Cast: Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus,
Chandler Riggs, Steven Yuen, Melissa McBride,
Soctt Wilson, Lauren Cohan, Danai Gurira
Director: Greg Nictoero
Matt C: There’s no other word for it: The Walking Dead is a phenomenon. The comic book series was a cult hit that went on to be a major moneyspinner, with trade paperback collections flying of the shelves as soon as they appeared, and now the TV adaptation has hit its fourth season, reaching far more people than the comic ever could, unexpectedly becoming the highest rated scripted drama in the States, a cable show beating all its network rivals. This should be a cause for celebration, and in some ways it is, as anything in another medium that shines a spotlight on the comic book artform has to be applauded, but on the other hand you’d hope that the thing that’s shining the light is a great example of that other medium. Unfortunately, with The Walking Dead, that’s no longer the case.
For the first two, maybe two and a half seasons, while a bit shaky in places, the show was generally engaging and occasionally thrilling. That changed as the third season edged towards its conclusion, resulting in a diabolically bad finale that saw characters behave as though they collectively didn’t have one ounce of sense between them. Characters acting as though overcome by sheer stupidity had been a problem since the series debuted, but by and large there was enough drama and action to counteract it. The term ‘jump the shark’ is bandied about far too frequently these days, and I’m reluctant to use it if I can help it, but the Governor’s antics in that final episode were probably the most appropriate example of televisual shark jumping that I’ve seen in recent years. It also saw the storyline deviate from the source material in the most dramatic fashion so far, essentially forging its own path (although obviously it can curve its way back quite easily). And yes, that means we’re still stuck at the prison.
The kind of thing that should set the alarm bells ringing for anyone who’s even remotely familiar with the workings of American TV is the fact that The Walking Dead is now on its third showrunner. Frank Darabont, who shepherded the show to the screen, famously left at that start of Season 2 under a cloud of ‘creative differences’, replaced by Glen Mazzara who exited under a similar cloud at the end of Season 3. Now Scott Gimple is in charge and any hope that he may have turned things around quickly dissipates when we find ourselves introduced to a bunch of new characters who might as well have the words 'cannon fodder' emblazoned across their chests. At this point the show has such unstoppable momentum that AMC could probably appoint Ronald MacDonald as showrunner and it would keep breaking ratings records, as long as the zombie/gore factor remained high.
And when it comes down to it, I think it’s the sight of fantastically gruesome zombies getting appendages hacked off that really makes this show such a success, because you remove the excess of blood and guts and you’re left with a cast (which includes some great actors) that are forced to inhabit a variety of increasingly bland, unlikable characters. It’s impossible not to judge it against the comic, and while writer Robert Kirkman has a tendency to overdo the melodrama on occasion, he has a far better grasp of where the narrative is going, depicting people who are gradually becoming more distant from what we consider as basic human morality. Sticking with the prison setting when the comic left it behind, the show runs the risk of covering the same ground that many viewers got impatient going over before.
There’s a sequence where zombies rain through a ceiling that’s quite effective, both visually and in terms of creating some (fleeting) tension, but that aside there’s nothing new here, just more Romero referencing ad nauseam. Worse than that, it’s an often tedious watch, with attention wandering elsewhere when it should be entirely fixated on what’s occurring on screen. I think I’ll stick with the series for a couple more episodes but I do feel I’m just delaying the inevitable. AMC recently announced that they were going ahead with a spin-off series, following a group of survivors elsewhere in the US. It makes financial sense, obviously, but from an artistic perspective you wonder why they want an additional zombie show on the air when they can’t even get the first one right. 4/10