Season four of “The Walking Dead” is a big leap forward for the series, in where it re-captures a lot of the dread and urgency of season one, while also rebooting the narrative once more. After the big war in season three where the group managed to beat an army by cunning and sheer luck, Rick and his surviving group from Hershel’s farm, along with the remnants of Woodbury, have now settled down in the prison, and have built a respectable society for themselves. Rick is now committed to farming alongside Hershel as his apprentice, while he’s also focused most of the time on giving Carl a childhood, however twisted it may be. The series has a good time with misdirection, and begins the season premiere with Rick outside the prison farming and listening to music, drowning outside noise. As he turns to look back at the prison, we cut to a wide scene of the walking dead clutching the gates in droves only inches from Rick. Try as the survivors might to pretend otherwise, the world is still for the dead.
During the many months after we’ve seen them, relationships have evolved, progressed, and new dynamics have popped up. One of the more interesting changes is that Daryl Dixon, once an outcast, is now a hero among the small prison community, and is one of the head honchos that lead teams for supplies. Season four has three prongs to its encompassing arc. In the first prong, we watch as Rick has to revert to survival mode, when feral pigs the group takes in for food and breeding accidentally spread a super flu. This restarts the zombie epidemic within the belly of the prison, prompting the group to scramble for medicine to halt the flu, and prevent as many deaths as possible. The second prong involves the return of the snake in the grass, the Governor, who emerges from seclusion, and manipulates and murders his way to lead a new group of nomads intent on seizing the prison. The third prong is the fall out where the group are once again scattered among the walking dead, and now all commune to “Terminus,” an alleged safe haven for survivors that will hopefully re-unite the lost, and give them a new place to live in peace. Season four inches ever closer to paying homage to the comic books, as for years the show has strayed from the material a great deal.
Finally, the writers acknowledge many of the twists and turns from the comic books but with their own leisure, slowly sneaking in sub-plots that many fans will recognize and appreciate. Season four is much more cohesive when compared to season three, with a fantastic grasp on the characters, and centers on the rising friction between Carl and Rick Grimes. Rick is finally becoming the Rick we know from the comics, while Carl is now a very independent survivalist who is blossoming in to an adult and deadly warrior, and wants to be taken seriously. Yes, even in the zombie apocalypse, our kids really just want to be their own people. The performances are as remarkable as ever, with brilliant respective turns from Danai Guerira, Andrew Lincoln, Scott Wilson, and Melissa McBride, who consistently provides new layers to Carol Peletier. I originally was annoyed she was allowed so much focus since her introduction, but McBride has given the story of Carol such resonance to the definition of the title “The Walking Dead.” Her turn as this once meek home maker to this stone cold survivor is mesmerizing. Never is it made more clearly than in the episodes “The Grove,” and “Indifference.”
If I have any complaints, is that like every season, there are one or two episodes that I really can often do without. The episode “Live Bait” is just a forty five minute adaptation of the novel “Rise of the Governor.” That’s sad, since the book was just dull to read, so it’s definitely worse to watch. The writers use the book to chronicle the re-emergence of the Governor, and it’s a very lackluster episode. “Still” is also a dull filler episode that has almost no relevance to the arc. Really it’s just forty five minutes of “Beth and Daryl are different, but still friends! Awww!” Those pit falls aside, season four constantly jumps back and forth from emotionally gripping to utterly shocking, and boldly leaves the finale as a wide open door to jump right in to season five. The crew behind the series knows the show will be around for a long time, so season four’s finale is a declaration of such. “The Walking Dead” season four is superb, continuing to rise in production quality and storytelling ability, all the while embracing the comic’s tone while carving its own path among fans.
The season four set contains a very in depth series of featurettes that chronicle the major and minute aspects of the production. “Inside the Walking Dead” are five minute segments focusing on the production of various episodes within the discs. They’re very informative and to the point, which fans will enjoy. “The Making of The Walking Dead” is also a series of five minute segments per episode that discusses production and filming for fans of the technical aspects of the series. “Drawing Inspiration” is a six minute look at the slowly converging parallels between the comic book and the series. There’s also great insight in how they influence the other. “Hershel” is a thoughtful and sweet look at the character of Hershel Greene and what he endures in season four. Scott Wilson’s thoughts on the character are engrossing, and it’s nice to see how the cast loves the character and the man behind the character.
“The Governor is Back” is a great look at the evolution of the Governor, and how his return means doom for the show and the characters. “Society, Science & Survival” is a five minute exploration of science and studies that use The Walking Dead as examples and help certain subjects for studying. “Inside KNB Studios” is a great eighteen minute round table interview with Greg Nicotero and his crew, all of whom discuss their challenges making the zombies for the show, the various cameos from horror characters on the show including Bub, and what processes they use to bring these intricate designs to the series. “A Journey Back to Brutality” is another entertaining eight minute segment about Rick Grimes, and his evolution over the season and de-evolution in to savagery during some circumstances. There are also a slew of deleted scenes for the episodes “30 Days Without an Accident,” “Live Bait,” “Dead Weight,” “Too Far Gone,” “Still,” “The Grove,” “Us,” and “A.”
Finally, along with audio commentaries, there are extended uncensored episodes for episodes 1, 5, 9, 12 and 14. On disc one there’s an audio commentary for “30 Days Without An Accident” with Executive Producer Scott M. Gimple, Executive Producer/Unit Production Manager Tom Luse, and Executive Producer/Special Effects Make-Up Artist/Director Greg Nicotero. Disc Two features an audio commentary for “Internment” with Executive Producer Scott M. Gimple and Actor Scott Wilson. “Too Far Gone:” Director Ernest Dickerson and Writer Seth Hoffman. Disc Three features the extended episode of “After” and a commentary with Executive Producer/Special Effects Make-Up Artist/Director Greg Nicotero, Co-Executive Producer Denise Huth, and Danai Gurira. There’s also a commentary for “Still” with director Julis Ramsay and Emily Kinney on track one, and Writer/Producer Angela King and Actor Norman Reedus on track two. Finally on disc four there’s a commentary for the extended version of “The Grove” featuring Executive Producer Scott M. Gimple, Co-Executive Producer Denise Huth, and Actor Andrew Lincoln.