Huge spoilers for anyone who’s not seen all three seasons so far…
As you’ll discover over the course of the next ten switch, I hold The Walking Dead in very high esteem. After the near perfect season three, there’s never been a better time to invest in a show that remains as consistently powerful, as it is explosively violent. So with an eye on the past here are ten reasons why season four simply can’t happen soon enough.
10. The Walking Dead is the best thing to happen to the zombie genre since George A. Romero
As a lifelong horror fan I’ve dedicated a substantial amount of time defending and promoting the genre, driven by a passion for what I consider to the one of the most maligned and misunderstood parts of popular culture. Zombies in particular were left to decay as an outdated relic of the eighties for over a decade, with most fans only getting their fix from playing the Resident Evil games across various consoles, until the big screen debut of that very franchise proved there was still life left in the old undead dog yet.
However, despite the financial success of the now well established and masterfully misguided Resident Evil movies (which to date have still yet to provide us with one actual zombie movie) it took 2004’s fantastic Shaun of the Dead to give zombies back the credibility they truly deserved, having been made by people who not only understood the concept, but really loved it. Unfortunately history started repeating itself and a never-ending slew of zombie movies followed in its wake, causing an absolute saturation of truly dreadful products (Flight of the Living Dead, Zombie Strippers and co.) while a handful of entertaining and interesting films were buried under the avalanche (Fido and Dance of the Dead spring to mind).
Shaun’s success also enabled the godfather of zombies, one George A. Romero, to return to the fold and direct a new trilogy of films after twenty years, though sadly they mostly failed to live up to expectation and the renaissance looked to be over before it had really begun.
And then came The Walking Dead.
The series may have its detractors (what show doesn’t?) but for me and certainly many of us here at Den of Geek, TWD ranks amongst the best of the current crop of televisual treats. It always seemed like the theme of an undead apocalypse deserved to be expanded across a runtime longer than a standard movie would allow and The Walking Dead has proved exactly why, allowing for a consistent sense of scale with its portrayal of deserted American landscapes, much richer characterisation than is usually allowed, while making the story intimate and infinitely more powerful as a result.
From the start TWD understood how to make a successful threat out of the often comically portrayed zombies, knowing that it’s always been numbers and an unending persistence that makes them such a valued addition to the horror canon. Right from the start of season one Dead nailed the tragic pathos that the undead represented both in their physical manifestation, as well as in their more existential qualities, such as a fear of death, or of a lethal infection and instantly made for compelling viewing, giving audiences without doubt the best representation they’d had since Day of the Dead back in 1985.
9. Flame on
The proper introduction of Michonne into season three was a slow burn (no pun intended) as the initial impression she made was that of a frustratingly quiet and constantly sulking annoyance. Certainly her visual impact was striking, with the trademark Samurai sword immediately marking her apart from any character we’d met up to that point, as well as her choice of company – the two chained zombie pets with jaws and arms sliced off – but the series took time to flesh her out into a likeable and vital part of the story.
Waiting for Michonne to flourish onscreen though was well worth the wait, with the episode Clear (season three episode twelve) finally letting her more human side shine through, as the clever decision to focus on just her, Rick and Carl (with the surprise return of Morgan a welcome, if upsetting, addition) finally enabled the series to devote some real time to show how her relationship between the Grimes boys might evolve. It could just be me reading into things, but there seemed like there were moments between Michonne and Rick that could possibly lead to a romantic entanglement, which is a polite way of putting something that would likely be a whole lot more physical.
The reason to include Flame though, other than as an excuse to write about Michonne, is down to the rather great re-introduction of horses back into the world of The Walking Dead in season four. Aside from the rather obvious boon of having a gasoline free mode of transport, horses will help to enhance the already present Western vibe that permeates the show. From the first moment Sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes first donned his hat, saddled up his horse and rode into town, TWD instantly evoked the iconography of the Old West and has very much continued in that tradition.
The retroactive decline of civilisation in movie and television has often led to mail-apocalyptic visions of the Old West, sometimes merely through the use of barren, deserted landscapes but The Walking Dead has embraced it fully, complete with an entire series set on a besieged homestead, a shootout in a saloon type bar and even the hostilities caused in a small town by outsiders who disrupted the corrupt rule of one governor. Bringing horses back to the Walking West is a simple but very clever idea, I just hope Flame doesn’t suffer the same fate as the Siggard’s family horse that Rick ‘borrowed’ in the first ever episode.
