October 13, 2013

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “The Walking Dead”



Devouring its showrunners much as zombie walkers do unwary or unlucky humans, THE WALKING DEAD returned tonight under the helm of its third leader, Scott M. Gimple, who’s been a writer/producer on the show since Season 2.  Based on the Season 4 premiere, which Gimple wrote, his reign doesn’t seem likely to disrupt the blood flow at AMC’s blockbuster series.

Oddly, severed heads and punctured eyeballs aside, Walking Dead has never felt more like a conventional TV series.  This is the first time a season has started with all the action occurring in or near a single setting, that being the prison taken over by Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his band of hardy survivors last season.  Season 3 ended with the (temporary?) vanquishing of the evil Governor (David Morrissey, due to return later this season), and the addition of his town’s ranks to the prison population.  When we rejoin the humans, a fair amount of time has gone by, and the newcomers have become integrated into the prison’s system.  Reading lessons (and surreptitiously, knife lessons) for the children are conducted by Carol (Melissa McBride), a pregnancy scare for Maggie (Lauren Cohan) is treated as serious but not the end of the world.  Everything is well-organized, and could even be called peaceful, if you allow for the walkers who pile up at the prison’s fences to have their brains smashed in.  Rick has all but given up being a lawman–Hershel (Scott Wilson) has to instruct him to put on his gun when Rick is leaving the prison grounds to check on animal snares–and become a farmer, growing enough produce so that soon the prison ecosystem will be self-perpetuating.

For now, though, groups of survivors have to make runs to nearby shopping centers, and the main action of the episode follows one of those raids, with a downright chatty Michonne (Danai Gurira), Daryl (Norman Reedus), Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman, now a regular), Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green, ditto), Glenn (Steven Yeun), former Army medic Bob Stookey (new regular Larry Gilliard, Jr) and an unlucky redshirt whose distinguishing characteristic is being the boyfriend of Beth (Emily Kinney), heading to a superstore that seems deserted, but of course isn’t.  Gimple and director Greg Nicotero) do a fine job kickstarting the season’s action sequences with, literally, a new angle:  the walkers have herded together on the roof, and when a section gives way, they drop down on the humans from above, a neat twist on the show’s usual action beats.  In the end, only the redshirt perishes, this being early in the game to kill off regulars.

On a more contemplative note, the other major narrative line of the premiere follows Rick as he meets an Irish woman in the woods, who begs him to come back to her camp and rescue her and her husbabnd.  She’s in such wretched shape that Rick, and we, first mistake her for a walker, and it’s not a tremendous surprise when it turns out her husband is no longer part of the human race (although being a severed head in a sack takes things a step farther).  The woman is really on hand to give Rick his latest crisis of conscience, as before she commits suicide and asks to be allowed to turn walker so she can join her husband’s head, she tells him that people can never come back from the terrible things they’ve done to survive–a theory Hershel later disputes, but exactly the kind of worry to get Rick all angst-ridden.

Tonight’s premiere was clearly a stage-setting hour, so it’s early to come to any conclusions about where the season will be going, or how well it will get there.  The episode was fairly self-contained until the last few minutes, in which another redshirt’s death (following the death of one of the settlement’s pigs) set up the possibility of an epidemic that could certainly shake things up, as well as prison residents dying on the grounds and becoming walkers themselves.  In addition, Michonne has been riding out alone in search of the Governor, and we know that’s going to lead somewhere, for better or worse.  Signs of potential trouble:  the cast all stuck in the same location for too long (memories of Season 2 and Hershel’s farm, a set of episodes that seemed as though they’d never end), and another spiritual journey for Rick, who’s just never been as interesting as the show wants him to be.  On the other hand, the addition of new cast members should help keep things moving.

What does seem fair to say is that Gimple’s regime won’t change the DNA of The Walking Dead in any jarring way.  His first hour–and who knows how many more of them he’ll get, since being Walking Dead showrunner is roughly like being the drummer for Spinal Tap–was assured and well in line with the show’s hugely successful template.




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."