It took me three or four tries to finally get through the first episode of The Walking Dead, after much prompting from my father. It wasn’t so much that it wasn’t good – it was more a combination of other time commitments, having a three-year old son, and having a large queue of other shows to watch. However, once I started watching it, it only took me a couple of weeks to get through all three seasons. Overall, I found Season One excellent, Season Two a bit like treading water, and the third season a return to the excitement and uncertainty of the first, although with a lot of the novelty worn off. The thing about zombies is that we’re always much more interested in what happens in the initial struggle to survive, and much less so in the day-to-day lives of the long-term survivors. This is where The Walking Dead is breaking new ground, and it is in its ability – or inability – to maintain interest, now that there is some sense of a new normal descending on the survivors, that Season Four will either be successful, or not.
<<Spoiler Warning: Season Four, Episode One of The Walking Dead is discussed at some length, and plot points will be revealed. Proceed beyond the break at your own peril!>>
“30 Days Without an Accident” is set approximately six months after the failed attack by the Governor and his forces on Rick and the gang at the prison, and the subsequent addition of most of Woodbury’s survivors to their group. Life seems to be taking on a certain degree of normalcy. The prison grounds are slowly being turned into a farm, with crops growing, pigs in a pen, horses at stable, and Rick taking on the role of Old MacDonald. Even Carl seems to have taken a step back from his gun-toting war child ways, reading comic books and giving the poor porkers names. One of the pigs, Violet, isn’t looking so hot – and this foreshadows a pretty major event at the end of the episode. Rick warns Carl not to give the pigs names, as they’re food. This echoes a bunch of younger kids talking to the zombies a bit later in the episode, calling them by name (one of them has a name tag). Carl tells them not to give them names, as they aren’t people. Perhaps this is a kind of meta-comment by the writers of the show – should they bother giving the throwaway characters – those who show up for one or two episodes only to be eaten – names? They are, after all, food. Maybe they should just give them red shirts, instead.
We meet several new characters early in the episode (and at least two of them should have been issued with regulation red shirts). Carl has a new friend, a boy about his age; Beth has a new love interest in Zach; and there is a former army medic named Bob Stookey who is eager to contribute to the group. Note that Bob has a last name – I think this may bode well for his overall longevity in the series. There are a lot of other nameless faces in addition to the young children mentioned earlier. Rick, at the behest of Hershel and the newly formed Council (which we hear of from Hershel in passing, consisting of Hershel, Carol, and Glenn among others), is asked to carry a gun with him when he leaves the prison compound; apparently, he still hasn’t entirely recovered from the double psychological shock of killing Shane and losing Lori in childbirth, and he may be latently suicidal. This should definitely help Carl adjust to the difficulties of losing a mother and helping to raise a young sister.
Michonne arrives back at the compound on horseback, bringing more comics for Carl, and telling Rick that she “didn’t find him.” “Him” can only refer to the Governor, so apparently Michonne has made it her life’s goal to avenge Andrea. I have high hopes for this particular story-line as the season progresses, as Michonne has quietly become one of my favorite characters. I found her a little bit too quiet/mysterious/ninja to begin with, but her personality is finally coming out. Andrea’s death scene in last season’s finale definitely helped with this development, and I hope to see a lot more of her to come.
Rick takes Hershel’s advice, and heads out to check his lures and trap, while Daryl, Glenn and Michonne lead a group on a scavenging mission, taking along Tyreese and Sascha from the old Woodbury gang, as well as newcomers Zach and Bob. Rick begins gathering trapped animals, when he happens across a large dead boar. This is, by the way, major foreshadowing part two – one sick pig (Violet) earlier, a dead pig here, and…. Just as Rick is about to check the boar out, he sees movement – it looks at first like a walker, but is in fact a very dirty and disheveled young woman who speaks with an Irish accent. She asks Rick if he can help her get the boar back to her husband, and then asks if she can join Rick’s people. Rick is suspicious – his usual optimism and trust has been pretty much destroyed by the war with Woodbury, as well as the personal losses he has faced. This stands him in good stead, as the woman and her husband are not what she claims them to be. His reactions to her would not have fit the Rick from seasons one or two, but they are exactly where we would expect Rick to be here at the beginning of season four. I did find some of the symbolism used when switching to the Rick story-line to be a bit heavy-handed, especially the shot of a spider in its web, and the swarm of ants eating another insect (hint: Rick is the insect!). I know the director/writers are doing this in order to clue-in the audience as to what is happening, but I suspect their audience is intelligent enough to get that things are not entirely on the up-and-up without the blunt instrument approach.
