Piers McCarthy reviews the first episode of The Walking Dead season 4…
“Previously on AMC’s Breaki—” Hold on a minute, that brief sound clip will never again be heard on live television. AMC has said goodbye to the Vince Gilligan masterpiece but still retains the likes of Mad Men and The Walking Dead. Whereas Mad Men has a more niche audience, The Walking Dead grows ever-popular, with a group of geeks in adoration of their favourite characters (we’re looking at you, Daryl). With that in mind, The Walking Dead’s fourth season started with a 16.11 million viewership, the highest it’s ever had. It will never see the same hype as something like Breaking Bad, though its continual effort to be seen than something more than just “that zombie TV show” is very commendable. Season 4 begins in a far less exciting manner than the third season’s opening, yet is still able to have us completely transfixed.
Major spoilers to follow…
AMC’s catalogue of soundtracks eclipses most other networks. Thomas Golubic, “30 Days Without an Accident’s” music supervision begins the episode, with a little ditty: “Precious Moments” by The Stanley Brothers. The irony is palpable – as Rick takes out the headphone buds, the sound shifts to that of growling, scratching Walkers – that memories in The Walking Dead’s world are mostly cutting as reality becomes filled with the undead. Golubic had also worked on Breaking Bad and Six Feet Under (to name just two), a great crew member, able to make a scene work on music worth alone. It sets up the workaday nature of the new colony, with that eerie quality that no matter how cheery you can try to be, death still surrounds everything.
Apart from the brief musical epilogue, season 4 starts with a harrowing image of an eyeless zombie “watching” Rick. Bleeding eyes and absent pupils, it sends a jolt through you; the work of the show’s master make-up team. Foreboding and distressing for relatively unknown reasons (as the show’s audience has grown used to the macabre), it is a moment than seems very definitive – an omen of what to come.
So in the six/seven months since we left off apparently a fair few things have happened. These mostly relate to relationships forming and duties assigned. Tyreese is with a beautiful woman named Karen, Beth is with a muscular newcomer called Zack, and Carol and Daryl may or may not be a couple. In addition, Everybody Hates Chris’ Vincent Martella shows up as Patrick, who will become the final moment’s most integral part. Lastly, established characters get given some development, such as Bob (The Wire’s Lawrence Gilliard Jr.), Michonne (returning from unsucessfully hunting “him” – the Governor), and Daryl (as much of a celebrity within the show as he is outside of it).
In terms of hunting, there are no suspecting villains ready to find and kill (though you can bet the Governor will return) so it’s only food needing the group’s time and effort. Hershel and Rick head out into the forest for game and vegetation whilst Daryl, Tyreese, Zack, Bob, Glen and Michonne go looting a supermarket. As Hershel leaves Rick, our protagonist stumbles on a starving, filthy survivor out in the woods. Greyed and skinny, she reeks of desperation and pity. Rick, helpful as ever, offers her food and a chance to bring her back to the prison.
Rick’s stint with the stinky Irish woman is a slightly confusing part of the episode – Clara takes him to her camp (for an interview situation, where Rick will determine whether Clara and her husband are safe for his sanctuary) where he finds her talking to a head under a blanket. Not easily distinguishable under that cloth, the decapitated husband is a mere mystery until a brief shot at the end of the scene. Her reasoning and emotions are somewhat baffling – her will to survive until meeting Rick and then offing herself. Rick stands there upset and perplexed by her motivations, finally asking her the interview questions that have only slight bearing on the poignancy of the programme. Her story would have been quite interesting to have learnt about – an exile of her homeland, carrying the head of her husband around, surviving on barely anything – but she’s dropped after such little screen time. Fans of the show should know this to be realistic and in-keeping with Kirkman’s universe, but on occasions there are missteps – Clara being one of them.
Meanwhile, Daryl and company head to the store. Starting off fairly lacklustre, the camera pans up from the door they entered in to the roof – packed with zombies and a crashed helicopter. It’s nothing jaw-dropping, nor is it when Bob makes a ruckus toppling a shelf full of alcohol (a great piece of storytelling where we realise Bob’s an alcoholic, faced with a haul of free wine). However, the damp, sunken tarp, holding the weight of 20 or so bodies and a helicopter means the undead fall through into the shop. Bob’s liquid temptresses become a danger not only to himself but those around him – an implicit part of the episode’s drama and action.
As the hoard drop from the ceilings the scene suddenly goes from tedious to tense. The effects and stunt work usually have their shining moment at some point in an episode and this is it. Just before the break, one zombie falls to the camera (a skewed POV shot of Bob’s), growling as he heads into focus. Put simply: it looks fucking cool.
Effects work are similarly superb, with purely gross moments of gore. Skin ripping away, heads being pealed apart and explosions of impact on the decrepit bodies are each scarily real. It adds to the electricity of the moment, where everything seems too messy.
Daryl and Glen – two key players in the cast – have their moments of peril, worrying for a show that is known for killing off anybody. Fortunately they survive, something that cannot be said for Zack. As the helicopter looms over the crumbling roof, there is no time to save him and the only saving grace from it all is the helicopter would instantly smush him.
“30 Days Without an Accident” gets its name from Beth’s reaction to Zack’s death. Not “crying anymore” – changing her X amount of “days without an accident” sign back to zero. Her maturity in accepting his death follows the tone of the developing show – now news such as Maggie not being pregnant, Tyreese fearful of walkers in most situations and Rick’s constant fear of losing people is dealt with more philosophically.
The Walking Dead can be the best thing on TV, and merely average other times. Season four shows plenty of promise, without being a game-changer. It’s the final shot – the cliff-hanger – that means business. Patrick, coughing and sweaty, stumbles to the bathroom where upon he drops dead. Closing his bleeding eyes (like that of the eyeless zombie outside), he lies there deceased. Until, of course, those eyelids open once again, revealing the smoky glaze of his lifeless pupils. He’s a walker, inside the sanctuary, probably set to cause some trouble. Episode 2, we’re waiting…
Piers McCarthy – Follow me on Twitter.