It feels like the season four premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead, “30 Days Without an Accident,” has been coming since the very second season three wrapped up. Well tonight, finally, we don’t have to slog through any more ominous videos, short clips, or wait any longer at all.
Despite the fact that I have a rocky relationship with the hit zombie drama, especially last season—which featured some of the best episodes in the franchise, as well as some of the absolute worst—the producers have done a solid job building up to the new episodes. New showrunner Scott Gimple, and the rest of the production crew, have been saying all of the right things, promising to address many of the ongoing issues the series has battled. Going back to the first trailer that appeared at San Diego Comic-Con back in July, all of the promotion has created an ominous sense of intrigue, piquing your interest without giving away too much.
Now we have the opportunity to see if season four of The Walking Dead was worth the wait.
It should go without saying: STOP READING IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THIS EPISODE
Overall, almost everything about “30 Days Without an Accident” works, with one glaring exception, which we’ll get to down the line. The Walking Dead has always been strongest when it’s more about the characters and their struggles, rather than the zombies at the gate, and this episode takes that to heart. Walkers are there, always, but they’re on the periphery, looming, the proverbial elephant in the room that no one wants to discuss or acknowledge until they absolutely must.
The first thing you see is Rick (Andrew Lincoln) tending the crops that now grow within the walls of the prison the survivors call home. What this does, right out of the gate, is illustrate how much time has passed. There have been some serious changes made to their digs, and, despite their surroundings, the survivors have created their own sense of normal. With all of the new additions left over from Woodbury, and random stragglers Rick and Daryl (Norman Reedus) have brought in, there is a new social world. Daryl’s hunting acumen has made him a sort of celebrity. Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) are still humping like bunnies. People have chores and jobs. Hell, Rick even pays attention to his kids, like chastising Carl for staying up all night reading comics. When in the previous three seasons has Rick ever done anything but abandon his children every single chance he gets? Crazy.
There’s also romance in the air beyond just Glenn and Maggie, the usual it couple. Daryl and Carol’s (Melissa McBride) relationship is still ambiguous, but gives the appearance of progression. Even Beth (Emily Kinney) has a hunky, age appropriate love interest. Michonne (Danai Gurira) doesn’t appear to have any romantic prospects, but they did give her a horse. That’s something. And even more important than that, they actually let her talk, like in complete sentences, and she has what may turn into the rudiments of an actual, honest to god personality.
The first portion of “30 Days” is taken up reestablishing the prison setting, catching up with the characters, and with quick introductions of new players, some of whom may or may not be around long enough for you to bother learning their names. Constant reminders that things are about as far from normal as you can get undercut this newfound normalcy. No matter the front they put up, they’re all hanging on by a thread, tricking themselves into thinking everything is okay. Story time with Carol and a group of young kids takes an interesting, and unexpected, turn, one that will make like her way more than you ever have.
But even this façade won’t last, this is The Walking Dead after all. After the stage has been set, two groups leave their comfy confines for adventures that don’t go exactly go as planned. Daryl, Glenn, Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman), and a crew, set out on a supply run. Increased number mean more hungry mouths, and those crops aren’t producing sufficient yields just yet. Rick, on the other hand, heads out alone to check a series of traps and snares set outside the perimeter.
The team going for supplies thinks they’ll have an easy, and fruitful time of it. That, as you can imagine, is not how events transpire, and this is where the bulk of the undead action figures into this episode. It’s good and gory and, most important, does more to propel the story forward than just provide snarls and cool makeup effects.
Rick’s tangent, however, is where “30 Days” unravels. Every other character has changed and evolved, or is at least in the process of doing so. Sadly, this is not in the cards for the former Sheriff, as he continues to be both naïve and hardheaded, all the while wallowing in his own inability to make a tough decision. On his excursion he encounters a scrawny, waste of a woman wandering alone in the wilderness. There is something obviously off about her, but he follows her back to her camp where her husband waits. In his defense, there is something off about everyone in this world, but in the face of a tough moral decision he comes to, he proceeds to take absolutely no course of action at all. It’s endlessly frustrating to watch him grapple with a hard choice, only to end up doing nothing.
This is a classic Rick move, and part of what makes his character so infuriating. This is also the one time I’m going to bring up Robert Kirkman’s comics, promise. In the source material, Rick winds up leading his group because he is the only one willing to make tough choices and carry the weight of the consequences. In The Walking Dead, the series, the situation is the polar opposite. Watching him pussyfoot around making any choice doesn’t make his character complex or deep. The opposite is true because it means that he never has to deal with his choices since he never makes any. This wishy-washy back and forth is one of the biggest complaints viewers have about the show, and is extra disappointing because the rest of the episode very clearly steers away from that.
Despite this sizeable pitfall, “30 Days Without an Accident” ends on a strong note. You realize that horror and loss have become the new normal, so much so that many of the survivors can’t even muster up the energy to cry anymore. Everyone is left wondering if, somehow, someway, they’ll be able to come back from this. Not just the events of this particular day, but if they can recover and maintain their humanity in the world as it is now.
You also finish this episode with a better idea of the “new threat” the producers of The Walking Dead have been teasing all off-season.
What did you think of “30 Days Without an Accident?” Do you like the direction the series is heading, or should they slam on the brakes and pull a complete 180? Check out the promo for next week’s episode.