The other group arrives at a Home Depot/Walmart Super Center clone, which was used as a military check point before it was over-run. The contents of the store are largely intact, and the group moves in to sweep any wandering walkers. One of the newcomers, Bob, has a problem he hasn’t yet bothered to mention to the other survivors, and it begins to rear its ugly head as he walks through the beer and wine section of the store. He almost succumbs to his vice, but thinks better of it, placing a bottle of wine he’d considered taking back on the shelf – which promptly collapses, bring the whole kit and caboodle down on his leg, trapping him and alerting the horde of zombies just hanging around on the roof of the building, unbeknownst to the crew. Weathering and a very heavy military helicopter have weakened the roof, and as Daryl, Glen and Tyreese try to get Bob free, zombies start falling through the roof all around them. This action sequence is very well done – the build-up reminded me a lot of Glenn’s early forays into infested locales to grab medicine and supplies, and the fighting is the most intense we’ve seen between survivors and zombies in some time. One of the group does not end up making it out, hence the title of the episode (“30 Days Without An Accident”). One of the last images we see at the end of the episode is Beth removing the “3” from a workplace accident sign, leaving the zero behind. This is not, however, the last action before we cut to black.
The boy that Carl has befriended goes to a reading group led by Carol in the prison library. She’s reading a book to a bunch of children, but halfway through the older boy says he is feeling sick, and asks to leave. This is just after Carol has brought out a bunch of knives to teach the children knife safety, and she mistakes his illness for squeamishness – but he assures her, he simply doesn’t want “to yak on anyone.” Right after he leaves, the now kinder gentler Carl walks in and sees Carol talking knives – she asks him not to tell his dad, although to be honest I don’t see that Rick would necessarily think this a bad thing. Later that night, we see Carl’s sick friend stumbling into the shower room. He runs a shower over himself, fully clothed, and then collapses to the ground. The camera shows his shuffling footprints from his bed to the shower, and then hovers over his supine form. Of course, his eyes open – but they are no longer the eyes of the living.
This is the culmination of the foreshadowing seen first with Violet, then with the dead boar in the woods, and then later again when Rick returns from the woods to find that Violet has died. Most of us are fairly familiar with the Swine Flu, and how disease can pass from pigs to humans. It appears that the group is about to face a new enemy from within, albeit not in the form of a zombie infestation (though they now have that, with the young boy turning in their midst), nor through the traitorous actions of one of the group. I don’t know how interesting an influenza outbreak can be made to be, but it certainly suggests that there will be some sort of desperate sortie in an upcoming episode in order to try to procure a cure.
I found the episode to be a nice relaxing respite after a pretty frenzied climax to season three. It’s nice to see the survivors reaping some of the peace dividend for finally dealing with the Governor and his thugs, but not for too long. It was a very smart move not showing us the six months of relative peace – we watch this show for the action, not for how to plant wheat and raise pigs. I’m going to miss Merle a lot more than I thought I would, but Michonne and Daryl look to continue in the action hero roles they’ve carved out, and the Glenn/Maggie (Glaggie? Menn? Nevermind) looks to be an interesting story-line to follow as well, as Glenn has become much more cynical while Maggie is wanting to prove her love of life by having a baby (we do find out that she is not, in fact, pregnant yet).
Steve’s Grade: B+
A nice bit of action, some character exposition, and a chance to spend some time with our old friends again. I really do think, however, that new characters with a single name (or no name) should simply be made to wear a red shirt and be done with it.