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And in one fell swoop the prison utopia comes to an end. The Walking Dead kicked off its fourth season with a more contemplative episode. "30 Days Without an Accident" established many of the major themes this season will most likely explore while also showing us just how much some of the old stalwarts have grown (congratulations to Carl for hitting puberty). But The Walking Dead may be too rigid in their past to allow the series to grow.
In "30 Days," the show sets up about as idyllic a lifestyle as one could hope to have after a zombie apocalypse. There are crops growing and pig raising. Everyone has a special job, whether it’s to cook and dole out the food, to clear the fence of walkers, or going out on supply runs. There is now electricity for small appliances such as iPods (rejoice for all the diegetic music…) and beard trimmers. The original gang is constantly thanked for bringing stragglers into their community and some form of governing council has been formed.
All of this creates an interesting dynamic between characters and their relationships. Now that there is something to live for, it could become harder for people to risk their lives to go out into the world. This is evidenced by both Glenn forbidding a possibly pregnant Maggie to go on a run with him as well as Tyreese lamenting to his new woman about the general danger and violence the world now presents. These types of introspective plots would represent the maturation of The Walking Dead into something that it has yet to explore fully, the difference between existing and living, which Maggie even brings up at the end of the episode.
Unfortunately, these theme explorations may have to wait because The Walking Dead still wants to, and maybe even needs to be the rampaging, grotesque, zombie eradicator that has made it so popular. There will always be danger in this world filled of walkers but it doesn’t necessarily need to be represented by an onslaught of walkers and gruesome kills every week. And while many of the fans tune in to The Walking Dead specifically for scenes of zombie bombs dropping from the collapsing roof of the Big Sp!t and newcomer Bob (yet another alumnus of The Wire) rip part of a walker’s head, these scenes actually hinder the show from becoming something more meaningful. The show has reached the point of diminishing returns with these types of “zombie massacre during supplies run” scenes. The audience knows that none of the main characters are in any real danger – it isn’t as if fan favorite Daryl is all of a sudden going to die – so really these scenes are specifically to service the fans.
Danger was better represented in both Rick’s sojourn with the woman stranger and the untimely, and fairly ridiculous death of Carl’s hipster friend. Rick decided to take Carl’s reminder of humanity over Hershel’s council about protecting himself when he comes across a stranger in the woods. The woman stranger quickly is shown to be Rick’s double had Rick gone down different paths through his journey up to this point. She is emaciated and dirty and lures Rick to her camp as she talks about her husband and where she was when the apocalypse began. Her journey alone mirrored Rick’s and her solitude would have been his had he never found Laurie, Shane, and the rest of the original survivors. Once they reach her camp, she springs upon Rick in hopes of killing him so she could feed him to her husband’s zombified head. Again, this is a stark reminder of where Rick was headed in the middle of last season after Laurie had died. However, this subplot should be more remembered for the constant struggle between one’s humanity and survivor instincts as well as for the capability of danger from anyone and anywhere. It also revealed the protocol for taking into the prison but that may not be very relevant for much longer.
The other sense of lurking danger came from Carl’s friend. After feeling sick during story time and weapon training for the kids, he ends up taking a shower and dying because he slips/passes out. Let that sink in for a second – that is the best way the show could come up with for someone to die on the prison premises unbeknownst to the rest of the community. In any case, the final shot is of him reawakening as a zombie, because he died by breaking his nose… Larger than the way Carl’s friend dies is how disappointing it is that this particular plot has already been set into motion.
Yes, everyone knew that one of the survivors would eventually die and most likely cause havoc within the prison but there was no need for this to happen so soon. There needs to be some time for the audience to get used to the possibility of the prison being a safe haven. The characters have already accepted this but the audience has not. The larger emotional blow would have been for this to happen a few episodes into the season. Not only would the audience have possibly liked the character but it also would have allowed the audience to feel as safe in the prison settlement as the characters do in this first episode. Instead, this has come along far too quickly, which gives this plot far less gravitas it should have and seems like a cheap trick just to inject some action into the next episode. There is always the possibility that Carl’s friend gets killed before he can wreak havoc, which would be a very welcome surprise, but, knowing The Walking Dead, that almost certainly won’t happen.
Despite introducing three new characters, the aforementioned Bob being the only survivor of the group (not even a tear was shed for Zach), and some possible season-long themes, it still feels as though The Walking Dead is afraid to take that step towards a more meaningful TV show. It is only the premiere episode and perhaps these predictions will be incorrect in the coming weeks, but with a show that has had such a checkered past with staying at locales for far too long, expect everyone to be back on the road again and the show running back towards the familiar lands of curb stomping zombie heads and faux peril for our heroes.