‘Walking Dead’ Season 4 Review: The Zombies Are Slower Than Ever

'Walking Dead' Season 4 Review: The Zombies Are Slower Than Ever

TV's biggest scripted show breaks a few rules it shouldn't have

The “Walking Dead” is back, and it's… kind of boring, actually.

I know, that's not something you usually say about a zombie story. Or about “The Walking Dead,” TV's top scripted show. But there it is. I really like “The Walking Dead.” I'll probably never stop watching it. But during the first two episodes of Season 4, I almost nodded off twice.

Also read: ‘The Walking Dead’: 7 Characters We Lost… Who Came Back (Photos)

It wasn't the zombies’ fault: They're still moaning, groaning, menacing. But the writers aren't killing the way the walkers are. For some reason, they've decided it's time for Rick Grimes to go through a gentleman-farmer stage, which is good for his temperament, but not for drama. There's a reason “Star Wars” didn't spend too long on Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen's moisture farm.

The other characters are looking good, too. With The Governor no longer a constant threat — or driving force of the plot — they've started to let down their hair. (Everyone's is longer, which looks just great.) They have lots of new love interests we know will be dead very soon. Daryl, with his leather jacket, crossbow and ape hanger handlebars, has no excuse not to be the coolest character on TV.

Except maybe his lines. He, like everyone, needs more to do. Of course a show punctuated by ripped-out intestines needs to slow down and re-set once in a while. Season 3 started slow, too. But Season 4 starts with things happening that don't need to happen, like a bottle-episode type sequence (spoiler alert: a creepy-looking woman turns out to be creepy) that serves only to introduce three questions Rick asks anyone who wants to enter the prison gates.

The questions nicely encapsulate where our heroes now stand. But getting to them is a slog.

Also read: ‘Walking Dead': 4 Things Networks Can Learn From the Cable Show That's Beating Them

“Walking Dead” has a new showrunner in Scott Gimple, who wrote the Season 4 premiere. He replaced Glen Mazzara, who last year shared with TheWrap some of the “Walking Dead” writing rules that made the show so fun to watch with him in charge. Among Mazzara's rules: Keep surprising the audience with accelerated storytelling, and don't slow down to over-explain.

“The Walking Dead” no longer seems to follow those rules. The most disappointing example is a scene that serves to tell us the group now has a council, and who serves on that council. It's the kind of thing that could be explained by just showing us the council, which the show eventually does. Was I excited to see the council? No. I'm here for the biters.

The most boring part of the new episodes is the ceremonial trotting out of characters we know will be eaten soon. You're cute, a regular cast member likes you, and you're going on a supply run? Hope you've picked out a coffin.

The lone new actor who seems likely to stick around is Lawrence Gilliard Jr., who joins fellow “Wire” veteran Chad S. Coleman, though I don't believe their characters ever crossed paths on their old show. Gilliard's Bob has a compelling problem: We see it when he lingers on bottles of booze during a supply run, right before zombies start falling through the ceiling. Fighting alcoholism mid-zombie apocalypse sounds like a good storyline, and the show touched on the idea before, with Hershel. It's just the kind of nasty little bomb the writers should be setting on episodes this slow, assuming it eventually goes off.

I'm not saying nothing happens in the first two episodes. I mentioned the ceiling walkers. But there's a difference between routine zombie attacks (yep, I just wrote those three words) and chain reactions we know will build to awesome conflagrations. We got one with Hershel's farm, and another with the cross-attacks on Woodbury and the prison. The biggest lurking danger this season seems to be one we see at the start of Episode 2.

The second episode might have been a pretty good first one. Almost everything crucial to the premiere episode feels like it could have been worked in, and plenty of Episode 2 scenes could go. There's a very cool, dark twist at the end of the second episode, but it comes only after a climax that it equally undramatic and unpleasant to watch. It has Biblical undertones that suggest the show is going for small, lyrical moments.

