This review does contain spoilers from the October 13, 2013 episode.
I don’t know about you, but whenever I start thinking something like “It’s been a long time since…” it comes around and happens. So the premise of the title of tonight’s episode is that Beth is keeping tabs on the community’s safety record, in essence to foster some semblance of normalcy while surrounded by insanity, so it’s a given that someone is going to get hurt and soon.
As season four opens we get an almost idyllic setting – if you discount the hundreds of walkers (walking dead people) outside the gates of the prison. Rick Grimes now is content to listen to his iPod while farming, ignoring the walkers completely as he tills the soil. This is a far different Rick, one less haunted by the loss of Lori and all the deeds he has been forced to commit. Hey, he’s in such a good place, he doesn’t even carry his gun anymore.
We quickly get caught up to speed with old friends and get to meet some new ones. We learn Daryl and Carol may be an item (I just can’t imagine anyone calling Daryl “Pookie”), Glen is worried about Maggie going out on runs (He thinks she may be pregnant), Beth is seeing new guy Zach (I sort of knew he was a goner when she refused to say goodbye to him), and Tyreese and Karen are getting close. There is a new kid named Patrick (whom I immediately dubbed Harry Potter because of his glasses) who idolizes Daryl, who makes sure he licks his fingers clean of barbecue sauce before shaking hands with him.
All seems right within the prison gates, and then along comes Michonne riding a horse. Instead of her characteristic sneer she has a smile and seems to be on some sort of quest (looking for the Governor) that keeps her going. She even manages to joke with Rick about his beard, so we know she is in a different place than when we last saw her crying with Andrea as she lay dying.
Two important things happen next. Rick and Carl have a nice father-son chat, and we can that they are in a much better place too. There is typical father and son banter about comic books and going to “school” (Carol is holding classes for the other kids that have joined the group). Carl refers to a sick pig as “Violet,” and Rick cautions him about naming animals that will be slaughtered. This could be a metaphor for the walkers themselves, who are unnamed and killed daily by groups of “terminators” along the fence line. As long as they have no names, the job is infinitely easier.
The problem with a zombie narrative is exactly when those who have names become infected and die. We have seen it again and again in the first three seasons, and it happens again in episode 4-1. There is an inherent price to be paid by losing those we love to the epidemic, and then we will find out later in the show that there is even more to worry about than being bitten by walkers.
Rick also talks with Hershel (ever the font of wisdom and sanity) who cautions Rick not to go checking his traps without a gun. The ruling council has requested that he take his gun with him. One could see this as a device to show that Rick has connected with being a farmer and trapper, so much so that he wants to remove himself from the killing process entirely. Other groups are killing walkers along the fence daily because their numbers are increasing and, as Carol warns Daryl, it may be that their numbers are getting too big to handle.
As Rick goes to check his traps, Daryl, Glenn, Michonne, Sasha, and newcomers Zach and Bob go to town for supplies. Of course, one of the staples of the show is getting more “stuff” needed to live. The fact that any store would even have goods after all this time is amazing, but Daryl knows the place and they go there.
Rick encounters a strange woman in the woods who is barely alive (and looks almost worse than a walker). She begs him to come and meet her husband and let them become part of the group. Rick walks with her to a camp that seems unlikely to be a place to survive (but we have seen this before in the TWD universe), and Rick discovers that hubby is a walker – but only his head remains. The woman wants to kill Rick to feed him to her beloved, but Rick pulls the gun (the one he was cautioned to bring) and she stabs herself. As she is dying, she asks Rick to tell her the three questions that they would ask anyone before they can join the group – have you killed walkers? Have you killed people and if so why? – and she answers them (the only person she has killed is herself). She also asks Rick not to kill her and let her expire and join undead hubby’s head, and he agrees.
Meanwhile the group that went shopping has a worse time of it in the big box store. Seems a helicopter that crashed on the roof is weakening it, causing walkers to suddenly rain on their parade. Bob causes the deluge when he is drawn to the liquor on the shelves (are we being told he has a Hershel problem?) and knocks them over, trapping himself and drawing the walkers to the noise. Zach is bitten and the rest barely survive, and then Daryl returns and tells Beth her paramour is dead. She hugs him, remains dry-eyed, and puts the days without an accident number back to zero. I don’t know what’s more disconcerting in this scene – Beth’s being inured to death or the fact that the zero probably isn’t going to change for a long time to come.
Rick returns from his encounter and sees that Violet the pig could be dead. What happened to her is foreshadowing because Harry Potter gets sick as he attends Carol’s “class” with Carl. Carl (actor Chandler Riggs has shot up since last season) has really grown up and realizes that Carol’s reading of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is sort of like a primer (Becky and Tom are trapped in a cave). She then perfectly segues into the uses of knives. Hey, a kid has got to get an education, right?
The episode ends even more ominously as Harry Potter goes to the bathroom even sicker, loses lunch all over the water supply, and then drops dead (no magic wand could apparently help him here). With his black-rimmed glasses lying on the floor, Harry starts turning into something that would make Voldemort proud. His eyes change and we know next week a walker will be on the wrong side of the fence.
New showrunner Scott Gimple appeared on Talking Dead after the show, and he seems cut from the same cloth as Vince Gilligan of Breaking Bad. Comic book and show creator Robert Kirkman has entrusted him with the franchise, and judging from this first episode, we will have a rocky but exciting ride in season four. He hinted that things will get decidedly worse from here on in, and the fear (as is always the case with this show) is that a beloved character will be next.
This gets us back to Violet the pig. Although Arnold Ziffle of Green Acres fame might disagree, she should never have been named. Harry Potter took over the barbecue from Carol and Daryl, and we have to figure that those ribs people have been eating may not be Grade A quality. We are left with a queasy feeling that a new and probably more pernicious virus is going to hit the group hard, and Potter will probably be a pain in the neck (and arm, leg, and hand) for a few innocents next week.
The extended metaphor for this season could be in place – it’s one thing to kill unnamed walkers outside the gates, but it’s another thing to kill them when you know their names. It seems we are going to be in for a lot of that kind of bloodshed and soon, and despite that I cannot wait for the next episode.
Photo credits: AMCPowered by Sidelines