I'm going to be totally honest here, guys. Going in, I wasn't too jazzed by the thought of The Walking Dead's fourth season. The Season 3 finale was bleh, a critical blow for a series that was had grown too inconsistent. As it progressed, The Walking Dead spent more and more time trying to win a ton of Emmys and get on critics' "best of the year" lists with heavy acting and demonstrative chatter, but it never fulfilled that goal. It wanted to be the best drama on television, but come on, moaning about the same crap over and over again while dramatically sitting on its thumbs did not elevated it to the same level as other dramas on the same channel. The Walking Dead, despite glimpses of greatness, needed a lot of work.
During the off-season, the biggest show on television brought in yet ANOTHER showrunner (new guy Scott Gimple is the third guy to hold the position as the show kicks off Season 4). And when you think about that—especially with regard to the show's absurd success—it's insane. Why would a network repeatedly swap showrunners on a series that was dominating the ratings? I DON'T KNOW! It's crazy! AMC is crazy. It would be shortsighted to believe that anyone other than AMC is steering the ship
here, bringing on new showrunners who will comply with the network's ideas.
Any sign of dissent and it's the ol' heave-ho. Three showrunners in
four seasons? Absolutely nuts.
Now Gimple follows Glen Mazzara, who followed Frank Darabont, as The Walking Dead's big cheese, and once again the series has been injected with a new sense of life. The Season 4 premiere, "30 Days Without an Accident," represented Gimple—who authored the fantastic Season 3 episode "Clear"—shaking his fists and declaring, "This is MY show!" The episode was half character-driven drama and half B-movie frightfest, and to that I say, Hallelujah! If "30 Days Without an Accident" is the blueprint for The Walking Dead moving forward, we're in good shape.
It's been who knows how long since the end of Season 3 (at least 30 days, I guess) and the prison was humming along as the zombie apocalypse's coolest farm-to-table bed-and-breakfast with free communal continental brunch. And it's loaded with all sorts of new characters that we don't care about who will be eaten by zombies much to our delight. Amen! There's Patrick, the hipster fashion disaster and Harry Potter: The Musical reject. There's a bunch of very annoying kids, aka human veal for zombies, that I can't wait to see ripped to shreds by their undead aunts. And who knows how many other no-name Woodbury rejects will be the stars of animated GIFs once this season is over! If Rick's weird decision to let in a bunch of strangers to the prison after being so discriminating before was just the writers' way of restocking the buffet, then great! I approve.
Having all these people around also seemed to make Rick's group happier, because it was all smiles and jokes and Daryl worship on the prison grounds. Hershel was making farmer cracks with Rick, Michonne was smiling (smiling!), and Carol continued to sexually harass Daryl with saucy talk. And for a rare moment, The Walking Dead felt like it had actual characters instead of bobbleheads spouting talking points or arguing about trust. Characterization was The Walking Dead's greatest deficiency heading into Season 4, but "30 Days Without an Accident" had plenty of it. So much, in fact, that it was like meeting many of these characters for the first time. For example, did you know that Beth could talk? It's true! For once, no zombies were on screen and The Walking Dead was still interesting to watch. I had hoped that Gimble would make giving characters depth a priority, and he did. But I'm not going to get too excited about it until I see it's sustained over a few episodes. Next week, Rick and Hershel could argue about carrots, and we'd be back to the old The Walking Dead.
The improvements didn't stop there, because we got one bonkers zombie attack when a scout team went shopping and ended up in a really fun zombie B-movie. We're three seasons in, so The Walking Dead has to figure out new ways to spring undead attackers on the survivors, and what transpired inside that department store was so great, so awesome, and so ridiculous that I couldn't help but be giddy with laughter. After new character Bob somehow made a shelf of liquor collapse on him trapping his leg (what a klutz), a bunch of walkers on the roof of the building heard the ruckus and for some reason started walking towards the middle of the roof. I don't know why, but I didn't much care for the reason once they started dropping through the ceiling on top of the survivors. Was the roof weakened by excess rain because the downed chopper on the roof clogged the drainage system? Did the chopper weaken the roof enough to make it all flimsy? Are these zombies really heavy? Who cares! They started falling down on Glen and Daryl and Tyreese and that's all that mattered. It wasn't particularly scary, but it was all kinds of rad. Hopefully The Walking Dead embraces this kind of insanity moving forward, because walking into a building and getting surprised by zombies just hanging around has passed its expiration date.
As zombies fell from the heavens like overripe fruit, everyone was unleashing fury on them with swords and guns. Even gravity got in on the slaughter, exploding some of the softer zombies on the ground in wonderful splashes of gore. This was great stuff, with the effects team pulling out all the tricks with skin peeling, skulls popping, and heads Beth's boyfriend made the fatal mistake of trying to help a brother out and got his calf and then his neck and then his face chomped on by a zombie. Just goes to show you, never stop to help anyone out during a zombie apocalypse. Save yourself! I am apologizing in advance if you and I get stuck in a zombie attack together. I'll be the one running away and throwing raw meat in your direction.
Rick went on his own little adventure as he searched some snares he left in the woods. For whatever reason, Rick went on this journey by himself and was only going to bring a knife. We usually expect Rick to be the smart one, but this was stupid. If these zombies only ate brains, they wouldn't get much of a meal out of Rick on this day. But no zombies attacked, and instead Rick ran into a dirty Irish woman who begged Rick to take her and her husband into their camp. Everyone but Rick knew it was some sort of trap, and when the two arrived back at her camp, her so-called husband was just a lump that was moving in a burlap sack and she attacked Rick with a knife. Lady, you crazy! And then the lady stabbed herself in the stomach because she wanted to be with her precious husband. Like I said, CRAZY. I'm not sure what the point of this plot was except to show that the stress of a zombie attack can make you stupid and that if you ever have a connecting flight through Atlanta, you better bring a lot to eat.
At Comic-Con, Gimple teased that Season 4 would introduce a new threat, and if the zombie with the bleeding eyeballs wasn't a big enough hint, poor Patrick made it obvious. The nerd fell under the weather halfway through the episode, and by the end of the episode he keeled over in the showers and died then undied as a zombie! Was it a particularly nasty cold that killed him? Or is the zombie virus, which has infected everyone, mutating? Or did God intervene and decide it was Patrick's time? Whichever it was, it means that everyone has a new problem on their hands. A problem they can't see that can strike at any time. Given that The Walking Dead has operated on very visible and obvious threats, adding some killer virus changes the series a lot. I guess I like it? We'll see how it's handled, because this could send the series down a good or bad path.
We talk a lot about new management making its mark on the series a lot with The Walking Dead, but this time we really mean it. Gimple's debut as showrunner was a good one, and he addressed some of the series' biggest problems while polishing up what made it good, finding a balance between competent drama and sprucing up requisite zombie attacks. I'm just sorry Patrick couldn't be around to see it continue. R.I.P., you dork.
– "This isn't charity, you have to have numbers," Rick told that scary Irish lady as he walked around the woods and into her camp BY HIMSELF.
– How stone-cold is Beth? When she found out her boyfriend was dead, she didn't flinch. All she said was, "I don't cry anymore, Daryl. I'm just glad I got to know him, you know?" Guys, I think I have a crush on Beth now.
– Carol's storytime included lessons on how to use sharp objects. That's cool. But why did she ask Carl not to tell Rick? Wouldn't rudimentary survival skills be good for the kids?
– I can't wait for those kids who were naming zombies to die. It's going to be so great!
What'd you think of the Season 4 premiere?