"I don't want to be afraid of being alive."
After three seasons of simplified terror and drama, one might wonder how a series full to the brim with suffering, survival, and human spirits being pushed to their breaking points, still holds so much significant momentum. Bluntly, AMC’s zombie drama is such a success because of the human element of fear. The Walking Dead is in its fourth season and as ratings and reviews indicate it shows no signs of slowing down, even after switching out showrunners and multiple character deaths. We lost three vital main characters last season. The fourth season begins with all kinds of hellish scenarios being thrown at the remaining survivors, getting back into the new colony that Rick and his original survivors have taken in. All characters, new and old, continue to plummet into darkness because the light of humanity is diminishing with a tragic quickness. The rotting stink of death is permanent in this world, no matter how much the survivors try to hold onto simplicity. What happens when one’s safe haven becomes the birth place of walking death and tragedy? The sanctuary Rick previously found reassurance and a new, shaky confidence in as a leader is now tainted. In “30 Days Without an Accident” and “Infected” we get acquainted with the newest high stakes and the depressing normality that is surrounding death. Plot-wise and thematically-wise, the fourth season is already off to a harrowing start…
Right off the bat, we drop in on what has become normal day-to-day life at Rick’s prison colony. However, Rick’s confidence in being leader is shaken, very noticeably and it’s safe to say that his worry is connected to Carl. He doesn’t want his impressionable son to turn into someone lacking humanity. It’s a valid concern, but maybe Rick is underestimating Carl’s understanding of the world around him. Carl is in a world where he is forced to grow up fast and especially after the death of his mother, he seems to have a more leveled understanding of what he has to do in certain scenarios in this world than the previous world Rick and the other adults have grew up in and became products of. But this is Carl’s world now--his design. In the premiere, Rick won’t even carry his gun out anymore. God knows that parenting in a apocalyptic zombie world has got to be a whole other field of fustercluck and it translates in this situation. It seems to be a theme and a struggle that the survivors will deal with this season. There is a considerable amount of children in the prison colony and we do get various glimpses at how the adults are attempting to handle children growing up in this world. It makes one consider how the young ones will end up in whatever semblance of society there is left when they become adults. Will there be pieces of their humanity missing or will their guardians be able to educate them well enough? It’s the main concern eating at Rick in the first two installments of the season. But there’s no time for worry, when there are sacrifices to be made.
The character dynamics we have all become accustomed to watching develop are mostly still the same. Hershel is still the old guy handing out wisdom to everyone. Glenn and Maggie are still playing Russian roulette by being a young couple in a world unfit for something as precious as romantic relationships. Daryl is still the loveable badass and Carol is still quite smitten with him. Rick is still the conflicted leader. However, there are some new slight changes, some of which are more interesting than others. Michonne is more smiley than ever. Am I wrong to still be shipping Rick and Michonne? Carl shows more capability as a future leader. And the most intriguing of changes comes when we discover that Carol’s story time is actually a cover up; she’s been teaching the children how to use weapons--how to kill if need be. It’s quite smart of Carol to take the in-secret responsibility of passing down these necessary survival skills. One thing Rick and some others are unable to see that Carol understands is just because they perceive the children as innocents doesn’t mean the outside world around them does too. The others still want innocence to exist in a world of tainted flesh. Still holding onto simplicities. And they’re doing a disservice to the children by keeping them hide away from the reality--putting limits on their survival. Carl ends up ratting on Carol’s teachings to Rick and as we come to see, Rick is forced to alter his perception no matter how difficult it is. Humanity seems fleeting…and it is, unfortunately.
We do meet a handful of new characters as well. Most of which perish by the end of the second episode, some of which have a bad start. Bob Stookey (Lawrence Gillard Jr.) is described as somewhat of a loner who seems to carry a haunted past both pre and post-zombie apocalypse. The guy seems charming and confident, but he’s a bit neurotic and an alcoholic. One would be sure to keep an eye on him. There’s also Zach who is apparently Beth’s boyfriend, but he perishes in a tense zombie standoff when the group goes on a item run. You’d expect Beth to breakdown because of it, but she doesn’t cry over loss anymore. Are some of the survivors losing human empathy, and is that such a bad thing now? Michonne is forced to face her own emotions in the second episode when she is incapacitated after a tussle with walkers and sits with Beth and baby Judith. The reminder that there is a baby in this setting is a tragedy in itself, but adding Michonne’s soft-spot for children to the mix is distressing. The mystery that is Michonne continues to unravel very slowly, very steadily. And very emotionally. Her hardened exterior is a necessary defense against the raw emotion that the audience witnesses when she is faced with a baby; the ultimate image of innocence still yet to be tainted by the rotting loss of humanity. Given the realization that Judith will inevitably one day grow up in this world, that pain is exacerbated. Still there is no concrete telling of what exactly makes Michonne breakdown when she holds Judith for the first time. It’s likely something more painful, more disturbing and soul-crushing. For me, it is a highlight of the first two episodes.
Much of “Infected” does hinge on the dangers and loss one sets themselves up for when entering a romantic relationship in this world. We’ve had Glenn and Maggie carry that storyline for a while now (and it continues with a possible pregnancy scare). But that story base expands here as Tyresse falls for a fellow survivor, Karen (Melissa Ponzio) and she too ends up dead, mysteriously. It’s necessary to not that suspicions have been raised since the discovery of this new disease that is spreading like wildfire. Two episodes in and they’re dwindling rather quickly. Ugly, but necessary sacrifices are made in order to prolong the prison colony’s longevity. Rick leaving his pigs to be eaten by walkers could be seen as foreshadowing of some sort. Surely more ugly--uglier sacrifices will need to be made in the near future. And still, inside forces are causing more issues that the outside ones. Rick gets warning of not being able to come back from the horrible things one has to do in order to survive in the premiere when he meets an unstable woman in the forest, Clara who ends up killing herself in front of Rick. Our protagonist is near this breaking point. He’s sweating and everyone around him can see it, especially Carl. But Rick is not weak, he’s just messed up. How could one not be in this world? If Rick is terribly shaken by the sacrifice he has to make concerning the pigs, then he might find himself in the same head space as Clara sooner than later.
The first two hours of The Walking Dead in its fourth season breathes new air into the series. No word of the Governor, which is great because we all know the monster is still out there somewhere. But clearly there is a new enemy to combat, one that surpasses the use of guns and knives. The season thus far holds a fantastic momentum, tragically poetic themes & symbolism, and does well to experiment with character dynamics as it presents a new monster the survivors will have to tussle with in order to survive. Add the loss of humanity and sacrifice onto that list and we have a suspenseful, spectacular season set-up. “30 Days Without an Accident” and “Infected” get 5 out of 5 stars!
Don’t forget to subscribe and leave a comment!
© Patrick Broadnax 2013