Season premiere review: ‘The Walking Dead’

Senior Television Writer
10.13.13 165 Comments

“The Walking Dead” is back for a fourth season, and I have a review of the premiere coming up just as soon as I guess that you were a homicide cop…

We begin the fourth season of “Walking Dead” with our third showrunner in Scott Gimple, but Gimple follows the lead of predecessor Glen Mazzara in how he launches his first full season at the helm. Season 3 began with a time jump so we could see how much Rick’s group had evolved into the efficient but desperate fighting machine capable of conquering the prison. The new season picks up well after the prison group merged with the Woodbury survivors, and again we’ve seen that our people have gotten better and smarter at surviving in the zombie post-apocalypse – this time in a more peaceful direction. Rick is a farmer now, who has to be urged to strap on his gun even to go just beyond the fences to check the animal traps. There are organized meals, regular patrols and supply runs, and even a storytime for the kids – albeit one where Carol (who’s evolved as much as any character on the show) is offering zombie-fighting lessons when the other grownups aren’t around.

On the one hand, it’s always heartening to see the characters mastering the skills and routines that would be necessary to survive in a world like this. It’s basic stuff that doesn’t need to be the focus of every episode, but it suggests a basic level of competence that makes it easier for us to focus on the interpersonal drama, the action, etc. Though I still don’t understand why Rick would have chosen to move everybody into the prison as opposed to taking over Woodbury – from a story standpoint, anyway; from a production and budget standpoint, it makes perfect sense – “30 Days Without an Accident” did a convincing job of making the prison at this stage feel like a good place to be, and of establishing a very different mood for the group (including smiles and banter) as Rick focuses on his gardens and his pigs while Hershel and the rest of “the council” make the decisions. And anything without the Governor in it – even if Michonne has been out looking for him – is a significant improvement over the back half of season 3.

On the other hand, the show tends to run into trouble when things are too peaceful, as we saw during the Hershel’s farm arc. And though I appreciate the desire to show how the group has expanded by giving us all these new faces, they all – even Larry Gilliard from “The Wire” as former Army medic Bob – have the air of redshirts, there to be picked off one by one, just like Oscar and the other prisoners, while the bulk of the main cast survives. Beth’s attitude towards the newbies – friendly, but not emotionally invested, so she won’t feel bad when some of them inevitably die – could well be how Gimple expects us to feel about them.

The action set piece at the supermarket, with zombies falling through the ceiling, was tense and macabre and weird in a way the show does very well, and though I assumed all along that Rick’s new Irish friend wasn’t telling him the whole truth, the idea of this insanely lonely woman keeping her husband’s zombified head in a sack for companionship illustrated just how important it is that Rick has gathered so many people around him, even if most of them are likely doomed to end up like Zack, or the kid who coughs himself to death in the bathroom, creating a new walker inside the prison walls.

Interesting start to the season, but that’s never been the issue for this show, no matter who’s in charge of it. Will Gimple be able to maintain a level of quality and consistency over a long period? We’ll have to wait and see.

What did everybody else think?

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