4.1 30 Days Without An Accident
For a show that’s been wildly successful for AMC, The Walking Dead has been one of the most tumultuous programmes on television. Forget the constant churn of cast – that’s to be expected on a drama full of zombies craving human flesh – it’s the constant behind-the-scenes problems that make The Walking Dead into something more soap-opera than hard-hitting survival horror drama. Going into its fourth season, The Walking Dead has had three different captains directing the ship. Frank Darabont left early in the production of the second season, reportedly over budget friction with AMC, who wanted their most popular show to cost less than their prestige fare. Glen Mazzara, who took over for the third season of the hit, pushed the show more towards the entertaining gore that fans want while still producing some really good television drama. He’s out after a difference of opinion with AMC over the future direction of the show.
Enter Scott M. Gimple, the new man in charge of AMC’s lumbering ratings monster. The third guy in charge in four seasons, Gimple is a man serving two masters. He has to keep AMC and Robert Kirkman happy, while still keeping fans tuning in week after week for a dose of zombie action. Gimple has said in interviews that he hopes to take the best from both previous bosses; is it possible to blend the action of seasons 2.5 and 3 with the character focus from seasons 1 and 2.0?
One of Gimple’s goals as the new runner for The Walking Dead is to return the series back to its roots. Not necessarily the comic book, but the idea that zombies are once again going to be a major threat. In the second season, there was little to no threat of walkers. In the third season, walkers were definitely more of a threat, but the true villain wasn’t the hordes of undead, but The Governor and his cronies. Of course, the show can’t abandon the idea of human threats entirely since The Governor is still out there somewhere, but a renewed interest in zombies as enemies has to be helpful for a show called The Walking Dead.
That’s actually a good idea. I’m not sure how long it’s been since the world changed, but The Walking Dead seems to play pretty consistent with the idea that time passes between seasons in a fairly linear way. This is something the show takes great pains to remind us of, and not just because Carl suddenly sounds like he’s 30 years old. Last season’s bus of Woodbury refugees has become this season’s shack-builders, fence crew, and general colour to fill out the prison. Of course, with more people comes more attention from zombies; you’ll be hard pressed to find a shot in the prison yard without zombie extras in the background (or at least zombie noise).
There are plenty of zombie-free moments, but the presence of the undead early and often lends those scenes a tension. We’ve seen plenty of random zombies jump out from the darkness at this point in the show’s history, so it’s something that that can happen at any point, especially when dealing with one of the potential red shirts from Woodbury. Greg Nicotero does a very good job at milking every little noise in the background for maximum skin-crawl. Nicotero has earned all the plaudits he gets for his special effects, and he’s also become one of the better directors on the show’s roster. He’s not the best with his actors, though this episode doesn’t ask that of him, but he’s really good at framing shots and getting the most out of his special effects sequences (probably because he’s the guy who came up with the ideas in the first place). Even if some of the sequences are funny, it’s an intentional black comedy sort of way that adds some much-needed levity to an otherwise dour programme.
Likewise, Scott Gimple seems to have a good idea of the direction he wants the show to take, if the first episode is an adequate measuring stick. 30 Days Without An Accident strives to strike a balance between zombie action and character moments from the cold opening onward. It’s not entirely successful -something is typically lost in the first episode back after a long break as viewers try to sort out who we know and who we don’t know yet. There’s always a problem with feeling compelled to care about someone we don’t know, but there are still a lot of series regulars that we don’t know very well yet (Tyreese, Beth). Adding new cast members from the outset may not have been the best idea, even if they are characters imported from Kirkman’s comic book.
That said, adding some diversity to the cast in the form of yet another Wire veteran in Larry Gillyard, Jr., is a great idea. Adding a brilliant actor from one of the better television shows in the medium’s history is never a bad thing; now it’s up to Scott Gimple and company to figure out how to use him. Judging prematurely from the first episode, there are some good ideas that need better execution. Execution can always be improved; a lack of interesting ideas rarely can.
The occasional stumble aside, The Walking Dead should continue to improve as Gimple gets used to his new role. The change from Darabont to Mazzara was a drastic, immediate improvement. The change from Mazzara to Gimple was neither an improvement nor a huge step back for the show, which is about the best thing viewers would hope for under the circumstances.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan is glad to see that The Walking Dead is back, even if it’s weird to see that Carl has turned into a 30-year-old man over the summer. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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