Heave a collective sigh of relief: AMC’s “The Walking Dead” is finally good again. After the second season’s utterly lackluster let’s-be-stuck-on-a-farm-for-a-whole-season-due-to-budget-issues, and last season’s pathetic excuse for a finale, Season 4 is bringing the zombie drama back to life.
When last season ended with a weird video montage of Woodbury survivors assimilating into our gang at the prison, with the Governor still at large, I was a little dismayed. I read the comics, I’m a fanboy — I get pretty critical of the show. While I ripped my hair out in Season 2, the previous season was more frustrating because it kept almost-but-not-quite getting things right. After the finale, I wasn’t optimistic for Season 4 — which kicked off with a bang on Oct. 13th.
In this new season, the survivors from the once idyllic town of Woodbury have assimilated with Rick’s crew and are slowly turning the co-opted prison into home. There’s some conflict, but people are starting to get domestic… which causes problems. Kids are naming zombies, someone is feeding them, and, for the main conflict of the season, people are dying off, one by one. Not by zombies or murderers, but something much more pedestrian: a flu epidemic.
“If it’s walkers, if it’s people… we can do something. We can fight,” Glenn, a fan favorite (played by Steven Yeun), remarked in the third episode. “But with this, I’m just digging graves.”
Glenn ends up being the first main character to come down with the illness, fighting for the life he worked so hard to build.
And that’s what makes this new season (at least so far) so incredible — a return to the character drama that made the program what it is. Sure, zombies are awesome (I love ‘em!), but they work well as a pressuring device to catalyze character development. Rick, having hung up his gun and taken to farming, butts heads with his son Carl (who has, thankfully, stopped being a whiny little sociopath), Michonne hunts fruitlessly for the Governor, and all the while someone (the person you’d least expect, I might add) has taken to murdering the sick inhabitants of the prison, in order to keep the epidemic from spreading.
It’s this concept of the epidemic that has helped bring “The Walking Dead” back to its heyday. The zombie drama seems to function best as a work of pathography — writing about disease and how it affects people. The first season, especially with its CDC scenes, really accomplished this. By making the antagonist once again something unexpected and untouchable, the characters are strained to the ends of their already stretched limits.
By delving back into earlier themes of survival and personal identity, especially through Rick’s struggle to go back to his gun, or Tyrese’s crippling rage at the murder of his lover, Season 4 of “The Walking Dead” has already displayed superior writing and directing over the previous two seasons. With the promise of a future episode directed by David S. Goyer, and comic creator Robert Kirkman taking a more active role, this season could be the best yet.
RECOMMENDED: If you survived Seasons 2 & 3, you’ll find the most recent few episodes a worthy reward.