I don't want a zombie show with small, lyrical moments. Another Georgia-set series, Sundance's “Rectify,” does that sort of thing much better. I want my zombie shows packed with living things pushed to their limits, and dead things dying for good. And things going boom along the way.

  • Sean Murdock

    Surprised to hear this, Tim. I thought after they changed showrunners last year (AGAIN), that the marching orders for Season 4 were “More Danger, Scarier Zombies.” I have to believe that they are establishing a prolonged “calm before the storm” so that whatever mayhem they unleash will be more traumatizing, because we've seen them living in relative peace.

    I'm still confused about why they had to change showrunners again after Season 2. Glen Mazzara was the guy they brought in to “rescue” the show from the artistic leanings of Frank Darabont (sarcasm), and all he did was deliver Barnmageddon (the second half of Season 2) and the best ratings in the history of cable in Season 3. What did he do wrong, exactly?

    Anyway, I'll be tuning in. I don't mind periods of calm and character-development, as long as they're well written and have a purpose in the overall story. I didn't mind, for example, the time at Herschel's farm. You can't go balls to the wall with zombie zaniness 24/7; eventually, you'd care as little for the humans as you do for the walkers.

    • tim.molloy

      I liked the Hershels’ farm time too, except for the endless time debating whether to kill the guy. I'm all for character development.

      What they're doing in the first two episodes at least is (obvious spoiler alert) spending time on intro-ing people just to kill them. It's a dead end, no pun intended.

      But hey, I'm glad we have a new show to talk about.

      • Sean Murdock

        Me too — and I hope The Walking Dead has a “No killing alums of The Wire” policy…

  • Plantastic

    Search Zombie plant if you want to grow a eal Zombie Plant that PLAYS DEAD when you touch it

  • Plantastic

    New Zombie Plant in action

  • Bob61

    “The questions nicely encapsulate where “are” heroes now stand.”
    I discount criticisms of anyone's writing that comes from a “journalist” who may be functionally illiterate.

  • worthymagic

    I had no problems with the first new episode. It's always been a good show. There are always going to be people that are unhappy with the direction of the show. How many people said that they would NEVER watch again after Laurie Holden(Andrea) was killed off?! There will be another Walking Dead show in 2014 or 2015, so the disgruntled viewer can watch that one instead. I wish that the season had more episodes, but you can't always get what you want.

    • Johnny Glover

      “But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need, oh yeah!”
      Mick Jagger

  • guest

    I think you fail to recognize the reason the show is popular is because they do exactly the opposite of what your suggesting. Character development, building storylines and subplots is what separates this from a run of the mill Zombie Movie. I think you should go rent Night of the Living Dead that seems to be what your after.

    • tim.molloy

      The problem isn't character development. Character development is great. The problem is over-explanation, needless exposition and dead ends. Introducing characters just to kill them is stalling.

  • Mark

    A nice recap which sums up pretty much how a long time fan feels. So far, the writing and pace has been very disappointing and in just two episodes, the show is close to losing it's edge. Too much prison, too many gate scenes and no real surprises. I will keep watching but my expectations are now amazingly low.

  • Blake Duckworth

    I'd like to see them out in the open dealing with a harsh winter like in the comic book, instead of it always being summer every season

  • Fan88

    I totally agree with this article . I am a HUGE fan of the show , I LOVE it but I have to say that season 4 is sooooo disappointing. The script is awful , y r they talking so much it just seems forced and boring. I was wondering if anyone else felt the way I do and am glad to see it isn't just me. Whoever wrote this season is not doing a good job. The tension is not being built , the scenes lack drama and the dialogue is long winded. please save my favourite show , hire back the old guys !!!! Please!!!!

    • jimbob

      I've watched 9 terrible episodes of season 4…………
      what the hell have they done to this previously brilliant show…

  • dapixeldude

    Just 3 episodes left and 4th season is still slow…