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The Walking Dead

The behind-the-scenes tumult and departure of showrunner Frank Darabont certainly isn't evident from the first two episodes, including a 90-minute premiere that niftily reestablishes the premise and characters while containing one sequence that's a modern gem of prolonged suspense.

The behind-the-scenes tumult surrounding “The Walking Dead” and departure of showrunner Frank Darabont certainly isn’t evident from the first two episodes, including a 90-minute premiere that niftily reestablishes the premise and characters while containing one sequence that’s a modern gem of prolonged suspense. As constituted, the series is the strangest of constructs — a post-apocalyptic soap opera, in essence, with enough of an “ick” factor to attract men. Ambling back in plenty of time for Halloween, one suspects the ratings will also provide AMC with an early Christmas present.

It’s easy to forget there were only six episodes of “Dead’s” maiden run, a short order that probably helped immeasurably by not overstaying the show’s welcome. Among those who won’t be sticking around is Darabont, whose script for the opener is credited to the pseudonym “Ardeth Bey,” a.k.a. the Mummy.

Backstage drama notwithstanding, the new batch (and avoiding spoilers amounts to writing with one hand gnawed off by zombies) continues too explore the strained group dynamics, challenge maintaining faith in the face of horror and questions whether the central band can ever find anything approaching peace and security. (Answer: Not as long as we need more episodes, so suck it up, whiners!)

To their credit, the producers adapting the graphic novel have managed to create tension on two distinct fronts: One involves avoiding the ravenous zombies walking the Earth, and the other centers on the fate of Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), who had a dalliance with Rick’s friend and partner, Shane (Jon Bernthal), when she thought her hubby dead.

Those unsettled situations persist, and it’s a good thing, because in truth, “The Walking Dead” meanders for long stretches without much really happening. Yet the constant threat — zombies around every corner, Lori and Shane’s past being exposed — hovers uncomfortably over everything.

Beyond a couple of truly gut-churning moments courtesy of the special-FX wizards, the second season showcases the topnotch cast the producers have assembled, as well as the program’s skill milking terror in broad daylight.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle facing “Walking Dead” is that without a ray of hope — some “Omega Man”-like potential for survival — the series becomes a bleak death march, waiting to see which if any of the regular characters are expendable, or if the casualties will be confined to bit players and guest stars, like the red-shirted crewmen on “Star Trek.”

For now, though, this AMC drama deftly straddles those lines — and, for a show with “Dead” in the title, appears to have a whole lot of life still in it.

The Walking Dead

AMC, Sun. Oct. 16, 10 p.m.

  • Production: Filmed in Georgia by Circle of Confusion, Valhalla Entertainment, Darkwood Prods. and AMC Studios. Executive producers, Frank Darabont, Gale Anne Hurd, Glen Mazzara, David Alpert, Robert Kirkman; co-executive producers, Greg Nicotero, Evan Reilly; producers, Scott Gimple, Denise Huth, Tom Luse; directors, Gwyneth Horder-Payton, Ernest Dickerson; writer, Ardeth Bey; based on the graphic novel series by Kirkman, Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard;
  • Crew: camera, David Boyd; production designer, Greg Melton; Ardeth Bey; editors, Julius Ramsay, Hunter M. Via; music, Bear McCreary; makeup FX, Nicotero, Howard Berger; casting, Sharon Bialy, Sherry Thomas. 90 MIN.
  • Cast: Rick Grimes - Andrew Lincoln<br/>Shane Walsh - Jon Bernthal<br/>Lori Grimes - Sarah Wayne Callies<br/>Andrea - Laurie Holden<br/>Dale - Jeffrey DeMunn<br/>Glenn - Steve Yeun<br/>Carl Grimes - Chandler Riggs<br/>Daryl Dixon - Norman Reedus<br/>T-Dog - Robert "IronE" Singleton<br/>Carol - Melissa McBride<br/>Sophia - Madison Lintz
  • Music By: