Season four of The Walking Dead, AMC's television adaptation of the the Eisner-winning comic series created by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore, debuted this weekend. ComicsAlliance will be following along all season to see who survives.

By the end of Season 3, Rick and the other survivors successfully repelled the Woodbury invasion, Merle was killed, Milton was killed, Andrea was killed, Carl shot a kid when he didn’t have to, The Governor gunned down his own army, and Glen Mazzara was run out of town. Having defended the prison and leaving the young and old of Woodbury without protection, Rick took in the remaining citizens, giving his own group more mouths to feed and himself more people to feel responsible for.

Last season’s finale left the viewer with a lot of questions: How would the family deal with the new responsibility? Could the prison successfully protect them all? Is The Governor coming back? Has Rick lost it? Is Carl crazy, uniquely adapted to survive in a zombie apocalypse, or just an ungrateful little snot with way too stylish a haircut for the end times? Does anybody care that Comic Book Men exists? And of course, the most important question, the theme that’s been hammered into us since the very first episode: can you do what it takes to survive in this world and still be a good person?

Like the Season 2 premiere, Season 4 begins at a leisurely pace: it’s obviously been several months since the war with Woodbury, and life inside the prison has settled into a calm, agrarian existence, having made good use of Hershel’s precious seeds from Season 3. As soon as Rick appears, his right hip noticeably absent his gun, it’s obvious that’s he’s changed, or is at least trying to change. In case we didn’t get that within the first nine seconds of the opening, Rick heads out to hoe the garden, and the needle drops on “Precious Memories,” a 1920s gospel hymn by J.B.F. Wright. “As I travel down life’s pathways/Knowing not what the years may hold/As I ponder, hope grows fonder,” and right at the moment Rick unearths a buried .45 caliber pistol, the music syncs up with the line “Precious, sacred things unfold.”

Pulling the pistol out of the ground, the Walkers’ grotesque moans rise up in chorus. Rick glares at a Walker with bleeding Atomic Fireballs for eyes, turns up the music, tosses the pistol into a wheelbarrow, and continues to tend his garden.

Beware falling metaphors, folks. They come hard and fast. The next one comes immediately after the first commercial break, actually, when Carl joins Rick next to the pig sty. And hey, it’s good news that they have pigs, that’s a real sign that things have changed for the—what’s that? A pig is sick? The big one, that Carl got attached to and named Violet? She’s probably just pregnant, right? It’s probably just a reminder that no matter what, life goes on, and that this is the new normal now, right? It’s not foreboding at all, is it?

Besides the obvious foreshadowing of a prone pig, the relationship between Rick and Carl has leveled out, and last season’s possible psycho has calmed down quite a bit. He’s more of a kid than he’s been in a while, and doesn’t stare daggers at his dad any time he hears something he doesn’t want to. No longer two savages clinging to survival in a world trying to gnash them up, they’re father and son again. They even smile at each other.

It’s all blue skies for Daryl, too, and as he joins Carol in the shanty-kitchen, community members call out “Hey Daryl” and “Morning Daryl!” jovially,  like he’s suddenly the cool neighbor on an eighties sitcom. He’s clearly taken on more of a leadership role in the group, bringing in more survivors than Rick has recently. Being the particular kind of used-up grease rag of human being that he’s used to being, the kind of guy who’s never been any kind of respectable, he’s understandably uneasy with this new perception of him as a contributing member of society. The moment after Carol tries to tell him, once again, that he’s a good person, we get our first look at Patrick, the Platonic ideal of “the nebbishy teenager,” who punctuates the scene with a little Daryl worship, glad just to bask in the presence of such an awesome badass. Daryl's awesome, you guys.

Carol walks Daryl to take a look at the fences, where she explains that they had a new influx of Walkers overnight, while a trio of survivors try to clean a few off, the fence visibly sagging under the weight of all that death. Already the show is driving home the point that their safety is, at best, tenuous. Daryl and Carol are both pragmatic about it when they clearly shouldn't be. The two have taken on important roles in the community, and are officially together now, as Carol closes off the will-they-or-please-god-don’t storyline from Season 3 with an emphatic “pookie.” Go on, internet. Continue your erotic fan fiction with the show’s blessing.

Inside the prison, we see Glenn and Maggie lounging in bed, and it’s obvious that something heavy is on Glenn’s mind. Even though Maggie does her best to alleviate whatever exactly is bothering him with the always-calming “You know everything’s gonna work out, right?” Glenn convinces her not to go out on the day’s run.



Back at the fences, Tyreese approaches Karen, the lone Woodbury resident to survive The Governor’s rampage, with whom he’s in a burgeoning relationship. He tells Karen that he’s going out on a run today because, and I quote, “I don’t like killing them on the fence. I hate it. I mean…when they’re coming at you out there, it’s different. You don’t even think about it.” Instead of saying “that’s because you don’t have a chance to think about it! Killing them on the fence is so much less frightening! Please don’t go!” Karen understands.

Ten minutes into the fourth season, we’ve got five main characters denying themselves the godawful, horrible truths staring them directly in the face. It’s already safe to say: we should all prepare for a fall.

Beth’s boyfriend, Zach (played by Kyle Gallner, whose face I just really want to punch for some reason), informs her that he’s going out on the run today too. She doesn’t seem worried at all, the news rolling right off her back, and even after Zach asks if she’s going to say goodbye, she answers with an unconcerned “nope.”


While everybody’s gearing up for the run, we get our first look at Lawrence Gillard Jr. from The Wire as Bob, who Glenn helpfully informs Sasha is a former Army medic. Played by such a fantastic actor, and introduced so prominently, it would be hard not to believe that Bob is going to have a big part to play this year. Except for the fact that this is The Walking Dead, and they murder people for fun.

Hershel makes his first appearance, as usual, doling out wisdom to Rick, this time of the farming-slash-life variety: “Things break, but they can still grow.”

Michonne returns on horseback from what’s apparently been a long-ish absence, and we get to see the new front gate, a more secure setup with Walkers impaled on spikes to ward off visitors, much like Morgan’s place in Season 3 and Negan’s stronghold in the comics. It’s not said, but Michonne was obviously looking for The Governor, thinking next she’ll go to Macon. Like everybody else in the story, she volunteers to go out on the run.

And, of course, so does Carl, but Rick squashes that pretty quickly, telling him to stay, read comic books, hang out with the kids, and please for the love of god clutch what little youth he has. Hershel approaches Rick with a message from The Council, which includes Daryl, Glenn, Carol, and Sasha: when you go outside the fence, bring your f@#!ing gun with you, you idiot. So they’ve fully driven home the point that Rick is essentially Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, a guy who wants nothing more than to retire and live a peaceful life as a pig farmer. We all know that didn’t work out for William Munny, and it’s not going to work for Rick Grimes either.

With his gun back on his hip, Rick goes out hunting, and comes across a dying boar, thereby establishing a theme of suidae in peril. When a Walker comes by and crouches down to feast, Rick turns away without bothering to kill it. When the Walker pleads for his help in a dainty Irish accent, he stops.

No, sorry, Walkers still don’t talk. Irish Walker Lady is in fact a human being, in dire need of help, trying to get some food back to her husband. Despite the fact that Irish Walker Lady looks crazier and more dangerous than any other Walker in the world (save Texas Ranger), Rick offers to take them into the camp, as long as they can answer three questions. When he tells her that if they make a move on him, they’ll be the ones to lose, she says she doesn’t have anything else to lose. For a moment, Andrew Lincoln channels the laconically threatening Rick of Season 3 to coolly inform her that he will murder the s@#% out of her and everything she loves. Old Rick is alive and well.

