there’s a massive swarm of zombies heading for The Commonwealth’s walls as if internal strife and external power struggles weren’t enough to make people shiver.
Without a doubt, it’s all part of some Pamela Milton scheme. Pamela doesn’t get a cackling villain speech or anything from Julia Ruchman’s script, but there are enough hints dropped, particularly when she gets on the radio to tell someone to do things her way just before lockdown is declared and the Walker floodgates open.
This is a community that uses Walkers for army training and target practice, so someone has been storing dead people somewhere; it’s not quite a Whisperers situation, but Alpha would certainly appreciate the use of massed walkers to keep people compliant. It doesn’t work particularly well in Milton’s case, because so many of her people have lost loved ones as a result of her son’s schemes, but the crowd eventually disperses thanks to Walkers and tear gas.
The Milton family as a whole appears devious enough to get involved in this sort of thing. People will die, but Sebastian has shown that he doesn’t care, and Pamela has almost dictatorial control over The Commonwealth for a reason. With a single word, she launches a zombie attack that distracts the majority of the clamshells, allowing her personal security detail to act freely and allowing Hornsby’s pet goons Shira (Chelle Ramos) and Roman (Michael Tourek) to embark on their own mission, chasing after our heroes’ children to use them as leverage against them (exactly as predicted by Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan when he shows up to warn Melissa McBrid.
Director Greg Nicotero gets to experiment with three distinct types of cat and mouse acts. Shira and Roman are skulking around, with Jerry (Cooper Andrews) and Carol attempting to avoid them without making it obvious that they are aware of the goings-on around them.
At least Daryl and company don’t have to hide and skulk around to avoid their pursuers; they’re fighting back openly, setting traps and executing complex flanking and bypassing maneuvers to ensure Hornsby’s men spend all their energy hunting rather than catching and falling into traps rather than setting them. In comparison, Mercer and Rosita’s trip out to the hinterlands to blast zombies with machine guns mounted on pickup trucks was ineffective.
Nonetheless, while Mercer and Rosita’s mission is the least interesting, it allows Greg Nicotero to fully unleash his special effects artist eye on some stand-out gore effects when one of the Commonwealth’s clamshells is ripped open like Captain Rhodes from Day of the Dead, one of Nicotero’s first jobs in film.
It’s a gory spectacle that, like Rhodes, demonstrates KNB’s ability to turn corn syrup and rubber into macabre giggles, but without the catharsis of seeing a villain ripped apart. This guy is just an unlucky goon, a pawn taken off the chessboard by forces far greater than himself. The shot of the zombie crew splitting up to chase two different trucks is also well executed and adds to the scale of the threat from without.
Jerry’s journey through The Commonwealth, dodging trouble and Roman with the help of his underground friends, is similarly well constructed, with Roman’s bald head standing out as he stalks Jerry through the crowds of protesters. It’s a fun little slasher movie nod that works well enough at building tension, thanks in part to the way Roman is shot parting crowds and Cooper Andrews’ ability to sell nervousness on his normally smiling face. Daryl and company evading Hornsby’s personal army is also well done, albeit nothing new.
It’s well-executed and employs a rare (for TWD) car chase, with lots of fun shots of characters emerging from behind the cover with guns drawn. It’s perfectly capped off by Hornsby, knife to the throat, Cheshire grin on his face despite being on the wrong side of the boot for once.
“Lockdown” has a lot of moving parts, which is ironic given the title. The moving parts mesh well enough to carry the story forward, and the way the plot lines are staged suggests they’ll reconnect in a satisfying way soon enough. To round things out, there’s some solid horror spectacle, some well-staged skulking, and a nice splash of political intrigue. The stakes are rising for everyone, but the survivors we’ve been following for 11 seasons know how to deal with it. Carol, Aaron (Ross Marquand), and Maggie are professionals in comparison to Hornsby, Milton, and the others (Lauren Cohan).