Andrea (Laurie Holden), Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), Shane Walsh (Jon...

Andrea (Laurie Holden), Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal), Carol (Melissa Suzanne McBride), Lori Grimes (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) in "The Walking Dead." Credit: AMC /Gene Page

THE SHOW "The Walking Dead," AMC, Sunday at 9 p.m.

REASON TO WATCH The walkers walk and the living run, as the second season begins.

CATCHING UP The survivalists, led by Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), had ended up at the Centers for Disease Control headquarters, where a somewhat barmy scientist offered no hope of a cure for the zombie epidemic. Worse, he told everyone the building they were in was going to self-destruct. They escaped with a minute or so to spare.

WHAT SUNDAY'S ABOUT The deep greens of summer have settled over the Georgia woods, while billowy white clouds float lazily across a cornflower-blue sky. Also: Small armies of fetid, reeking "walkers" with fly-infested sucking wounds are shuffling along in search of live human flesh, while the few remaining bands of living humans have no intention of offering themselves up as lunch. Grimes' shrinking group now includes wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), son Carl (Chandler Riggs), former cop partner Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal), fix-it man Dale Horvath (Jeffrey DeMunn), Glenn (Steven Yeun), T-Dog (IronE Singleton), Carol (Melissa Suzanne McBride), her daughter, Sophia (Madison Lintz), and reluctant survivor Andrea (Laurie Holden), who wanted to die at the CDC. Together they head off to Fort Benning, 125 miles away, before they are abruptly stopped by a twisted traffic jam of wrecked cars and trucks -- empty save for an occasional rotting corpse.

MY SAY Most everyone who loves this show was stunned when creator and show-runner Frank Darabont was summarily fired over the summer by AMC -- for reasons unknown. But even before that, I had another concern, like how AMC was going to prevent this from turning into a numbingly predictable road flick with a macabre twist. Survivors run from zombies -- that's a given -- but constant running from zombies can be monotonous or, worse, dramatically inert. The six episodes that comprised the first season neatly sidestepped this because Darabont and co-creator Robert Kirkman -- author of the comic book series upon which this is based -- crafted a lavishly blood-soaked splatterfest. Boredom was not an option.

The new season begins on the road but almost instantly pulls off to the side, literally and metaphorically. Something bad happens -- no spoilers here -- and the chasees are forced into becoming chasers, frantically wandering through the dark, soulless woods. Their actions lead to consequences, which lead to cliffhangers. The "walkers" have effectively become background props that are thrust into the foreground opportunistically, when the show needs a short burst of adrenaline, or when you do. "Dead" still feels cinematic, but now also feels more like a TV show.

Darabont's firing is a huge concern, but there's certainly no evidence of his absence in the first couple of episodes, "What Lies Ahead" and the following Sunday's "Bloodletting." That's because he was onboard when these were produced. Of course, the usual suspect was blamed for his termination. According to reports, AMC wanted to save money and Darabont wanted to spend it. If true, too bad: He spent it awfully well.

BOTTOM LINE Six million zombiephiles watched the finale of the first season and those 6 million will not want to miss Sunday's opener, which is excellent and appropriately disgusting. The larger concern is the future.


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