Recurring Cast: Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Lauren Cohan, Stephen Yeun, Chandler Riggs, Danai Gurira, Scott Wilson, Melissa McBride and David Morrissey as the Governor
Due to popular demand (one person slightly shrugging when asked), I shall do the rest of my modern Walking Dead reviews in two halves. It feels like the sensible thing to do, especially with Season Four. The season before the break could very easily been a season in its own right (and still have been longer than the first one), and the climax suggests a very different second half. It would have been too much to review in one chunk, so I have decided to review the first part of season four right now.
The first thing that strikes you about the fourth season of Walking Dead is that it is one that likes to take risks. We begin these eight episodes with an unrecognisable group. There are around a hundred new survivors and the characters we have come to know have become a sort of council, looking out for their ever-growing group. This is an interesting road to take, as it introduces the first signs of politics and democracy after the apocalypse. We begin to get worried that the Walking Dead have over-stepped the mark with this massive boom in characters, but slowly our fears begin to calm. Seeing as the setting is still the prison, this change in pace helps the fourth season break away from the last, which is one of the better things about this show; its ability to constantly adapt and still keep us hooked. True, many of these characters are little more than red shirts, allowing the body count to begin rising rapidly, but after time, a few gems begin to come through. Bob, the medic hiding a crippling alcohol addiction, will be the one to watch in the next half of the season and some of the younger kids bring up some interesting topics.
Every episode this season felt totally different from the last, again taking risks that I think paid off. The Walkers are made deadlier with the addition of a fatal flu that their dead bodies have begun to carry. Soon, the group are forced to set up quarantine and go on dangerous runs for vital medicine. At the same time, Rick is sent on a murder mystery to figure out which one of the group has been going around killing the sick. There are several different tones here and this season does a remarkable job at blending them all together. Also, different characters are allowed time in the spotlight. Norman Reedus, fan favourite, Daryl, is allowed to become the secondary lead, sometimes shouldering the weight for an episode. We also get episodes that focus on Hershel, as he struggles to save the sick, which becomes difficult when the ones he fails, turn into walkers before long. And finally, we get the return of one of the greatest TV villains in a long time. David Morrissey saunters into the proceedings as the Governor and is given two episodes to himself, where we see what has happened to his character since Season Three. In many ways, he is given his own long character arc, which really adds to the dramatic effect that he and Rick are on a long journey towards their brutal, bloody collision.
And what a collision? The Walking Dead has suffered from weak finales (with the exception of Season Two, but our expectations were pretty low back then), but the second half of Season Four has probably the most gripping, bloody battle yet. The Governor’s story smashes together with Rick’s with catastrophic consequences. Major characters are killed off. There are unbelievable cliff-hangers. The fight feels so real, as you feel for both sides of the battle. The characters that Rick’s group kill off are pretty much just poor people corrupted by the Governor into thinking they are in the right. This was the episode that we have been waiting for ever since the show began.
In fact, the one flaw of the whole thing is that it does end a few great story arcs. This will always be a problem with the Walking Dead, as you will see a character grow and then suddenly, they are removed from the story and you end up wishing that the writers had let their journey go on a little longer. However, that is a matter of opinion and while I disagreed with some of the choices that the climax made, I do agree that there is a sense this episode is making up for some of the mistakes of the last season. Therefore, I shall take my grievances with a pinch of salt and applaud the writers for bringing us the best season of Walking Dead to date.
Final Verdict: The tension is upped, stakes are raised and the show brings back the Governor for a fantastic climax. This is the show we have been waiting for.