AMCs The Walking Dead is the reigning King of TV. If there were any doubts, the season four finale garnered a record 15.7 million viewers…15 million! Much could be said about the success of The Walking Dead in its now four seasons. It is unquestionably the most popular show on television, but some might say that the popularity was in spite of the quality of the show. Up until this season, I would have been among the detractors.
The end of season three was much maligned by both fans of the show and comic aficionados alike. The finale was weak, unsatisfying and left way too many loose ends. Even though there were some great moments during season three the overall feel of the show was that AMC and the show runners were stretching out the content to make the show last longer and rake in the mass amounts of dough that was assuredly filling the coffers. The first half of season four, now under the guidance of show runner Scott Gimple, was a massive clean up that Glen Mazarra (the show runner for season three) left behind. First and foremost was the elimination of all of the Woodbury refugees that moved to the prison after the Governor massacre. How Gimple accomplished this was really a stroke of genius: a disease. A new strain of plague that essentially filled up peoples lungs with blood during severe coughing fits. This would then turn the victims into walkers soon after with a tell tale blood trail around the eyes. Once one Woodbury survivor was infected he managed to infect over half of the remaining runaways and they either died altogether or turned to a shuffler. Well played Gimple…well played.
The next few episodes revolve around some of the other survivors being quarantined due to this superflu including Sasha (Tyreese’s sister) and even Glenn. Things get a little mysterious with a couple of the quarantinees being murdered, burned and dragged outside; the biggest problem with this is that one of the victims just happens to be Tyreese’s main squeeze. This creates a riff between comic fan favorite Tyreese and show mainstay Rick Grimes. This is complicated with the fact that there is someone feeding the walkers at the gates rats. That measly ol’ prison fence just can’t take all that strain and that adds another layer of hecticness to the fire. Mesh that with the fact that Carol admits to murdering Tyrese’s friends to Rick…what will the newly crowned High Sheriff of Gardening do next? Well, he finally grows some stones and unceremoniously gives Carol the boot and tells her that she can’t stay at the prison. If only he could be that much of a leader the entirety of the show.
One of my fav0rite scenes of the year is a nod to the comic nerds out there. One of the all time classic The Walking Dead graphic novel moments is when Tyreese gets trapped in the prison cafeteria with about 100 walkers. He is abandoned to his fate, but manages to obliterate the indoor herd with his trusty hammer. Well, in season four we get to see that badass side of Tyreese finally come out when he and a group of survivors come across a herd while riding to a clinic to look for meds for the infected prison dwellers. Tyreese, still distraught over the murder of his girlfriend, gets left behind in the stranded car. You see the rage build as he exits the vehicle and goes all Hammer Time on some shufflers and comes out unscathed. It was well done and fabulous.
Ever wonder what happened to The Governor? Me either, but Gimple had to clean up some of the mess from season three so we had to find out. The first episode in which The Governor appears is just a waste of television time that could have been spent mowing the lawn, doing taxes, getting a “Brazilian” or…well, anything that I don’t really want to do. However, like I mentioned before, Gimple had little to work with and needed to get this part of the story over with before moving on with his vision of where the show should be. For those who are familiar with the graphic novel version of The Walking Dead, you’ll know that The Governor shows up at the prison, lops off a major characters dome and then storms the prison with a tank and the rest of Woodbury while killing off other major characters; thus proving that no one is safe in the world of The Walking Dead! Well, Mazzara had the chance to end season three in this epic fashion but instead the story was dragged out to cash in on the popularity of The Governor. Thankfully Scott Gimple stayed mostly faithful to the source material and end the mid-season how season three should have: action packed, emotional, suspenseful and with a dead Governor.
