I will say initially, there are some spoilers throughout for those who haven’t seen the series, up to and including Season 4.
The Walking Dead has been a show riddled with production issues from the get go yet continues to be a monetary success. The show is now on its third showrunner, Scott Gimple, who has of course brought a different feel to the current season compared to past showrunners Frank Darabont and Glen Mazzaara. The first half of season four has felt fresher than most of the series.
One of the main problems The Walking Dead has had is pacing. Season 1 was much too short. The pilot episode was by far the best of that season. It was also the most true to the comic the show has ever been. The show was never meant to be a replica of the comic but to simply take ideas from the comic and create a series from those ideas. That should have led to fresh ideas and some great storytelling that one has come to expect from AMC. Instead the show has woven in and out of fast paced action packed episodes and multiple episode arcs that build up the action packed climaxes that more often than not drag on entirely too long.
Season two and three are perfect examples of the pacing issues that have plagued the season. Season 2 began with Sophia’s disappearance the entire first half of the season only to be disappointed by the mid season climax of her death. The first half of the season ended up feeling like a complete waste of time. The same thing happened in the season three finale with the Governor. It became less about survival and more about emotion. Emotion is fine. Without emotion the show would just be a gorefest full of murder and zombie dismemberment. That would, more than likely, get old very fast. However, too much emotion gets the show leaning more towards post apocalyptic soap opera than good dramatic television.
Moving on, the first half of Season 4, from a Walking Dead standpoint, has been superb. For the most part the threat has changed. It is no longer humanity they are physically fighting against, but the possibility of plague, and their environment again, and themselves (which is a little bit of humanity). I’ll try not to spoil the season that much. They are still in the prison, of course. The group of survivors the viewers know has grown into a much larger group having taken in the survivors of Woodbury. Essentially, this just has given the writers a large amount of expendable bodies for the season. There are not really many new characters that arise from the new survivors, just a few to attempt to make the show feel fresh again.
Season 4 is not fast paced and completely full of action, but it does not drag on like previous seasons either. Yes, they are at the prison, but it’s no boring farmhouse. The prison seems to feel more like a community this season than it has in the past. Everyone is working together to seemingly make things better. They even have a garden and a few pigs they are raising. Rick puts himself in charge of the makeshift farm they have created. This season doesn’t really delve too deep into one specific character for too long. All we can see from Rick is he is still in shock, and probably still crazy from the events with Lori and everything else that occurred in season three. Carol has taken over teaching the children in the group, and everyone else is just hanging out working at the prison building a community.
The community in The Walking Dead has to be constantly threatened or else there is no premise to the show. However, this has also been the shows biggest weakness. The biggest threats coming at the characters that have caused problems with the show are the other fellow survivors outside of the group that the series focuses on. Season one had the sad widow at the CDC, and season three had the Governor. These two antagonists caused some major issues with the story as a whole. The whole CDC plot point was annoying. The whole premise of killing everyone off and not having anything left to live for came off too heavy handed. Plus the pacing was so quick he just seemed like a madman. The Governor, a different kind of madman, should have been so much more evil, but it’s television and there are censors and standards and practices etc. The entire problem with season three stems around the plot progression of the Governor. Things keep swapping back between Woodbury and the prison and destroying any sort of pacing that could be had in the season. Instead it felt like two opposing zombie series, juxtaposing each other one episode after another until they accidentally collided. The Governor as a villain would have worked fine if they would have kept the pace up instead of dragging out the finale for three to four episodes of buildup between the groups, and if there would have been a clear endpoint. It felt as though the writers had no idea what to do with the mess they created with the season. Andrea’s character development was a problem as well, but it seemed to have been resolved as the season concluded. (If you catch my drift.)
Many people expect the show to be full of gore and constant brutality. What needs to be realized is that it is not a show about a zombie apocalypse. It is a show about survival that takes place within the confines of said apocalypse. This is where season 4 really flourishes. They don’t sit around and wait. When a problem arises they use their new “council” of those in charge to make a plan and solve a problem. This seems to have upped the pace of the season so far. For most of the episodes there is always something going on. From looking for medical supplies to caring for the sick, to a zombie herd crushing the prison fences, it all makes the season flow together much better than the previous three. Even when a certain character resurfaces and the plot separates a bit the show still doesn’t lose its pace. It all keeps going until it reaches a bloody climax that leaves the fan base, myself included, yearning for the mid season premiere in February.
If the first half of the season is any indication of what is to come then the rest of the season should be gripping enough to captivate us all for the next couple of months. It could also go the exact opposite direction and slow to a snail’s pace. My money’s on the former. Either way, it seems as if AMC will still make tons of money off of it and continue the show with the massive fan base and appeal it has no matter how bad it has been.
Side note: If you’re a fan of The Cultural Apocalypse podcast, they talks about this season as well in an episode, so everyone should check it out. Hopefully I didn’t plagiarize anything from those awesome guys.