Those shuffling, oozing "walkers" are back on AMC, and that's heartening news for horror junkies looking for a fix this Halloween season.
Last year's debut of 'The Walking Dead' proved the small screen was just the right size for an undead miniseries. Season two, which begins with a 90-minute episode at 9 p.m. EST tonight, confirms those initial six episodes were no aberration. This is seriously good horror, the kind that doesn't require gallons of fake blood to grab our attention.
Not that ‘Dead’ skimps on the gore, mind you. It’s got cinema-level effects to go along with the addictive story lines. The behind-the-scenes squabbling during the production of season two – ‘Dead’ showrunner Frank Darabont left the series abruptly – hasn’t dampened the creativity behind this undead jamboree.
'Season 2' opens with the band of survivors led by deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) leaving Atlanta after the Centers for Disease Control headquarters exploded at the end of the last episode. Now, they're heading for Fort Benning where they hope they'll find something more than an army of zombies hungry for human flesh.
The band's RV breaks down before they can get too far, forcing them to stop in the middle of an abandoned - and vulnerable - roadway. When one of the group gets separated from the pack, the rest are forced to consider how much they can risk to bring their friend back safe and sound.
The episode's signature set piece finds the humans scrambling for cover as a swarm of walkers march around the RV. It's a bravura moment, typical of a series which seems to find new ways to amplify the zombie threat.
Next week's installment strikes an even darker note, as the characters rush to save a friend seriously injured in a freak accident. We meet new survivors while the show's core players emote as if Emmy voters were judging every last tear drop.
Any series focusing on a world overrun by zombies will be grim by default, but the new season forces the characters to exhibit so many shades of despair it's unsure how much more can be plumbed in the remaining 11 installments.
That's a small quibble given the overall excellence on display.
The first six episodes of 'The Walking Dead' didn't get its fingernails dirty with social commentary like some of director George A. Romero's best zombie films, and 'Dead's' second season appears equally blase about partisan sniping. Rummage around the crush of subplots and you'll find subtle commentaries on faith, loyalty and the essential nature of mankind. 'Dead' prioritizes the dramatic elements in play, relegating debates on hidden agendas to Internet forums where minutiae rules the day.
Conservatives might find plenty to embrace about Lincoln's Rick Grimes, a masculine hero who doesn't let his emotions prevent him from frequent bouts of heroism.
Televised horror has an even spottier track record than the big screen. The dawn of AMC's 'Dead' reminds us TV's current creative renaissance extends to this beleaguered genre.