"Guts," the second episode of AMC's new series, "The Walking Dead," picks up just seconds before the ending of the opening chapter. With Rick (Andrew Lincoln) still in the tank, the focus quickly shifts squarely to him in a move indicative of the main difference between the two episodes. While the pilot was slow and chilling, this second installment is fast and intense, providing an improvement on its exceptional predecessor.
Indeed, "Guts" sees Rick make the move from observer to active participant as he meets a group of survivors in the city of Atlanta. These newly introduced characters - Glenn (Steven Yeun), T-Dog (IronE Singleton), Andrea (Laurie Holden), Jacqui (Jeryl Prescott) and Merle (Michael Rooker) - are reminiscent of survivor cells often found in zombie flicks: the wife, the big sister, the delivery boy, and the list goes on. Of these characters, Rooker is a standout; as "Mallrats" fans know, it's always a pleasure watching him yell at people, and the actor throws himself full-on into the character of Merle, bringing him to life with gusto.
Like his comic book counterpart, Glenn brings some much needed humor to the show. Where "Days Gone Bye" is a serious elegy for the world that once was, "Guts" is a quip-filled statement of survival, even as the zombies surround you. Yeun's Glenn is the chief contributor of the funnier elements in the episode as he is able to find a breath to joke about the dead even while running from them - and there are plenty to escape from. Now entrenched in the world of the zombies, the show is happy to provide them in increasing numbers as they try to break into buildings, clog the city streets and, of course, attempt to eat the living.
The quality of writing - this week's script is credited to Frank Darabont - continues to be top notch in terms of pace and tension. While the episode takes moments and concepts from a section of the early run of the comic book, it also exercises the option to introduce new elements, such as the previously mentioned characters of T-Dog, Jacqui and Merle.
But if there is any flaw in "Guts," it is the fact that two episodes in, the characters are still unknowable. Despite becoming a man of action, it remains difficult to get a feel for Rick as a person as he is still just a reactive presence. Granted, the situation the episode focuses on does not allow for a share circle and as the storyline plays out and major characters slot into place, Grimes and those around him will no doubt become more grounded. Indeed, this slow character development is one of the show's braver choices so far. With two of the six episodes for this debut season already finished, the group remains largely inscrutable ciphers. While Laurie Holden's Andrea gets some development and Glenn quickly charms, the rest could easily be eaten and never missed at this point. The momentum of the zombie action keeps things afloat, but the cast lacks anyone to truly care about.
Of course, the show still works overall as more immediate concerns - namely getting limbs gnawed on - take precedent over old feelings and conflicts. Like any new series, its premise must be at the forefront for several episodes before the characters fully reveal themselves to each other, the audience and even the writers. However, while most shows typically get thirteen to twenty-three episodes to work that out, the challenge for "The Walking Dead," with only six for its first season, is to give us that emotional connection, really, by the next episode.
Visually, "Guts" differs a fair amount from the pilot. Where a series tone and grammar is typically more or less set by the pilot, "The Walking Dead" appears to offer the individual directors a certain of autonomy. Directed by Michelle Maxwell MacLaren, this episode feels brighter than executive producer Frank Darabont's opening chapter. While it may reflect a freedom for the individual episode directors to play with the look of the series, it could also signal a shift in the overall thinking of the show, offering a glimpse at what it will tend to feel like when Darabont is not in the director's chair.
Ultimately, "Guts" focuses more narrowly on life in the show's reality. The first episode established the concept of the living dead for viewers who might not be that familiar with the idea, while this one immerses them in some of the more immediate problems walking corpses present. For those familiar with the zombie apocalypse, this episode will likely be more satisfying than the opening installment. For fans of "The Walking Dead" comic series, it will offer a first real taste of how the show plans to expand on its source material.
"Guts," the latest episode of "The Walking Dead," airs Sunday, November 7 at 10PM on AMC