This review contains spoilers.
The premiere episode of the fourth season of The Walking Dead was a very entertaining, solid piece of television. It wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t as exciting as, say, the third season’s debut episode, but it may have been one of the more competent episodes in the show’s run. The relationship stuff worked better than usual, the special effects were as outstanding as ever, and there were some clever choices made in both the set-up and the execution of the It’s Raining Men action sequence in the Big Spot store. It would be a pretty tough feat to top that episode so early in the season, and yet, the second episode of the fourth season does exactly that.
One of the better aspects of this week was the relationship between the characters. There were some good moments of contrast; early on the show emphasizes Tyreese and Karen’s relationship, then in short time we see Glenn and Maggie together, and then finally we close that sequence with Rick, Carl, and Michonne (there’s a very amusing family dynamic there that’s probably a nod to the multitude of Rick and Michonne shipper-fuel moments over the past two seasons). The character relationships have been one of the show’s weaknesses over time, but Angela Kang is one of the writers that does a better job of that sort of thing, and it really shines through in this week’s episode. The quieter moments work very well between the characters, Tyreese and Karen feel like a real couple, and it’s a credit to Kang that she’s able to really bring those emotions to the forefront (while still working in some great action sequences and some clever ideas for Rick and the gang to execute).
One of the characters who has been receiving some attention this season has been Michonne. She’s been limited in screen time, but it’s more important time, and the show has taken great pains to develop her character a little bit more. She is no longer just the lone Andrea-saving, Governor-hating bad ass with the fan service katana and one facial expression. Not only does she get to smile and make a joke this episode, she also gets to show some legitimate emotion. She gets probably the best scene of the night, and that’s saying something because A) she shared the scene with Beth – a character that is improving this season – and B) the writers have turned Carol into a quietly great character. Has anyone on the show made such a huge turn from season one to season four? Carol, unlike some other survivors, has really grown and changed as a character, even in the last two episodes.
There’s a real sense of dread to Infected that’s a testament to the show’s ability to play with shadows and light and background noise. Guy Ferland does a great job at creating the tension and slowly cranking it up in the early stages of the episode. While there’s not an immediate blow-off, the show keeps things simmering, using a lot of shots of zombie Patrick going about his zombie business within the friendly confines of Cell Block D, the zombies milling about by the fences, and the show’s opening shot of a mysterious person offering up rat snacks to zombies.
When the blow-off does come, it’s impressively choreographed and executed. The Walking Dead is a show that has a very large cast, and the amount of extras the show has access to is even more impressive, probably because everyone loves zombies and there aren’t a lot of acting gigs in Georgia (until the past few years, of course). When they need to have a mass of walkers or a mass of panicking civilians fleeing walkers, they’ve got it. Ferland and company make great use of their extras this week, with multiple scenes featuring dozens of people scrambling and fleeing and zombie shuffling that feel very chaotic without being too overwhelming visually. It can be easy for small details to get lost during a riot, but Ferland does a good job of keeping sight lines clear and focusing on the action, even if the action is behind a bunch of screaming, flailing people or is a morass of angry zombies.
The Walking Dead has done a good job of adding to the threats that the prisoners face without it seeming like piling on. Not only do you have zombies, the Governor, the standard problems with finding clean water and adequate food, and the newly-discovered flu plague, now there’s the potential for sabotage from inside the camp, if the clues (and dead rats) are to be believed. There are lots of new questions, and not many solid answers yet.
A Walking Dead season with action, great character work, AND a legitimate mystery? Perhaps the move to Scott Gimple as show runner will yield even more positive results than the move to Glen Mazzara did in season three.
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