I’m still hopeful that Red Dead Redemption will make the transition to the big screen, especially in its Undead Nightmare form, but in the meantime TWD is the closest and best version fusion of the Western and zombie genres we could hope for.
8. The psychosis of Carl
Poor Carl Grimes. I’m not normally one for swearing in articles, but that young lad is fucked. I think it’s a fair assumption that season four will see Carl continue down a burgeoning career as a psychopath, which isn’t really surprising after everything he’s gone through.
He started life in the series under the impression his father had died, only for Mr Grimes to come back to life and eventually kill his own best friend, Shane Walsh, a man that Carl had grown to respect and love as a surrogate father figure. Grimes Junior has been shot, nearly died and survived only to find that his friend Sophia had been turned into a zombie, then witnessed her being killed (again by his Dad), then had to deal with the guilt of Dale’s death after he taunted a walker in the woods and didn’t kill it, only for it to chomp on an unsuspecting Dale.
As if that wasn’t enough, Carl more recently had to endure one of the most shocking and disturbing events I’ve ever seen in… well, almost anything, when he had be there for his mother’s impromptu caesarean operation, watch her bleed to death and then put a bullet in her head. Oh and then his father went crazy as a result and started seeing visions of his dead mother, leaving everyone in the lurch.
Unsurprisingly, it appears as if the young lad has finally started his psychotic snap, after the chance encounter with a youthful member of the Woodbury army led to a cold blooded assassination. More worrying is that when explaining what happened to Rick, he showed no remorse and claimed he was only doing his duty and when challenged actually made a fairly strong case for killing before being killed.
It’s going to make for a much more interesting dynamic between father and son in season four, with Rick left in an incredibly difficult situation after making so many fatal mistakes of his own, that he’s in no position to lecture and after all that’s happened to him, Carl is most likely to start executing the Woodbury refugees before he accepts them into the group, especially after the disgusted look he gave to both them and his Dad in the closing moments of season three.
Also – did I mention Carl’s new baby sister also has a different father (Shane)? I thought it might be rude not to bring it up when compiling a list of his grievances.
7. The return of The Governor
If there was one thing missing from The Walking Dead it was a proper villain. Certainly the focus should always be on the undead as a central threat, but they’re a rather predictable bunch with only one agenda – the eating of human flesh. Thanks to the superb performance of Brit David Morrissey as The Governor, there’s now a more intelligent and dangerous threat to the group who, despite all odds, managed to survive multiple attempts on his life and escape with a couple of his more lethal sidekicks to cause even more grief and upset in future episodes.
It speaks volumes about Morrissey’s portrayal of his character that he actively invoked hostility in viewers – certainly in our house we were screaming at the TV for someone to “kill that bastard” and “shoot him in the damn face” – which is a rare quality indeed these days, when most villainous characters exist in a much larger than life capacity, or rely on actors who can chew scenery rather than convey the more subtle aspects of the evil in man. The return of ‘Philip’ himself has already been mentioned by producer (and Geek legend) Gale Anne Hurd, but in what capacity I won’t reveal here. There’s still so much about The Governor that needs exploring, especially after the implication that he was never just a simple family man after the reveal of his novel ‘zombie heads in a tank’ nightlight, implying behaviour more in line that with that of a serial killer, an idea re-enforced by his total disregard for human life.
However much the former ruler of Woodbury features in season four remains to be seen, but you can count on one thing; the group as a whole and especially Rick and Daryl, will be keen to avenge the deaths of their fallen members after the terrible losses they suffered at the end of the last series. All of which leads nicely into…
6. More unpredictable character deaths
It seems to me, as an equally big fan of Game of Thrones, that its infamous Red Wedding denouement somehow managed to steal the lion’s share of attention when it came to the shocking deaths of main characters, turning that particular event into a viral sensation as unsuspecting viewers (or victims might seem more fitting) were filmed wailing and screaming the world over. The Walking Dead though, like the silently shuffling corpses it depicts, is far worse in terms of the regularity with which it culls its cast and absolutely triumphs in how upsettingly poignant some of the deaths have been.
Going in to season four there’s just a fraction of the original line up left, which is an incredibly unusual and bold move for any series, especially one which has the potential to run indefinitely. Assumption would lead us to predict that only Rick and Daryl remain safe as fan favourites, but since pregnant women and even children aren’t safe, any sense of certainty is undermined leading to every episode wringing with tension.
