By Drew Maron , Daily Arts Writer
Published October 28, 2013
At its core, “The Walking Dead” is about a whole lot more than just killing zombies. It’s a show about how we keep our humanity in a world gone to hell and whether or not we can go back to the way things were. The show’s problems have always been the direction the two previous showrunners were taking it in.
The Walking Dead
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Season 4, Episodes 1 and 2
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Frank Darabont (director of “The Shawshank Redemption” and first head writer for “The Walking Dead”) definitely brought the tragedy of it all with a cinematic scope seldom seen in television, yet the first season lacked a real overarching storyline to bridge the gap from episode to episode. Darabont’s successor in the second season, Glen Mazarra, tried to fix that with more story arcs and action, but despite stellar ratings, the characters never felt like they were striving toward anything beyond simply “not dying.”
With third-time’s-the-charm showrunner Scott Gimple, however, “Walking Dead” fans can rest assured. The show’s focus is finally where it needs to be: giving us hope in a world where so little of it exists.
Right off the bat, the first episode of season four, “30 Days Without an Accident,” goes down the checklist of previous wrongs in pretty much the easiest way possible: making Michonne (Danai Gurira, “Treme”), the mysterious sword-wielding survivor, smile. And more than just smile, mind you. She laughs, she jokes and she cries (more on that in a second). One of the biggest problems the past three seasons have faced is its female characters. The most notable examples being Andrea (Laurie Holden, “The Shield”) and Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies, “Black November”) with the former repeatedly failing at being just as tough as one of the boys (only to fail … a lot) and the latter being the third-worst parent on television behind Donald Draper and Walter White.
Though I’m sure a lot of people might be relieved those two are gone, I honestly kind of wish Scott Gimple took a shot at fleshing them out first. From these first episodes, Gimple shows an innate understanding of these characters and how living in this world has changed them, for good or bad. Carol (Melissa McBride, “Living Proof”) started off as a mousy housewife in an abusive relationship. Four seasons later, she’s a badass, teaching the younger members knife fighting and the more unpleasant aspects of the zombie apocalypse.
But undoubtedly the biggest change has been just how much deeper we seem to be getting into Michonne. Her constant paranoia and scowling last season became tiresome and one-note, and fans of the comic series were worried their beloved post-apocalyptic samurai would never be fully realized. Fortunately, Gurira finally shows us what the producers saw in the actress when casting her last season. She is establishing a familial link with the prison the rest of the group already shares. Her vulnerability reveals itself in full force in the second episode, “Infected,” where Michonne tearfully breaks while holding baby Judith. It was heart-rending while still keeping Michonne’s past firmly in the camp of mysterious, adding even more layers to her enigmatic past.
“Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman has always said the title of the show is a reference both to the zombie-like walkers and the survivors themselves who are dead — in the sense that without society and the things we constitute as “making us alive” we are, in a sense, “dead.” It’s a bleak idea, and the show reflected that continuously these past three seasons, but what it has ignored is the presence of hope. Season four reminds us of the little things that keep these people going: the hope that maybe, despite all the suffering and death, there still might be light at the end of the tunnel. That’s what “The Walking Dead” is about: not avoiding death, but fighting for life.