Year after year, The Walking Dead (based on the comic books by Robert Kirkman) has delivered the goods on television for AMC. The zombie-apocalypse show continues to be a horrific showcase of terror and action, but it also retains its incredible character depth and human drama in the worst of scenarios which has propelled to one of the most popular shows on cable television. Behind-the-scenes the show went through a revolving door of showrunners, from Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) to Glenn Mazarra (Crash) before resting on Scott Gimple for the start of Season 4.
The beginning of the fourth season makes a significant shift change in pace and tempo from Season 3's (read the DVD review here) confrontational roller coaster with The Governor but it's no less raw or thrilling, picking up a few months after the villain's failed attempt to remove Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the group from the sanctuary of their prison home. Life seems tolerable and a somewhat happy environment after Rick's group begins to work with the survivors of Woodbury to prosper within the walls of the prison that keep the zombie 'walkers' at bay.
But things take a unique and deadly fatal turn, when a lethal flu virus breaks out in the prison and starts dropping inhabitants like flies. What makes this development all the more dangerous is after a stricken person dies from this virus, the zombie virus kicks in and walkers could potentially wreak havoc inside the prison after all. This leads to a number of betrayals and internal threats that the group is not prepared to face.
The show deals with this threat in the opening episodes but then just as the group start to get back on their feet, The Governor returns to their door ready to finish what he started at the season's halfway marker. What follows is a explosion of change as the group is forced to scatter in separate directions and abandon the prison, hoping to find their friends and loved ones on an unknown path to a new location advertised as 'Terminus', a possible new safe-haven.
There are some fans who found The Walking Dead's adjusted tempo a bit of a downer for Season 4, but it's actually quite intelligently thought out and thrilling in unique ways, making an arguable case that it's the most character-driven year of the show yet. While some may prefer to constantly see the horror and gory mayhem the show promises, the show maintains its focus and appeal by timing those moments so that they have incredible impact. For example, a major character falls at the hands of The Governor in the eighth episode and it has long-lasting repercussions on the others in the back-half of the season.
Then there is 'The Grove', the fourteenth episode that became a lightning rod of talk and debate among fans, critics and the general masses long after. The Walking Dead has prided itself as a show that pushes the limits both visually and in content allowed for television, but 'The Grove' represents perhaps the most gut-wrenching, boldest, breathless and shockingly charged episode the show has ever produced and it's almost entirely human-based. The episode has an award-worthy performance by Melissa McBride (who plays Carol) as she deals with an unthinkable situation when caring for two young girls alongside Tyrese and baby Judith. One of the girls; Lizzie, possesses a deranged mental perspective on the walkers, considering them more human and understanding than the people she's with...which makes her more dangerous to their safety than Carol ever realized. The final episode of the season, simply entitled 'A' has its fair share of envelope-pushing as well, especially on the level of violence depicted upon a number of human characters.
The season culminates with sections of the group finally arriving at Terminus, which may not be the safe-haven they were all initially hoping for and potentially puts them in an even greater dire situation than being exposed on the open road, which is to be explored further in the upcoming fifth season, set to bow on October 12, 2014. In the interim, the fourth season is collected in a Blu-ray box set set for release on August 26, 2014 from Anchor Bay Entertainment. Anchor Bay has always treated their Walking Dead season collections with a great sense of care and royalty, with the fourth offering proving to be their absolute best yet (for a review of Season 2 on Blu-ray, read here).
Like previous releases, the high-definition quality of the widescreen picture image (with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1) is very strong, never losing focus on detail, sharpness and contrast. Viewers will notice a certain level of grain and softness applied in some shots, but most of this is aesthetically intentional to match the grimy tone of the content. Season 4 also contains a dynamite Dolby Digital TrueHD 7.1 sound track that is exceptionally balanced, clear and powerful when called for. And if you want a plethora of bonus features then you've picked the right box set.
The first thing to note is that three specific episodes (including 'The Grove') have been extended by a few minutes of additional scenes, mostly unimportant on plot points but great for further character beats within the context of the episode. The box set advertises five episode audio commentaries over the span of the five discs, but once you are under way with the episodes you will by excited to discover that there is more than that! The pivotal game-changing episode eight contains one as well! Of course, the one attached to 'The Grove' is a must-listen with producer/showrunner Scott Gimple (who wrote the episode) and star Andrew Lincoln (who does not appear once on-screen, but chimes in with his reaction over the content).
'Inside The Walking Dead' provides a featurette for every episode of the entire season with cast and creators providing their thoughts to the events and the characters in each, but also giving a whole season perspective thread that runs throughout. Very solid feature for a fan. 'The Making of The Walking Dead' is similar in nature, but focuses more on the behind-the-scenes development of the show. 'Drawing Inspiration' makes a comics versus show comparison and for fans of the show singularly this could be an issue because it contains some potential spoilers, but luckily the show doesn't mirror the comic books down to the bone.
Two featurettes put the spotlight on two very key characters, one being 'Hershel'; the voice of reason within the group and their greatest villain-to-date in 'The Governor Is Back'. 'A Journey Back To Brutality' also squares on Rick and how his character's arc evolves from the beginning of the season to the end. Fans get some more fun stuff with 'Society, Science & Survival' which highlights online courses you can take to brush up on survival and uses the show as a template, plus 'Inside KNB Studios' which is Greg Nicotero's practical special-effects company that does all the zombie make-up and gory moments. A collection of 'Deleted Scenes' are also an option.
The Walking Dead's Season 4 Blu-ray edition is a gruesome and glorious box set offering for fans and consumers. The season itself is a very intimate, intelligent and effectively written outing for the show, dropping the sheer adrenaline entertainment aspect of Season 3 and getting back into character drama among the thrills. The Blu-ray edition comes with an impressive technical presentation and a solid collection of bonus features for fans. The set does more than enough to satiate your appetite before Season 5 makes its presence felt later in the year.