TV Review: The Walking Dead, Season 4 (First Half)

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After a two month wait, The Walking Dead is back this Sunday to continue the fourth season. It may have taken an extra half of a season but we’re finally out of The Prison with a brand new status quo. Where all the survivors went after The Governor’s (David Morrissey) onslaught in “Too Far Gone” remains to be seen, but whatever sense of community Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) had is completely shattered. In more ways than one, this is the way Season 3 should have ended in “Welcome to the Tombs.” I’ve even taken to calling the first half of Season 4 “Season 3.5.” As far as I’m concerned Season 4 is really starting off this Sunday with “After.” Until that day comes though, let’s take a look back at the first half to remind ourselves what happened before The Walking Dead slate was cleaned to start anew.

Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Earlier in 2013, David Morrissey, Chad Coleman (Tyreese), and Sonequa Martin-Green (Sasha) were upped to regular cast status while Lawrence Gilliard Jr. was added on as Bob Stookey. It was also heavily promoted that the group in The Prison was going to deal with a “threat that they can’t shoot” along with the newly added Woodbury refugees increasing their numbers. The Governor, despite being the big bad, was barely even mentioned during promotion. So what did this give us? A first half that definitely had some shining moments along with an outstanding ending, but was plagued with the feeling of it being a huge detour to get to where we should have been earlier in 2013.

More than half of the first eight episodes, five to be exact, were connected to The Prison group combating that “invisible killer” I mentioned prior. It ended up being a virus which is something nearly every person was able to predict. What we couldn’t predict was how much time we’d spend with it and what effect it would ultimately have on the team. As it turns out…it went on for a while and it didn’t change much. The only people who died during the flu outbreak were disposable extras that were brought on either at the end of Season 3 or between the two seasons. Major events that happened during the outbreak like Carol (Melissa McBride) getting exiled, Karen (Melissa Ponzio) dying, and Bob being discovered as an alcoholic could have very easily happened without this flu virus. And yet the virus wasn’t ultimately a waste of time as it served the purpose of eliminating the majority of the pointless extras that were foolishly thrown in. If anything it was a quick and easy way for Scott M. Gimple to erase the derailment started by Glen Mazzara.

The virus story did have some incredible moments though. Tyreese, Daryl (Norman Reedus), Michonne (Danai Gurira), and Bob getting the medicine at the vet school was exciting, and the walker clusterfuck in “Internment” was absolutely insane. The real shining moment during this plot was unquestionably Hershel Greene’s (Scott Wilson) tenacity and desire to do whatever he can to help those who were sick. Rick and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) weren’t exactly wrong in secluding everyone in A-Block, but Hershel was right in his willingness to run into danger even if it means saving one person. And you know what? He saved three: Glenn (Steven Yeun), Sasha, and Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino). No one would have lived if Hershel didn’t step in. Combine that with Hershel’s unbelieveable speech in “Isolation” about why it is their duty to do everything they can, and you have the true star of this first half. While Hershel’s death in the finale was tragic, it’s good knowing that his final acts were that of a hero.

Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC
Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

Once the virus story wrapped up we got two episodes back-to-back that basically shoehorned The Governor back into our lives. Oh yeah, if it wasn’t for those brief mentions in episodes prior, you’d think that everyone forgot about the main antagonist of Season 3. “Live Bait” and “Dead Weight” were excellent episodes, giving us an even more nuanced portrayal of The Governor and his possible path of redemption, but they were ultimately just flashes in a pan. We didn’t nearly get enough time to care about characters like Lily (Audrey Marie Anderson), Tara (Alanna Masterson), and Meghan (Meyrick Murphy). The obviously rushed story during these two episodes to bring us to the explosive “Too Far Gone” gave the first half such a glaringly disjointed feel in the end. The three episode reappearance of The Governor made Morrissey’s promotion to series regular status that much more perplexing too. He got more time when he was simply a recurring character.

“Too Far Gone” wrapped up this first half the way Season 3 should have been done. The Governor was killed, Rick and his group have left The Prison, and who has survived is a big mystery. It finally gave us that clean slate all new seasons need. In regards to The Governor’s death, I wasn’t even upset despite how great Morrissey was in the role. I was happy solely because we can finally move the story forward. It also helped that the mid-season finale was ripe with badass moments and kept me at the edge of my seat the entire time. It was easily the best moment of the season so far, outside of Hershel’s heroics, and it gave us the best ending possible at this point.

The character growth we got during these main stories was great. You already know how much I enjoyed the growth shown by Hershel, but everyone just got better overall. Carol improved by teaching kids how to use knives, Rick showed how much he changed as a leader, Carl (Chandler Riggs) got even more likeable, and Michonne become much more three-dimensional. Both Glenn and Sasha took greater leadership roles too. Even newcomer Bob Stookey got some depth despite his brief appearance and Tyreese got his much needed screentime. As if this was even possible, Daryl got even cooler. The only characters who ultimately remained the same were Maggie and Beth (Emily Kinney), but neither of them were particularly major to the overall story so it didn’t bring anything down. It’s not like they got kidnapped or had to go hunting for supplies.

Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

As I mentioned before, I’m very happy with our current story placement. Everything was so constrained going from Season 3 to Season 4. We had to be back at The Prison, The Governor had to be alive, and we had to deal so many extra characters (excess baggage honestly). That’s all done away with, which is amazing, but now a possible new problem has risen: all the characters are separated from each other. Who is currently with who is actually a mystery, Rick and Carl notwithstanding.

In order to make this second half great and essentially give us the real meat of Season 4, the writers need a proper balance. It can’t focus on only one small group and ignore others nor can it just throw everyone together in the first episode. Let the characters take a stab at surviving on their own and then bring everyone together when it feels natural. Most of these people have only survived in a big group and I want to see how they manage in smaller numbers. Without The Prison walls and The Governor, the walkers also need to become the true terrors again. If the writers can pull this off, this second half can easily ride off the highs from “Too Far Gone” to become truly spectacular. We’ll likely see what direction these episodes will take in only a few short days.

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