Warning: There are spoilers ahead for those of you who have not seen the season premiere of The Walking Dead. If you haven not seen it yet, go on… watch it. I’ll still be here… so come back when you’re done. Done? Good… read on then.
Season premieres can be a tricky thing. Not as dicey and difficult as a season or series finale, but there are many people sitting back expecting to be wowed when a fan favorite show such as The Walking Dead returns… add to that the fact that this was Scott Gimple’s first outing as showrunner, and expectations can be expected to be rather high. Did 30 Days Without an Accident live up to it’s expectations? I would say, in as wishy-washy a way possible, somewhat.
I believe that much of the episode was a success… I felt an immediate sense of place, not just the prison, but the tone of this season seemed to pick up immediately from the last season, which is great… and however much time has passed has been more than enough to have all of the new characters from Woodbury and others that have joined feel at home and have established the prison as a growing and burgeoning community.
The characters we already know seem to have eased into their roles, whatever they may be now; Daryl is the rock-star hunter with the posse of fan-girls (and at least one fan-boy… for a while); Carol is still his sidekick, but is expanding her new found empowered woman role; Carl has apparently eased up on the psychotic killer aspect and has become a little man with a buddy (for a while); Michonne now smiles and has a personality, even going so far as to have picked up some comics for Carl; Glenn and Maggie are still worried and in love; Beth is getting some action from Zach (for a while); and Hershel has become pater familias to all; and Rick… well… Rick is still a bit of a mess… and it’s his little sub-plot this week that is both the most philosophical and thought provoking, and the one sub-plot that feel like an undead weight on the episode as a whole. More on that later.
Much of this episode was spent introducing some new characters. Although we had already met Tyreese and his sister Sasha last season, we didn’t have a chance to see them interact much with others at the prison. Turns out that Sasha has become quite the bad-ass, very much a Michonne in the making, and Tyreese is having some difficulties dealing with the psychological aspects of killing off zombies… plus, he’s flirting it up with Karen. Karen, if you will recall, was the sole survivor of The Governor’s attack squad. Others who have joined are Patrick, the voice of Phineus from Phineus and Ferb, who is also around Carl’s age and plays a rather pivotal role in this episode; and Bob Stookey, a former Army medic with an alcohol problem.
Let’s get to the meat of the episode… I look at this as having three distinct plots. First, is the outing to Big Spot and the main set piece of the episode. Second, we get the Rick and Clara plot that digs into Rick’s mental state at this point and asks the question of whether or not you can come back from some of the horrors that occur during the ZA. Third, and probably the more significant of the three, there is some sort of viral infection going on that seems to infect pigs and young men who do voice work for the Disney Channel.
The whole department store set piece was fantastic. This was classic zombie movie mayhem in all it’s gory blood soaked glory. The way Daryl bangs on the window, waiting for the expected reaction, and answering questions as to his former occupation before the apocalypse, you get that sense that this has become somewhat routine. Thinking back to the cold open of the third season premiere, where we see our survivors going through the preschool in complete silence like a well trained Delta force, this shows an ease not present in those early days. They have a larger group, are well armed, and better organized. Unfortunately, they didn’t expect the roof to start rotting out… nor did they expect a downed helicopter to be sitting on top of said rotting roof.
Question… how did all those zombies get up there in the first place? Seems rather convenient (or inconvenient, depending on your point of view). My only guess would be that they were all waiting for the copter to rescue them when chaos ensued… because it’s obvious that at least one of them was chopped in half by the rotors.
I loved everything about this scene. The gore was over the top… having a zombie dangling in the air by his own entrails, and he was still up for a fight… then the multiple sacks of goo that were simply smashing and smooshing all over the floor was just foul… and having Bob push the face right off of a zed… ugh. Awesome.
But Tyreese… what is up with his rather cowardly demeanor this episode. I understand being conflicted and having more speeds than just “bad-ass”… but his behavior simply doesn’t say “Tyreese” to me. Last season, sure… but so far, I am eager to see what they are doing with his character. Contrast his behavior here with his actions when he dangled Allen over the screamer pits. That said, Sasha was a zed killing machine. There was at least one moment between Michonne and her where they both seem to be on the same page. Love it.
Bob. Something is off with Bob and I can’t put my finger on it. I don’t care about the alcoholism… although I’m sure that will play into things later… but there was something about the way he looks around, or the way Greg Nicotero allowed the camera to linger on his face longer than I would have expected. I don’t trust him.
If there was any big event at the Big Spots store, it would be the killing of Zach, the aforementioned new boyfriend to Beth. You knew he was a redshirt the moment Beth wouldn’t say goodbye. Her reaction to his death was creepy. Sure, you get used to people dying off… but to just flip a little sign from 30 Days Without and Accident to 0 Days seems a bit cold. I guess this is to show us where our heroes are mentally.
Speaking of mentally… let’s talk briefly about Rick and his whole sub-plot. I liked it… if it were in another episode. This would have been a great aspect to the fourth of fifth episode, not the premiere. I believe it’s asking some interesting questions and giving us a great deal of insight into this very new place for Rick… but it just seemed to grind the momentum of the episode to a complete halt. Clara was creepy, and the fact that her husband was just a head was even creepier… but her Samara from The Ring look, coupled with Rick’s insistence on not carrying a gun, felt a bit too on the nose for my taste. That entire chunk felt like a poorly executed example of artistic exposition at the expense of real character development. Rick may as well have been talking into the phone again… or hell, just have him talk it out with Hershel a bit more.
Going outside without a gun? Did he not see the first three seasons of this show?
Finally, we get to the viral component. I didn’t know what to make of that weird zombie at the beginning… the one with the bleeding eyes… who gets focused on again later in the episode in case you missed him the first time, but between that zombie and Violet, the pig… something is afoot. And when Patrick develops a fever, followed by his death and “rebirth” in the showers… yikes. Gimple has been hinting that the zombies would be somewhat “evolved” and would introduce a new frightening element to them… I for one did not guess that it would be a viral infection… but I like it.
It makes perfect sense. With all of these rotting corpses walking about, or must lying around in their homes and cars, some sort of mutation would have to happen. Is it a cross between the zombie virus and swine flu? Is this a curable hemorrhagic fever?
Of all the questions posed in the fourth season opener, the virus is the most intriguing… that, and what happened to Tyreese’s balls. I’m looking forward to seeing what sort of hell will break loose once Patrick runs amok through the prison… and whether or not Rick will get his shit together finally and become the leader we all want him to be. This whole rule by committee thing is great in a real world setting… but this is the zombie apocalypse… and is decidedly not the real world. I want my Rick Grimes to be assured and saying things like, “You don’t know who you’re fucking with”… not wandering in the woods looking for trapped animals.
Overall… I was a bit disappointed in this as a season premiere… but now that the open is out of the way, we can sit back and allow the stories they wish to bring wash over us. Let’s hope the rest of the season has more bite than this.
Don’t get me wrong… I still loved it… it is The Walking Dead after all!
He’s just a head,
Cornelius J. Blahg