AMC‘s The Walking Dead 30 Days Without An Accident TV Show Review. The Walking Dead: Season 4, Episode 1: 30 Days Without an Accident was an example of the best kind of season premiere; the kind that gives you a fairly clear idea of what lies ahead, while assuring that past low points will not be repeated.
Evidently, some time had passed since the events of last season’s finale. The prison had been converted into a commune and the influx of town folk settled into various roles. Rick (Andrew Lincoln), with The Stanley Brothers’ “Precious Memories” in his ear, headed out to tend to the gardens. It was a fairly serene and picturesque affair. When a pistol was unearthed from the garden soil and Rick removed his ear buds, the Walkers at the fence were brought to his – and the audience’s – attention (the vision of an ideal future brought back to a harsh present).
That opening scene alone could have summed up the episode but there was a wealth of material to come. Some of that material came in the form of new characters – all attached to, or attempting to ingratiate themselves with established characters. Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.), the latest addition, leveraged his eagerness to contribute and military medic experience against Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green)’s misgivings about him as a team player (he had been a solo act, prior). Sasha allowed him to tag along on an expedition. Zack (Kyle Gallner) was already romantically linked to Beth (Emily Kinney) but mostly engaged Daryl (Norman Reedus) on the same expedition. Patrick (Vincent Martella) was likewise already in good standing with Carol (Melissa McBride), apparently, but was introduced kissing up to Daryl.
Call it cynicism but I thought this a deliberate strategy to play to expectations. The series Lost set something of a precedent where any nail “extras” that stuck out were hammered – much like the “Red Shirts” from classic Star Trek. Although it had long been established that no one is truly safe on The Walking Dead, there had always been a higher rate of attrition among newer characters. While not quite as obvious as, say, being close to retirement, or talking too much about a bright future, elements like mission send-offs with good-byes deliberately withheld provided a clear invitation to bet on the fortunes of the targeted. In this case, two out of three turned out to be pretty good but sparing the one with the clearest personal demon, likely to have future ramifications within the group, made it too easy. If I were a more morbid viewer, there could have been pool winnings in it for me.
Much more fodder for the season came from more familiar faces. Carl had apparently mellowed since going homicidal by the end of last season but was still having a hard time reconciling communal life with his hard-edged experiences. He had gotten into the habit of naming meat animals (against his father’s wishes) but was disturbed by a group of younger children naming Walkers. He also seemed bothered by the fact that their story-time with Carol, an activity he had dismissed as “kid stuff,” turned out to be survivalist sessions. Carol, for her part, seemed determined to keep those sessions a secret; waiting until they were unsupervised to begin, and begging Carl not to tell his father.
I can only assume that both Carl and Carol were seeking out, and wrestling with, ways to accept the simultaneous hopefulness and hopelessness of their situation; and that this was the overall theme of the episode, as the same could have been said for everyone else.
For Glen (Steven Yeun) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan), it meant addressing opposite views on what a pregnancy scare would have meant, had it been positive. Michonne (Danai Gurira) was funny and personable enough to be considered domesticated but hunting the Governor (David Morrissey) remained her singular priority. For Hershel (Scott Wilson), it was as simple as salvaging unproductive crop trimmings, and talking Rick into arming himself on runs beyond the fence. Recent additions Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) and Karen (Melissa Ponzio), had become an item, with Tyreese voicing misgivings about having to kill the undead. For yet another character, it was as simple as just not feeling sad about loss anymore.
It was Rick, however, that carried the full weight of the episode’s theme. While retrieving snared prey, outside the perimeter, he encountered Clara (Kerry Condon) foraging for her sick husband. Clara’s state could only be described as largely feral. Rick refused to take her and her husband back to the commune but he did not reject her outright. He decided to interview them and on the way to their camp, learned about some of their experiences. It turned out both he and Clara shared some common ground, including an intense devotion to their spouses. The inherent tragedy of Clara’s devotion – what it compelled her to do and the person it made of her- mirrored Rick’s own turns after losing Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies). It could be argued that the support of (and his responsibilities to) the rest of Rick’s group was the only thing that kept him from becoming Clara. It might have been this affinity – or just a minor break in reason – that allowed Rick to leave Clara and her husband in the state they wound up in.
There may be hell to pay for Rick’s decision, regarding Clara but there seemed to be a whole lot coming to them all and Rick may have been the only one to have noticed the signs. “30 Days Without an Accident” was bookended by two potentially pivotal details. 1.) Walkers had begun concentrating at one spot along the fence- one in particular, catching Rick’s eye. 2.) At the beginning and end of the episode; a pig named Violet by Carl, began the episode quite sick. By the end of the episode, Rick found her dead. Add those to the inexplicable death and zombification of one character, and I would say a new evolution – of both the virus and its victims- was in evidence.
“30 Days Without an Accident” might have well been titled “The New Normal” with the cast finding all sorts of ways to make peace with “Walker World.” In that regard, the episode generated the same sort of heart sickening foreboding that came with season two’s happier moments on the farm. The episode also seemed to acknowledge viewer dissatisfaction with the dark turns taken by both Rick and Carl last season. With Rick being confronted by and walking away from that darkness (in the form of Clara), and Carl making a genuine effort to connect with others, I would say a sea change had been taken.
Given its apparent evolution, in both its characters and threats, season four of The Walking Dead promises something new that will be far from normal.