ROCKVILLE, Md., October 14, 2013 — Despite the fact that the Government has not yet funded a sense of humor, television, or the changing of the leaves on a Federal level, the 4th season of The Walking Dead premiered last night at 9 p.m. on AMC.
(Spoiler alerts below. You have been warned.)
The series begins its fourth season stanza by returning us to our central characters sometime after the completion of their season-long war with the Governor and his small army. We find them still holed up in the prison compound where we left them, but life seems to have settled down for them sometime during the summer hiatus.
There are dozens of people in the prison now, and they have made steady improvements to their quality of life, even building livestock pens and populating them with horses and pigs. Hershel, the old farmer, is teaching Rick how to live off the land. Yes indeed, we can settle down now because it seems as though things have stabilized at last.
We left Rick last season, reeling and nearly out of his mind with grief and death and loss. He saw visions of his dead wife wherever he went, and there were those who wanted to vote him off the island and put someone else in charge.
Season 4, however, finds Rick capable and alert, yet still understandably shaken. We learn that he’s adopted the habit of going out to the woods to find strays to possibly bring back to the prison. We also learn that up until this point, he has refused to carry his gun, a whopping Colt .44 magnum Python, along with him. After “the council” asked Hershel to speak to him on the subject, Rick is informed he is too important to lose, and they need him to carry his weapon.
Out on his patrol Rick comes across a downed wild pig that seems to be exhibiting symptoms of the same sickness one of his pigs has come down with back at the prison. He also comes across a woman with a foreign accent who lures him back to her camp under the pretenses of meeting her husband. She tells him she’s done awful things, and by the looks of her she seems to have lost her mind.
Well, you know what happens next. She tries to kill him and feed him to her husband whom she keeps in a sack she drags around. Hubby, of course, is a zombie. Then she kills herself, and while dying asks Rick what the three questions were he said he would ask to gain admittance into the prison. The questions were “How many walkers have you killed?” “How many humans have you killed?” “And why?” This unhinges Rick a little bit, throwing him back towards the edge we left him at last season.
Back at the prison, a team prepares to go on a run. They visit an army depot by a department store that had been overrun by walkers. They go into the department store, not realizing that on the roof are dozens of walkers who died in a helicopter crash. While they are in the store, the walkers begin crashing through the ceiling in the most horrifying, terrifying, nightmarish way possible. The group of runners, led by Daryl and Glenn, do their best to fight them off, losing one of their number in the process. He happens to be Beth Greene’s (Hershel Greene’s young, blonde daughter’s) boyfriend.
Which brings us to some of the progressions and changes the new season brings. When Daryl tells Beth that her man was gobbled up, she barely bats an eye. Instead of a normal reaction like crying uncontrollably, she goes over to a workplace accident signs and sets it back to zero. It is a chilling transformation since she was once one of the more loving and caring characters on the show. Now the weight of the world seems to have impaired her ability to make new connections, as she clings to old ones like Daryl and her father.
In fact, the show now seems to be taking on a more “Postman” or “Jericho” quality. The Walkers, though ever-present and always dangerous, seem to be more of a background danger than the primary concern. Granted their presence in overwhelming numbers at the prison gates is a growing concern. But the prison’s reluctant inmates have other things to worry about.
The Governor is still on the loose somewhere, even as Michonne rides out on a horse on long- range missions like some kind of samurai scout to find him. The prison leadership in the meantime has to deal with its ever-growing population, as those who go out on scout missions repeatedly bring back more and more survivors.
However the most interesting new danger comes in the form of another illness. The show hints that Rick believes some new sickness may be brewing that may throw a wrench into their now finely-tuned system as they redefine prison life.
Rick has noticed those two sick pigs, one in the pen and one in the wild. He also noticed a walker at the fence with eyes that seems to have melted away, though he has not connected these threads yet. But the most interesting and terrifying development occurs when one of the new arrivals falls ill, perishing gruesomely in the shower towards the end, to return as a Walker with his eyes looking as if they had cried tears of blood. Make a connection yet?
It is conceivable this season that the group will not only face the threat of Walkers and the Governor, but of a new disease for which they’re not prepared. The show may tantalize viewers with a possible source of this disease, most obviously the known fact that pigs and people share similar traits, which could be the cause of a species jump involving the mysterious organism.
My guess it was something in the water, and it may be some progressive form of the same affliction that turns people into brain eaters. It would be nice if the show addressed the issue of the Walker disease this season, something they haven’t done since Season 2.
But the show has gone far beyond that element at this point, evolving into a true, post-apocalyptic scenario. The primary characters have no real connection with their former lives anymore, they have created the “council” and they are set in their ways, complete with rules and laws and a governing body.
Perhaps this and the following episodes will end up removing whatever peace of mind our overstressed heroes may have developed since Season 3.
If you watched the previews for the upcoming episodes, you know things are likely to get increasingly hairy, and we may not even get a chance to know some of the new faces in town.
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