While the second series led to a tear-filled end to the conflict between Rick and Shane, superbly culminating without either character truly being in the right, that loss of life and friendship was then compounded by bringing Shane straight back as a member of the undead, as if one tragic scene hadn’t been enough. Season three though won hands down though in terms of raw emotional power, with Lori’s horrific end that I mentioned above, combined with the equally unexpected death of Andrea at the season’s end, made even more affecting after the tense cat-and-mouse chase she’d only just undergone with The Governor. Even Merle’s murder elicited emotion, not necessarily through the loss of a mostly unlikeable man, but by his final heroic actions, the frustrating closeness he got to killing said Governor and more importantly the upset suffered by his brother Daryl.
We all know that more of the beloved group aren’t going to make it through to the end of season four, as it’s never a question of if, but when.
5. Zombie gore
If there’s one constant that always provided excellence in the many forms horror has taken over the last several decades, it’s the work of the mighty KNB EFX. Named after the founders, Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger and Robert Kurtzman, the beauty of KNB is that as well as still finding incredible new ways of creating horrific effects within that genre, they’re now world class leaders in the field, having worked on everything from Minority Report, to Lemony Snicket and more recently Hitchcock and Oz the Great and Powerful.
Having been a fan of their work since the start, it came as an absolute relief to see they were responsible for bringing The Walking Dead to life, as it meant that regardless of how the show might turn out there was always going to be a guarantee that the zombies themselves would be well represented and that, more importantly, their deaths would explosively entertaining.
And explosive they have been, best demonstrated by the repulsive masterwork that was the bloated walker, dragged out of the well in season two, a creation so repugnant that even writing about it makes me feel a little queasy. I’ve also thought that season on season the execution and realism in the effect work has become increasingly more impressive, in part I’m sure due to the necessity of introducing Michonne’s sword into the mix, as she’s seen slicing and dicing zombies in every conceivable way and on a regular basis.
Quite possibly the strongest union between The Walking Dead and KNB though, has been in letting Greg Nicotero direct episodes, as he’s showed a deft hand at dealing with drama above the expected prowess at handling what could so easily have been effects heavy chapters. Season two especially has shown that the man’s talent behind the camera is developing into an equally valued asset as his effects in front of it, re-enforced by the decision to let him direct the first episode of season four, 30 Days Without an Accident.
Well, yes. A little bit of a niche choice for this list, but if geeks love one thing it’s collectables and merchandise. At the recently held London movie and Comic Con (attended by the mighty Shane himself, Jon Bernthal, a man whose career has since rocketed with three high profile movies in the works as well as reteaming with Frank Darabont for the enticing looking TV series, Mob City) the stalls were brimming with The Walking Dead gear. There were t-shirts, badges, jewelry, figures and even cutesy Pop Vinyl renditions of most characters and zombies featured on the show.
The popularity of the Dead license means that the quality of the products being released are of a very high standard, with the pioneers of excellence in six-inch high figures, McFarlane Toys (of Todd fame) already on their fourth release wave and the demand for such figures driving their first season renditions of Rick and Daryl to go for silly money on eBay, which is an incredibly rare occurrence for products only a few years old. This year it was also announced that ThreeZero won the license to make high end (see: expensive) 1/6 scale figures, which will prove to be incredibly popular with collectors as there’s already a flood of people trying to make their own, one of which may be stood on my desk. Ahem. Still if there’s one thing every office needs, it’s a little zombie carnage to decorate it.
3. Character expansion
Another area of excellence in The Walking Dead is both the development of those characters we know and love, as well as the addition of potentially great and valued new members of the group, whose identities we don’t yet know. A common downfall in horror is the negligence shown to its main protagonists by relying on lazy, or underdeveloped stereotypes who’ve perpetuated the genre since the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween proved commercial successes and every Tom, Dick and Harry attempted to emulate their genius by copying nothing but the surface traits of having teenagers stalked and slashed.
Ironically some of the horror crowd turned on season two of TWD for giving too much time over to talking, which proved to be an incredibly frustrating viewpoint given that Dead actually took the time to really develop the evolving dynamics between characters, especially when they revolved around the divisive nature of Shane’s behaviour, while taking time to introduce now familiar faces such as Maggie and Hershel. I’ve never understood audience impatience when it comes to taking time over a story, especially when you consider that those characters that survived the farm attack were immediately familiar when season three hit the ground running, and running at speed I might add, especially after the shocking amputation that befell Hershel.
