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Blu-ray Review: 'The Walking Dead: Season Four'

Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and some of his fellow survivors in "The Walking Dead"
Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and some of his fellow survivors in "The Walking Dead"
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The Show:

The Walking Dead” is a show that has had a tough time finding firm ground to stand on. It’s very brief first season was a good start, though there were several obvious improvements that needed to be made, mainly in the area of character development. In season two, they tried a little harder, though the show’s elements were still not being utilized to their full potential. Season three upped the ante by adding a lot more conflict and danger for the characters, thus helping the audience get drawn into their predicament while the writers still struggled with developing the characters further. Many things were done right in this season, but once more, there was room for improvement.

Now we come to season four, where we find the survivors adjusting to life in their prison home, while the world of the living dead still rages on outside. Rick (Andrew Lincoln), has stepped down from his leader role to concentrate on less violent matters, focusing his attention mainly on farming. However, this newfound peace of mind doesn’t last long when an infection starts to spread through the prison, creating a major danger within as some of the survivors die and become walkers. In response, it’s decided that a quarantine must be put into effect while some of the group goes in search of medicine. Meanwhile, we discover that The Governor (David Morrisey) is out and about, trying to survive after the destruction of Woodbury. It’s not long before he becomes involved with another group and slowly starts to take over, a situation that will eventually force a confrontation between them and the survivors at the prison.

Season four, much like season three, is a mixed bag. However, unlike the previous season, there is a distinct line here where the quality begins to decline. The first half of the show is above average. In fact, I believe you could go so far as to say that it may be the best that the show has had to offer thus far. These eight episodes do a great job of exploring the characters as they try to adjust to their lives in the prison. In particular, it delves into Rick’s character very well as he tries to decide what kind of man he wants to be, and what kind of man he wants his son Carl (Chandler Riggs) to become.

On top of this, the conflict with The Governor is slowly built up until it comes to a head in the excellent mid-season finale (“Too Far Gone”), where all hell breaks loose. This is an episode that was made purely for those who felt that there wasn’t enough action in the show, but that’s not the only reason that it succeeds so well. It has tension, drama, and quite literally leaves you on the edge of your seat in anticipation of how everything will go down, especially with The Governor parking a tank at the prison’s gate. The result of this confrontation has our group scattered apart, split into several different groups as they flee the prison. This also marks a major change in the show’s trajectory, as well as the unfortunate change in quality mentioned earlier.

Whereas with the first eight episodes, we were able to concentrate on just about everyone in every episode, the latter eight shake things up by concentrating on just a few at a time. This was a rather unfortunate move on the part of the showrunners because whether they’ve realized it or not, not all of these characters are engaging. In fact, some of them are just downright boring. That’s not to say that this second half is a complete disaster. One of the very best episodes, not just of this half, but of the entire season, is “After,” which has Rick falling ill, leaving us to follow around Carl for most of the episode as he struggles with trying to do things without his dad around. This wonderful episode really gets down to exploring his character, letting him share his thoughts and feelings about what’s been going on, and just goes to show how great this show can be when character development takes center stage.

Another episode that stands out as being better than most others is “The Grove,” which has Carol (Melissa McBride), Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman), Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino), and Mika (Kyla Kenedy) arriving at an abandoned house. It is here where Carol and Tyreese slowly realize that Lizzie is not all there and that she presents a very real danger not only to their small group, but also to the rest of the survivors, causing them to question what to do about her as they rest on their journey to the supposed-sanctuary of Terminus. It’s an intriguing and shocking episode that delves into some very tough decisions, leaving us with one of the more memorable stories of this half of the season.

On the flip side, we get episodes that feel like nothing but filler, with the main one that comes to mind being “Still,” a completely pointless episode featuring Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Beth (Emily Kinney). Instead of using this episode to expand upon their characters, it ends up becoming a throwaway episode that doesn’t accomplish much of anything. It’s quite possible that they just decided not to try very hard for that week due to it being on at the same time as the Oscars, but surely they could have come up with something a little better than this.

When you arrive at the season finale (“A”), it is with the hope that we will be thrilled with as much suspense as we had received back in “Too Far Gone,” and it does succeed in part, but only in about the last ten minutes or so of the episode when our main characters arrive at Terminus. Granted, they’re probably saving most of the good stuff for the season premiere in just a couple of months, but it still would have been nice to see them do a little more with this episode, especially with the part leading up to the arrival.

What we end up with is a season that has its ups and downs, but luckily, when you look at the season as a whole, more than half of it is pretty good. If they had come up with a better structure for the second half of the season, or if they had tried to do more episodes like “After,” then things would have turned out much better. Trying to concentrate on the less-important/duller characters for an entire episode really doesn’t help when you’re trying to engage the audience. A much better plan would have been to try and incorporate their stories with the main characters so that we still get filled in on what they’re up to, but at the same time helping us to avoid spending 40 minutes on those we don’t really care that much about.

“The Walking Dead” has shown some vast improvements here and there, but it still falls short of what it could be at the top of its game. With a few more tweaks, this could be the suspenseful, character-driven show that it longs to be. Until then, we’ll just have to settle for a mostly-good show with a few good characters and a lot of potential.

Video/Audio:

“The Walking Dead: Season Four” comes to Blu-ray in a 1.78:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. This is a very dark show, featuring a very dreary production design, but the picture remains perfectly sharp throughout all 16 episodes, even for scenes that take place in the pitch black of night. The 7.1 Dolby TrueHD audio is on the soft side, just like it was when the episodes originally aired on AMC, but, as usual, a slight volume adjustment solves the problem. Afterward, you are treated to a flawless audio track that presents all elements in top-notch quality. Overall, the show has been given amazing treatment that could hardly have been better.

Special Features:

  • Inside The Walking Dead
  • The Making of The Walking Dead
  • Drawing Inspiration
  • Hershel
  • The Governor is Back
  • Society, Science & Survival
  • Inside KNB EFX
  • A Journey Back to Brutality
  • Audio Commentaries on Episodes 1, 5, 9, 12, and 14
  • Extended Episodes (9, 14, and 16)
  • Deleted Scenes

What we have here are a ton of great extras, comprised mostly of behind the scenes “mini featurettes” that explore each episode of the fourth season. “Inside the Walking Dead” mainly focuses on the characters and how they change throughout the season, while “The Making of The Walking Dead” mainly focuses on the technical side of things, with both featuring interviews with the cast and crew. Other featurettes include interesting examinations of Rick, The Governor, and Hershel, as well as a look at the special effects. Along with some intriguing commentaries and lots of extra scenes, there are several hours of in-depth material here to go through, which I highly recommend you do.

Conclusion:

While the fourth season of “The Walking Dead” once more has me on the fence with the show, I find this season easier to recommend than others for the improvements that were made, particularly in the above average first half. The second half certainly had a lot of room for improvement, but even among the bad episodes, there were a couple that rose up to great heights. When you factor in the outstanding array of special features, “The Walking Dead: Season Four” makes for a more than worthy addition to your Blu-ray shelf. The show still has a little ways to go to get to where it should be in regards to overall quality, but as usual, we can only hope that we’ll continue to see even further improvements. Season four had some great starting points, now they just need to capitalize on them.

Score: 3.5/5

Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.

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