The group have adapted to life at the prison, although Rick is still wrestling with his issues having given up leadership to a council. A debilitating virus breaks out, causing many of the residents to fall ill while others search out medicine. Meanwhile, the Governor is making a new life for himself, but his old character quickly reasserts itself, resulting in an explosive confrontation at the prison gates…
The fourth season of The Walking Dead, for a while the best thing on television, got off to something of a slow—some might say sleepwalking—start. The opening episode saw Rick apparently take up a career as a farmer, ignoring his wider responsibilities to the group he led to the prison. While others continue to adapt to life with the walkers around them, an infection breaks out. These next few episodes were equally slow and focused on character, so were not entirely dissatisfying. However, this long run with little substantial incident that front loaded the season did recall the over-extended stay on Hershel’s farm.
Carol’s admission of murder comes from left field (leading to the departure of fan favourite Melissa McBride), although the mystery livened things up briefly, while Darryl and company’s extended scavenger hunt outstayed its welcome. The first great episode arrived with episode five ‘Internment’, focusing on Hershel’s ministrations to the sick. It featured a bravura performance from Scott Wilson and led to a fantastic cliffhanger ending: the return of David Morrissey’s brooding Governor.
The final batch of episodes were unexpected, with two headlined by Morrissey as we follow his progress post-Woodbury and in episode six ‘Live Bait’ almost begin to believe he’s turned over a new leaf. That’s nonsense, of course, and his old colours show through in episode seven ‘Dead Weight’, leading to the brilliant final episode, ‘Too Far Gone’.
The confrontation when it came was worth the wait, especially Morrissey’s “I’ve got a tank” line and the famous one from the comic books: “Kill them all!” While the assault on the prison was all-out, for a change the man-on-man confrontation between Rick and the Governor had a lot more narrative weight behind it than most fighty-fighty scenes in episodic fantasy television. These two men represented clear opposing views and methods, with a deep built up and earned history. Similarly, Michonne’s dispatching of the Governor was predictable, but no less satisfying for that. Hershel’s exit was inevitable, wonderfully paying off a character who’d slowly earned his place in the ensemble and whose job in enlightening Rick had reached its end.
Roll on February and the rest of season four.
Verdict: Very much a season of two halves, with a slow-burn beginning and an explosive climax, focusing on character development and meaningful drama.
Episodes 1-4: 6/10
Episode 5: 9/10
Episode 6-7: 8/10
Episode 8: 9/10
Brian J. Robb