The Walking Dead, Season 4.1 Review
After a beyond sub-par season 3 finale, The Walking Dead had it’s work cut out for it for season 4. After teasing a gigantic confrontation with the Governor that lead nowhere, the only highlight of the season was the death of Andrea, the character who was the most ruined by the TV show adaptation machine.
Thankfully, with the start of season four, it seems like the producers heard the outcry from fans over the botched battle with the Governor and Rick’s team and started to course correct. New showrunner Scott Gimple, a fan of the comic series, has gone on record saying that he’d like to the events of the show to fall more in line with the comics than in previous seasons, and after the mid season finale, I’d say he’s succeeded.
By and large, the first half of the fourth season greatly improves on the uneven third season of AMC’s continual money-maker. Having Rick and company deal with a sudden mysterious flu outbreak was a good change of pace from the continual zombie attacks. While it did stretch the limits of believability, in a show where there are dead corpses wandering around I let it slide. No, we never found out the source of the disease, but I didn’t mind. In my eyes it placed us on the same level as Rick and Hershel, who have no idea how the disease started, but need to help the people affected by it regardless.
The flu outbreak was stretched a bit too far, but it did finally give us Tyrese’ hammer moment from the comics (changed of course), and a few great tense moments in Cell Block D when the infected started to come back to life. In many ways, you could use the Flu storyline as a prime example of The Walking Dead’s basic narrative to someone who’s never seen the show: there’s a lot of set up (almost too much), but more often than not the action that follows that setup is fantastic.
There’s was also some pretty great character work in season 4.1, the standout being Carol, who went from being my least favorite character to an awesome badass over the course of her time on the show. From teaching the children in the prison how to use knives and dispose of walkers, to burning Tyrese’s girlfriend in hopes of stopping the flu from spreading, Carol quickly became a strong character whose leadership abilities conflicted (and some might say surpassed) Rick’s. Speaking of former Sheriff Grimes, Rick’s transition from peaceful gardener back to wounded leader was handled very well, and didn’t take nearly as long as I was worried it would.
Of course, all that credit rightfully goes to Andrew Lincoln, the most underrated TV actor of the current generation. We all know how spectacular Jon Hamm and Bryan Cranston are in their respective AMC series, and Lincoln easily stands alongside them. However you feel about the creative choices the different showrunners have made with The Walking Dead, you can’t deny the fact that Andrew Lincoln gives his all when it comes to portraying the strong yet damaged Rick Grimes.
Lincoln wasn’t the only standout from this season. Melissa McBride, as the aforementioned Carol, really came into her own this season. “Internment”, the episode where Rick makes the decision to kick Carol out of the group, was extremely well done, and one of the standout episodes of the season. Chad Coleman did his best with Tyrese’s whininess, and Norman Reedus’ Daryl continues to be the badass that we all want to be in a zombie apocalypse.
However, the real standouts to me this season were two polar opposites: Scott Wilson’s Hershel and David Morrissey’s The Governor. Both actors really shined this season, and the latter was even given two full episodes to document the fallout of his actions (much to the chagrin of social media). Wilson’s take on Hershel, who now acts as the last voice of reason in an unreasonable world, was full of heart and humanity, which probably comes from the fact that Wilson was told of his character’s fate months beforehand. His quiet moments with Rick, his struggle to keep the sick and dying alive while left alone at the prison, and his final moments will stand as some of the best moments of the season
David Morrissey’s return in “Live Bait”, the most controversial episode of the series so far, was actually my favorite episode of the season. While many were upset with the choice to devote an entire episode to The Governor, and I found it to be a great character study on a man who once had everything and has to try and rebuild himself as a new person. The episode asked a great question, which was repeated in later episodes: “can someone truly change?” After everything The Governor did, could he turn a new leaf? Could he move on from his past life with the group of survivors that he met?
Of course, he couldn’t, and dragging The Governor plotline over two episodes seemed a bit much, but they still stand out to me as the highlights of the season. Maybe it’s because of Morrissey’s performance, or the fact that it got us to the ending that we should have gotten last season, but I really liked taking a quieter, more character driven approach to the show. If The Walking Dead is going to last as long as AMC hopes it will, then it needs to start taking some creative risks, and “Live Bait” and “Dead Weight” were just the kinds of risks it needed.