With season four upon us, aside from those names I’ve already mentioned, we should finally get some proper investment into Tyreese and Sasha who were slightly overlooked during the Woodbury hostilities and with Tyreese featuring on the banner poster for the new season in full on zombie killing mode, that much should be assured. There’s also another alumnus from The Wire joining Chad L. Coleman, but I won’t mention names for those who’ve been avoiding spoilers, as well as the refuges of Woodbury to add to the new character pot (as well as providing plenty of new zombie fodder to keep the undead and audience bloodlust satiated.)
The bigger picture should always be considered when it comes to the appraisal of any show, which is something that The Walking Dead excels at, so hopefully pal viewers will be even more appreciative when specific attention is paid to fleshing out future characters, as it’s such a rarity within the horror genre.
2. Season three was arguably the strongest to date
The violent and upsettingly realised death of Lori. Hershel’s dismemberment. Glen’s derailing. Merle’s rise and fall. Endless splattery carnage. Rick’s insanity and one man killing spree. The Governor and his disturbing daughter. Michonne and her sword. Daryl Dixon. The sacking of Woodbury. Zombie fights. Zombie science. A psychotic child. A baby in an undead apocalypse. The prison inmate that got a blade to the head. The persecution and end of Andrea. The prison attack. Riot gear zombies.
To name just a few highlights. Season three, for my money, was one of the most exciting, compelling and downright shocking seasons of any show I’ve ever seen and if the fourth is even half as exciting we’re in for one hell of a treat.
1. Rick and Daryl
While it always seems unfair to single out particular characters in an ensemble piece, fans will always have their favourites and at a point in the show when most of the original line up have been chomped, shot, turned or all three, it’s the fantastic combination of Rick Grimes and Daryl Dixon that carry the majority of the weight in terms of both their actual characters as well as the core of the show.
Rick Grimes has developed more than most over the past three years, though under the most horrific and stressful conditions as he’s been forced by the strength of his character to become the leader of an incredibly mismatched and volatile group. It’s an unenviable position, but one that makes him one of the greatest fictional characters you could hope to root for, as he’s still standing despite the loss of his wife, almost losing his son and having to kill his own best friend.
It came as no surprise that his mind finally broke when he lost Lori, but what made the aftermath so compelling was the raw power of Andrew Lincoln’s performance. So often in movie and television people deal with the death of a love one as a mild, teary surprise (see: every cop show ever), but The Walking Dead finally allowed a character to be utterly destroyed by the loss and watching Grimes break down was a truly powerful moment. It also lead to the absolute exhilaration of joining Rick in his grief-driven killing rampage, where despite the fear he’d end up in harms’ way, managed to be a breathlessly cathartic sight.
At season’s end we seem to have Rick back to his senses, as his cursory glance up to where he expected the vision of his dead wife to be revealed nothing, though the psychosis looks to have only gone down a generation rather than vanish completely and there’s still every chance that he could have a relapse.
If there’s a concern to be had for a lead character in season four though, it’s Daryl Dixon – the veritable Boba Fett of The Walking Dead. Norman Reedus’ endlessly charismatic turn as Daryl has made him a solid champion by fans of the show, but after the loss of his brother Merle we finally got a chance to see Daryl upset, which was an emotion that he’d never shown before. The aftermath will hopefully make for an interesting new dimension to Mr Dixon, as it could call to question his unswerving loyalty to Rick after the last minute change of heart inadvertently led to Merle’s death.
On a brighter note there could also be romance in Daryl’s life at last. Carol has shown quite a persistent shine towards him, which he never seemed interesting in reciprocating, but after it seemed like Carol has become zombie food, there was a genuine sense of joy when she came back into his life. That said I can’t quite imagine Daryl making a romantic dinner for two, but I wait to be proved wrong.
Still, with his trusty crossbow in hand there’s always the certainty that the heroic dispatching of zombies will be a common occurrence and that, for me, is enough to get me incredibly excited for the start of season four. Roll on the 18th.
The Walking Dead season four starts on AMC in the US on Sunday the 13th of October and on Fox in the UK on Friday the 18th of October.
The above is based on knowledge of the television series alone, so should anyone be up to date with the comics please make sure you mark any comments with SPOILER ALERTS for those readers who know nothing beyond the end of season three/teasers for season four, it’d be much appreciated.