This may very well be the make or break season for me and AMC’s The Walking Dead. I love the comics, and episodes like “Clear” from last season illustrate just how good the show can be. But on the other side, the quality varies so greatly week to week that it’s insanely frustrating as a fan to walk into each episode not knowing if you’re going to get quality or garbage. For every “Clear” there is at least one abysmal pile of nothing but filler, like “Arrow on the Doorpost.” There is some hope, however. When season four debuts on Sunday, October 13, it will be under the guidance of new showrunner Scott M. Gimple. He is the writer responsible for arguably the two best episodes since the series premiere in 2010, “Clear” and “Pretty Much Dead Already,” and if there is anyone who can right the ship, it’s him. He’s certainly saying all of the right things, and the cast and crew recently spoke with the Hollywood Reporter, offering up absurd amounts of information about the upcoming season, and most of the news shows promise.
Gimple calls the new philosophy a “greatest hits” approach, indicating that fans will see key moments from Robert Kirkman’s comic books. He says that they’ll grab from all of the seasons of the show, as well as various story arcs from the books. Get ready to see pieces from the comics in a new context, as well as a weaving together of the two disparate realities. For all of the changes, mixing and matching, and alterations, Gimple still aims to be true to the feel of the source material. He says, “The basis for those stories are totally from the spirit of the stories told in the comics.”
In fact, according to executive producer, director, and special effects guru Greg Nicotero, there will be some episodes that follow the comics almost verbatim. Still the prospect of mixing the two properties is exciting. He says, “It’s really fascinating to make those slight departures, introduce new characters and then get to a situation where you take one episode and you really stick to the source material. You’ll be surprised about the way the characters lay out.”
We know that the group at the prison got a whole lot bigger at the end of last season, when Rick (Andrew Lincoln) brought in all of the leftovers from Woodbury. Everyone, however, is not entirely on board with the new neighbors, which leads to some friction. Producer Gale Anne Hurd says, “The focus really is on characters, the conflicts. It’s a larger group now and it’s harder. We’re integrating a group that when we ended last season was at war and shooting each other.”
Two characters who embrace this new living situation, are Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan). Beyond being, young, in love, and idealistic, the two reportedly are fully on board with the new sense of a larger community, and there may even be a wedding in the cards.
One thing many fans have been wondering about is Rick’s role as father and leader. Yeun calls the new set up at the prison “less of a dictatorship,” which means that he’ll be able to be an actual father to his son Carl (Chandler Riggs), who has had to grow up and get grim very, very quickly, as well as his new daughter. Lincoln says, “He’s [Rick] trying to suppress the brutality for the sake of both of his children and trying to be a parent in an apocalypse and trying to return to the man he once was.” That’ll be a nice change of events from the guy last season who basically wandered off and left his friends to care for a newborn baby, and pretty much ignored the fact that his son had to shoot his own mother in the head. But there are also hints that this kinder, gentler Rick won’t last forever, or even very long.
Perhaps the most memorable event in The Walking Dead comics is when Rick loses a hand to the Governor (played by David Morrissey in the show). The two leaders have yet to have their proper face off, and Lincoln says of his wound, “I keep saying we should do it, so maybe that’s going to happen.” We know the Governor will be back, and get at least a couple of his own standalone episodes to boot. He carries what has happened to him very heavily. Morrissey says, “He was a man that recognizes a switch went off in his head and even though he’s done terrible things, that ramped him up to somewhere else and he was out of control. That’s a very worrying thing for him and that switch takes him into this dark place.” Because he was such a bright, cheerful man to begin with.
Neither version of The Walking Dead has been shy about killing off important characters, but one question has always been, can Rick die? Executive producer Dave Alpert jokes that, by season 50, he eventually wants Rick to die so that Carl can take over.
Perhaps the most maddening, annoying thing The Walking Dead has ever done was bring back Rick’s wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) after she died in the form of his hallucinations. No one says explicitly whether or not this farce will continue, but Lincoln offers some hopeful word, “Lori’s death was incredibly well-explored last season and I’m one of these actors that doesn’t like repeating things.” Please, God, let Lori stay dead.
Andrea’s (Laurie Holden) death at the conclusion of season three was a huge departure from the source material, and an event that will continue to have repercussions for the group moving forward. Michonne (Danai Gurira) is especially affected by the death of her best friend. We’ll also get more familiar with some of the newcomers, like Chad Coleman’s Tyreese. Comic book fans should be well acquainted with the character. In the books he fills a role that is similar to the one Daryl (Norman Reedus) performs, Rick’s right hand. You can’t help but wonder if any of the love complications involving Tyreese, Michonne, and Carol (Melissa McBride) from the comics will manifest in the show.
Season four will follow the same split-season approach laid out by the previous two years, but with a new twist. Instead of taking a break in the middle and coming back to finish out the same storyline, they plan to wrap up one arc, and begin another. That’s huge. So many of the empty, pointless episodes in The Walking Dead have happened as a result of trying to fill too many weeks with too little story, stretching various arcs so thin that entire episodes pass by with nothing worth while.
Though the band of survivors have become rather adept at dispatching zombies, the production team has taken great pains to put the characters in situations where they can still be surprised by walkers. As badass as they may get, they’re never completely safe and secure. And then there is the mysterious new threat that everyone has been hinting at since San Diego Comic-Con last month. It’s been said that it is like nothing they’ve ever faced before, Gimple took a moment to shed some new light on the subject. Apparently it is an actual person, but not your usual, run of the mill villain. He says, “It’s someone we haven’t seen before. Someone unusual; you can’t stab them in the face, you can’t reason with it. It’s a force that would be dangerous in this world and in the world of The Walking Dead, it’s terrifying.”