What we see in “What Lies Ahead” is a group of people trying to prove someone wrong. At the end of the first season they were told by Doctor Jennings from the CDC that there is nothing in the world, and there is simply no hope. Which is why he attempted to commit suicide with the group aboard.
But the end of the episode showed that they were all willing to fight for their lives because there was hope. Hope had to mean something to him and to them. What we witness in “What Lies Ahead” is a group on the raggedy edge where they’re now laying witness to the wasteland where all hope is lost.
But damned if they’re willing to admit to one another and to themselves that they were perhaps better off dying in a ball of flames at the CDC. What Rick’s dilemma ultimately is in this episode is a man searching for a miracle. Every single character has run out of options and every character is now figuring out how to get ahead in this new world without being submitted to a painful horrific death by the tooth and nail of the walking dead that creep and crawl in every crevice and every shadow of the planet. While the producers have stated the series will focus more and more on Rick, we get a glimpse at the man’s conflict with his decision to stay alive and how the merciful decision may have been suicide after all. His discussion with a Jesus Christ statue shows he’s in need of some verification that their choice was a wise one and perhaps they’ll get their wishes.
All the while we see the individual characters uncoil throughout the premiere as Shane Walsh is forced to witness his secret affair with Lori be reduced to an irrelevant issue as his feelings for her are dismissed in favor of Rick, while Dale is given more of a charge where he feels he must protect the now suicidal Andrea who chose death initially. Now with staring death in the face, they all have to decide where their future lies in this wasteland and how they can separate without spelling doom for the others. Which is what will ultimately be their doom as seeking independence will mean a painful death, in the end. The production is still as amazing as ever with the episode primarily centered on the group’s traveling in to a main road that leaves them stranded before a blockade of abandoned and deserted cars that could very well be littered with the walking dead or maybe the hope they require.
The episode draws out the tension wonderfully as the source for their one break where they’re able to find water, gas, and supplies comes to an end once they’re confronted with a creeping massive herd of walkers who litter the highways forcing the group to hide under cars waiting for the tides to clear. One of the major surprises of the premiere is the fate of T-Dog as he’s confronted with Daryl Dixon who manages to save his life in the process of hiding from the dead, an issue I hope the writers confront. T-Dog is of course the primary reason for Daryl’s brother being stranded on a roof in the middle of the city, so it’s a shocker to see Daryl go to such lengths to defend and save him.
One of the real highlights of the episode of the blossoming character of Daryl Dixon. Not originally featured in the comics, he’s an individual who has managed to come in to his own as an essential part of this band of survivors and Norman Reedus has this character in his grasp portraying him as an anti-hero who hold contempt for these people, but is never afraid to step up and help when someone needs it. “What Lies Ahead” is equal in quality with “Days Gone Bye” is an unrelenting premiere that ends on a cliffhanger that many will not see coming and really puts Rick’s plea for a miracle to the test. I anxiously await the developments for season two of “The Walking Dead.”