The Walking Dead lumbers back over the horizon! In the last stomach-constricting episode, the Governor finally did what we all expected from him at the end of season three: kamikaze-rushed the prison and ruined it for everyone. And now, adrift in the middle of season four, our surviving heroes stare, wide-eyed, unsure where to go next.
Even by this show’s miserable standards, this has the potential to be damn depressing. So, was I ready to bash my own head open by the end? That would be a spoiler…
Teenager Out-Acts Adults?
After last episode’s big theatrics, this is a textbook calm-after-the-storm episode, but happily when I say textbook, I don’t mean boring, rather that the execution is really solid. It focuses in on two subsections of the scattered group – Rick/Carl and Michonne – and shows them slowly putting themselves back together.
Big hero Rick spends the episode unconscious; this is far more Carl’s story. His slow journey from standard TV kid to hardened killer in recent seasons has been interesting, and Chandler Riggs sells it well. He has a restrained, natural air that makes him easy to root for. The sequence where he loses a shoe and eats chocolate pudding was among the most charming things I’ve seen on The Walking Dead – not something I expected from a post-horror episode.
I was so much on his side, it made the zombie showdowns all the more tense. Naturalistic dialogue isn’t something this show always does well, so the spooky quiet of a reduced cast is no bad thing. Enjoyed Carl’s monologue at his dad though – his teenage status just about allows the melodrama.
ONGOING THEME: “When will they die and how?”
Michonne’s story is sparser than Carl’s, but takes important steps towards humanising her. Danai Gurira is always charismatic, but seems to particularly relish a chance to play different sides of her character. The dream/flashback sequence was well done too, moody and not silly.
In terms of broad direction: it occurs to me that The Walking Dead has never really done a prolonged sequence of the characters out in the wild without a settlement to call home. If that’s the strategy for these eight episodes before settling again for season five, I’m on board if future weeks are as good as this one.
The vague sense that the show has no direction beyond never-ending misery is still there, but if they can serve up decent standalone episodes with real tension and strong characters, I’ll keep watching. I even felt Rick and Carl’s tangible rush of happiness at the end, no small feat in this horrendous world. Next week, we’re looking in on everyone else…