The summer is winding down and you know that what means? That’s right, another season of the highest rated cable show, The Walking Dead, comes to DVD and Blu-ray. AMC’s most successful series had another amazing year of interesting characters and tight storytelling. Playing with the conventions of the group dynamic, the series took risks in Season 4 like no season before, expanding the cast of players and giving focus to lesser characters as well as telling very different stories throughout. As usual, the show met it’s mandate of telling compelling tales about the human condition while showing you a never ending war with the undead. As always, there were zombies, and as always, they were the least of our protagonists’ worries.
The season begins with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his crew living a somewhat peaceful existence. Since absorbing the population of Woodbury into it’s ranks and fixing up the prison, the group have built a happy homestead. But all good things cannot last. A super flu hits the survivors hard, turning well people into future walkers fast. A number of characters head out in groups in search of supplies and medicine while the rest stay behind to watch after the sick. Needless to say, there are number of times where it looks as though the entire cast will end up getting wiped out by this flu bug. The second arc of the season focuses on the return of the Governor and his last play at building a new Woodbury/taking the prison. This arc sets up the second half of the season where we see a number of the main characters is smaller stories, only appearing sporadically as the show jumps from one group to the next. It’s during this time that we’re introduced to a few characters from the comics who hadn’t shown up yet – Eugene, Rosita and Abraham (played by Josh McDermitt, Christian Serratos and Michael Cudlitz, respectively) – and are given a new plot thread which may bring about a whole new batch of stories next season. This all leads to a cliffhanger ending (really the first time the show has done this for a season finale) with most of the group in a dire situation. As many know, this show has a reputation of killing off some of its most loved characters and this season was no exception as Hershel (Scott Wilson) did not go gently into that good night. A major force in the first story arc, it was almost obvious that he would be the next to go. Early on in the season, he was given a great speech about doing anything in this world is taking your life in your hands. Going outsite and taking a drink of water are akin to risking your life. Hershel risks his life many times during the first half of the season and meets a shocking end at the end of the second story arc. But like all deaths on the show, it had meaning and resonance and showed respect to the character. Respect for character was the underlying theme of the season as there was a lot of development put into making the viewer care.
What I was most impressed with was the story structure of this season. In many ways, it took a page from it’s comic book counterpart in relation to pacing, letting the story dictate the speed at which it’s told instead of traditional t.v. formats. Many shows start out their year with solo, character building arcs and end off with a big bang. This series did the opposite, separating the characters and leading them on a journey back to one another. Many of the characters grew and changed and it will be interesting to see how they interact with one another now that they are back together again (for the most part). During this period, we got to see interesting perspectives from both Darryl and Michonne who each dealt with personal demons as well as Glenn and Maggie who were fighting to “find” one another. It was great to see these characters get some breathing room and show more sides of themselves that we don’t normally see in the group setting. The most interesting “solo” story of the bunch would be Carol and Tyreese as they travel on with 3 kids in tow – Lizzie, Mika and baby Judith. Lizzie, a new character introduced at the beginning of season 4, is a child that has some issues with the walkers, seeing them as her “friends”, and has a problem with killing them. This all comes to a head in the episode titled “The Grove” where Carol must deal with this child’s problemed outlook as well as come to terms with a wrong she has done to Tyreese earlier in the season. The episode is a highlight as it tells a very personal story with this small cast that keeps you on the edge of seat. A commentary track with actors Melissa McBride and Chad L. Coleman (along with episode director Michael E. Satrazemis) gives a bit of a peek into what made this episode so special.
The second arc of the season, which focuses on the return of the Governor, is probably the most exciting and action packed of the bunch. The first real play with perspective, the series becomes a show all about The Governor and his trials and tribulations since the end of Season 3. We see him find redemption and loose it all again in just a few short episodes. They were everything a fan of the show would want for a return of this antagonist and David Morrissey gives another fine performance that makes being evil look like a lot of fun.
The box set includes 4 commentary tracks, deleted scenes and numerous featurettes for those that love their DVD extras. The show continues to provide great television and great after market perks as well. If you’re a fan of strong characters, then this season of The Walking Dead is great for you. For those of you that crave action from this series, you might be a little disappointed but will still find a few episodes to tickle your fancy. Pick up The Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season today wherever DVDs are sold.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!