The return of The Walking Dead on Sunday night, for the first of eight episodes that will close out Season 5, did some of the things this show does best, and some of the things it does most annoyingly.
Best first: There was a decent amount of excellent zombie-killing, particularly in the final moments of the hour, when the near-dead Tyreese was fading from consciousness and we saw, from his hazy point of view, a stalwart band of Dead stars blasting and chopping zombie skulls.
The episode also made fine use of some surprise guest stars that took the form of Tyreese's hallucinating visions of such folks as The Governor (David Morrissey), Martin (Chris Coy), and Beth (Emily Kinney).
Now, as for the rest of the hour. The Walking Dead is always weakest when the show does a lot of maundering on about how death and fighting and always moving around and never feeling safe is so painful. Invariably, this sort of conversation, and there was a lot of it this week, is as painful for the viewer as it is for everyone from Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) on down.
The dialogue tends to get purple. (Michonne: "Don't you want one more day with a chance?") The imagery becomes hokey. (That recurring framed painting of a pretty suburban house with drops of blood plopping on it.)
The night's big event, the death of Chad Coleman's Tyreese, was drawn out so that we were forced to see all the demons of doubt that haunted him (thus the cameos of other dead Dead characters), but this didn't add much significant poignance. By now, killing off a Walking Dead character seems merely inevitable, the only surprise being which one gets the heave-ho.
The Walking Dead has never been a show whose strength resides in its ideas or its dialogue. Its entertainment derives from the mindless spectacle of seeing zombies get offed real good. If Sunday night's episode was intended to signal the path the show is now taking, the hundred-mile journey to Washington is going to be a long, gassy ride.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.