February 10, 2014

THE SKED Midseason Premiere Review: “The Walking Dead”



The back half of THE WALKING DEAD‘s fourth season began by bringing the series back to square one:  isolated figures wandering without a clear goal through an anonymous landscape riddled with zombies. The episode, entitled “After,” picked up immediately after last fall’s finale, and established quickly that the prison where we’d spent most of the last season and a half had indeed been overrun by walkers, the Governor and Hershel were permanently dead (in the latter case, after a sword through his severed head), baby Judith was gone and probably abducted, and our surviving heroes were scattered.

Aside from the opening and closing moments, the hour, written by Executive Producer (and graphic novel creator) Robert Kirkman and directed by Greg Nicotero, alternated between two stark storylines.  In one, Michonne (Danai Gurira) returned to her preferred style of journeying with two walkers deprived of their arms and jaws serving as combination pets and decoys, before memories/dreams of her surprisingly bourgeois museum-going past brought her to a mass-slaughtering meltdown.  The other was dominated by young Carl (Chandler Riggs), whose bitter rebelliousness and painful growing-up took center screen as his father Rick (Andrew Lincoln) was hobbled and then unconscious as a result of his wounds.

It was a striking decision to start off midseason by following the spectacle of the fall finale with such a confined, relatively low-key episode, but it didn’t all work.  The Michonne part was fascinating, because the charismatic Gurira easily holds the camera and Michonne has been such a tantalizing character from the start that any new information about her is welcome.  The Carl section was less successful.  By now we’ve seen so many iterations of characters creeping through seemingly empty houses, only to have a walker pop out from around a corner, that we can usually tell when one is about to appear, and Carl had shown so much hubris in the moments leading to his big confrontation (“I win!” he arrogantly proclaimed not once, but twice) that he practically had it coming to him.  Later, when he delivered his denunciation to the half-dead Rick for causing all their problems with his decision to farm rather than hunt down the Governor, followed by a he’s-still-just-a-boy realization that he couldn’t put a bullet in his father’s head when he thought Rick had died and was turning, it was a reminder that although the show is trying hard to build him as a substantial character, Carl just isn’t the most magnetic figure in Walking Dead mythology, and Riggs wasn’t able to make the most of his showcase.

The Walking Dead is an effective post-apocalyptic thriller, but often also a dramatic mess, yet that doesn’t seem to matter.  It is, along with The Big Bang Theory, the biggest non-football hit on all of television, and the biggest cable success in history.  It’s already been renewed for season 5 (with showrunner Scott Gimple returning, providing some welcome stability), and AMC is busily putting together an as-yet undisclosed spin-off.  Viewers have a hunger for watching humans get stalked by the lurching zombies, and then bloodily wipe them out, equal to the walkers’ hunger for human flesh, and there’s no reason to think that will change any time soon.  (Especially since the show’s format means that any cast member who doesn’t want to sign a new deal can simply be devoured and replaced.)  Tonight’s atypical episode didn’t provide much guide to where the show will be going the rest of the season (Michonne was about to reunite with Rick and son at the end of the hour, and the promo for next week promised updates on the rest of the cast), and it displayed both Walking Dead‘s tense, gory strengths and its writing weaknesses, but no matter where it heads next, it’s certain to be well-watched.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."