Daryl and the scout team infiltrate a Big Box store, which appears to be mostly empty, but a slow pan up and swell of dramatic music  reveal that the roof is littered with gaggle – no, a murder of Walkers and a crashed helicopter. Inside, Glenn takes a moment to stare at a picture of a baby and—OOOHHH, okay. I get what was bothering him now. Glenn is pregnant.

Remember my warning about falling metaphors? Well, in a really subtle move to let us know that Bob is an alcoholic, he stares at a shelf of liquor, transfixed by its power over him, only to knock it over, pinning himself underneath it. This is how you build great characters, folks: by revealing a second dimension in the most obvious way possible.

Before the show has a chance to use yet another metaphor, it finally gives us the crazy zombie action we need. A Walker, eager to re-enact the O-Kee-Pa scene from A Man Called Horse, drops through the roof, suspended in the rafters by his own strung-out entrails. A moment later, Walker after Walker drop through the ceiling like a game of plinko gone awry, followed by the wrecked helicopter. Bob the Alcoholic gets out, Beth’s boyfriend Zach doesn’t.

This is what we want, The Walking Dead. Not heavy-handed metaphors, not characters trying to deny the way the world is. Zombies falling from ceilings, and death.

Sadly, the genuinely cool moment only lasts for a minute before we’re back to Rick and Irish Walker Lady, who is clearly his mirror in this episode. Again and again, she asks him the same questions he’s already asking himself: after all the bad things we’ve done, do we ever get to come back from them? The recitation of the show’s central theme – can you survive and still be a good person – is so obvious, they might as well have had a gong announce it.

When Rick and Irish Walker Lady get to her tent, he discovers that Eddie is no more than a disembodied Walker head covered by a burlap sack, and I honestly had to stop for a moment and wonder if it was another metaphor about how Rick is blind or separated from himself or something. Irish Walker Lady drew Rick back to her camp so she could kill him and feed to Eddie. Unable to deal with all the bad things she’s done, she turns the knife on herself, and although Rick shouts “No!” dramatically, doesn’t really try to stop her. Because it’s so important to her now, she asks what Rick’s three questions are.

How many Walkers have you killed? “Eddie killed them all.”

How many people have you killed? “Just me,” she says, “just me.”

Why? “You don’t get to come back.”

The bitter irony is, because Rick doesn’t put a bullet in her brain, she will in fact be coming back. In a series full of depressing moments that threaten to tear at all we know about being human and being loved, this was a pretty heavy one, ably performed by two skilled actors.

Unfortunately, it happens with ten minutes left in the show, and the rest of the episode just feels like cleanup. During story-time, Carol is actually teaching the kids how to kill Walkers with knives, without Rick’s knowledge. Back in the pigpen, Violet is obviously dead. Maggie tells Glenn she’s not pregnant, and though she believes they could raise a child in the prison, Glenn disagrees. And when Beth hears that her boyfriend is dead, her only reaction is to change the counter on her “30 Days Without an Accident” sign to a zero.


We get it. It’s the episode title. You didn’t actually have to have the sign resting in Beth’s room; it could have just been the episode title and we would have understood it.

Thankfully, the premiere ends on a shocking note: Patrick, Carl’s obviously-doomed friend, wakes up in the middle of the night, really, really sick, but looking otherwise normal. He collapses in the shower, and the camera does a slow crawl across his body to reveal blood pouring out of his eyes, nose, and mouth. Even though we never saw him in contact with a Walker, he’s been turned. Was he bitten off-camera, or has the virus mutated, evolved into something new, something even more dangerous?

Overall, it was a decent premiere, not great and not awful. The metaphors and recitation of the theme were obvious, but it’s an interesting starting point to explore the rest of the season, with every character’s new role clearly (sometimes too clearly) defined. But it left us with two big, burning questions: Will this season be more like Season 2 or Season 3, and what in the holy Christ happened to Patrick?

It’s a long pathway we’re walking, and we know not what it holds. If you’re holding out for the precious and sacred, though, my guess is you’re out of luck.