After the fall of The Governor and the ransacking of the prison, the gang gets split up into various groups. The fact that everyone is out on the road with no certainty of even when their next meal will be is one of my favorite parts of the show. Staying too long in one location just seems to bog the story down and alleviates the tension and sense of dread that comes along with living in a zombie apocalypse. The second half of season four had none of this and was one of my favorite parts of the series up until this point. Each group had its own compelling story line with some very intense moments including some more shocking character deaths, some very cool character introductions and even the return of Carol…with Tyreese’s group no less! My favorite moment comes when Tyreese, Carol, Judith (whom we are lead to believe was killed during the prison raid…thanks non-premium TV!), Lizzie and Mika and deciding to make some roots at a cottage in a grove of trees on their way to the apparent safe haven, Terminus. I won’t spoil won’t happens, but it’s essentially what made the original season so intriguing: uncertainty. I sincerely hope that this trend continues and keeps the audience on the edge of our seats for several more seasons to come!
We all love Darryl, right? Some more than others, but there is a certain appeal to the way Norman Reedus has portrayed this character. Fans of the comics balked at this additional character at first, but Darryl’s sense of loyalty to the group and to Rick in particular caused a fan fervor and even created a shirt that says “If Darryl dies, we riot!”. One of the major reasons Darryl is so popular is obvious but gets overlooked a lot: Norman Reedus can act. Sure he won’t win an Emmy for his portrayal of the loveable, zombie slaying redneck but he has enough experience to convey thoughts and emotions in a believable delivery that several people on this show just can’t do. Rick, in particular, is pretty bad. I think overall Andrew Lincoln just isn’t all that great of an actor and it shows in several instances during this season; the scene after he slaughters the biker gang (which was awesome, by the way) where he is contemplating what had happened was just terrible. Oh, and who taught him how to hold a gun? What, does it weigh 1,000lbs at the end of the barrel? What sheriff holds a gun like that?!? I would also like to point out how well Beth (Emily Kinney) has done this year, in particular after the prison fell. Beth has not been a character that many of us expected to live this long, quite frankly, but she has shown some serious character development in just a few episodes. I was also pretty surprised with how compelling Carol’s character was this year. Melissa McBride had arguably her best performance up to this point and it was understated yet powerful at the same time. The rest of the cast is a mixed bag of on again off again acting chops and is something that won’t change unless that particular character dies and new characters are introduced. Speaking of which…
I would say that one of the best parts of this epic season was the introduction of the fan favorites (at least the comics fans) Abraham, Eugene and Rosita. I, for one, feel that the casting here was spot on. Josh McDermott as Dr. Eugene Porter is the stand out performance here; his nerdy, redneck deadpan matches the vibe of the comic character perfectly. He definitely doesn’t look the part of a doctor; mix that with the fact that he claims to know how the outbreak started and there is more to this story than meets the eye. The crew taking Eugene to a safe haven in Washinton, DC is Sergent Abraham Ford (played by Michael Cudlitz) also lends his talents very well. His commanding demeanor is a spot on likeness to his graphic novel counterpart and adds levity to an otherwise bleak environment…not to mention the fact that he is a spot on likeness. Tagging along is Rosita Espinosa (Christian Serratos) isn’t too involved in the beginning…but she is super hot, so it’s all good. The new characters are great addition and were cast to near perfection; the fans should rejoice!
In the end, this is my favorite season of The Walking Dead. True there were times when the acting wasn’t all that great. Also, the Farmer Rick episodes were just awful and boring to tears. That one episode and a half with The Governor before the mid-season finale were also just…just terrible. I will say that we as fans had to suffer through some of the shows growing pains, but it was worth it in the end. Not one bad episode took place after the break and had some seriously memorable moments. What happens next in Terminus will be a ton of fun and will shape what happens to the group for at least another season. Let’s just hope that Scott Gimple won’t decide to drag that storyline out (cough…Governor…cough) to keep earning that paycheck and even the comic nerds will be happy. The Walking Dead has television by the gonads right now and the only thing that can stop it is The Walking Dead. Keep the stories moving, keep the audience enthralled and don’t get bogged down in uninteresting details just to appease the suits. As long as you follow my simple instructions, The Walking Dead will just keep on kickin’!