AMC’s The Walking Dead officially kicked off its fourth season last night with the premiere episode titled, “30 Days Without an Incident.” If you thought peace would reign supreme this season for Rick and the members of his prison town, you’re gravely mistaken, because life will never be peaceful for a group of humans living amongst the hordes of the undead who crave living flesh.
(Spoilers below proceed at your own risk)
Headphones and foreshadowing
“30 Days Without an Incident” opens with a serene moment as Rick tends to the prison’s makeshift farm while listening to some tunes. During Rick’s farming run, viewers are treated to a trick by the sound design team that only allows them to hear what Rick is hearing through his headphones, which makes it seem like life is somewhat normal, almost peaceful. This illusion isn’t kept up for long when Rick removes his headphones after mistakenly digging up Carl’s gun that he took from him at the end of season 3. Doing so allows the awful groans and guttural moans of the zombies circling the prison’s perimeter to enter his ears, effectively providing the same effect for the audience. The contrast between the sound profiles just goes to show that no matter what the survivors do they will never be able to escape their fates as living humans trapped amongst a sea of brain hungry undead. The zombie apocalypse is the new normal.
After Rick’s solo, yet very impactful scene, the episode transitions back to the main camp, which is a much more jovial place than last season. The new prison camp members have taken to treating the original cast members as heroes and saviors, going as far as referring to them as “Sir” and “Mam.” Life can be good when there hasn’t been a zombie attack in 30 days and you’re being fed and taken care of, which is why Rick and his original band of survivors have been elevated to God-like status amongst the expanded prison camp survivors.
Daryl seems to be having the hardest time thinking of himself as a leader, which is clearly evident during a scene where he’s being profusely thanked for providing deer meat for the survivors. Luckily he has Carol to keep him company and to remind him that he should embrace the love from his new groupies. She too has taken a prominent role in the new prison society as its cook and teacher of sorts, and continues to come out of her shell that she was in during the first 2.5 seasons. She’s no longer a weak woman who can’t fend for herself; just like the rest of the original cast she too has grown callous to the horrors of the world and does what it takes to survive.
Life isn’t completely free of danger though for the prison camp. Small patrols must still forage out into the cities to stock up on supplies, and the process is still a life or death exercise for anyone involved. This is best resembled in a conversation between Glenn and Maggie, who both fear for the other getting bit. The couple still offers some of the series’ more tender moments, but even these two love birds have become hardened zombie killers who wouldn’t balk at slicing their best friend’s head off if it meant staying alive.
The last of the original survivors that took a turn in the spotlight during the opening scene of ”30 Days Without an Incident” were Carl and Beth, who, like the other original prison camp survivors, have also changed for better or worse. Carl has morphed into a mini-version of his Dad; he’s very stern and wise beyond his years. In one scene he scolds a group of kids about naming walkers just like his Dad did to him earlier about naming the camp’s pigs. Both feel that using names gives their food and their enemies some sort of humanity, which just isn’t possible in a world where you’re asked to brutally kill at a moments notice just to stay alive. Rick’s lessons are obviously rubbing off on Carl, and whether he likes it or not Carl is becoming as cautious and stern as his Father.
Beth on the other hand has magically come out of her shell and shows no signs of returning to her crying days. She, just like the rest of the original camp survivors, has seen enough horror to numb even her most crippling fears, and now exudes a confidence that is possibly foreshadowing her fate later on in the series. It’s not exactly clear as to why Beth has found her balls if you will, but she too has transformed herself to deal and live in a zombie apocalypse.
Crazy campers and zombie rain
After the political environment of the new camp is established the episode broke off into two different narratives. The first followed Rick on a solo hunting expedition, while the second focused on the looting-party led by Daryl, Glenn, Tyreese, Sasha, and a few other brave souls.
Rick’s excursion is a bit of a tangent in relation to the overall episode. While hunting he runs into another survivor who seems to be mentally insane and starved. After some pleading he goes with her to get her husband back at her camp, but quickly realizes that she is in fact bonkers. She tries to attack him but fails; explaining that she just wants to die so she can be a zombie like her husband. She begs Rick not to blow her brains out when she expires, which she does thanks to a self-inflicted knife wound a la the Samurai Seppuku tradition. This whole scene just felt odd and slightly out of place. Its purpose was to clearly teach Rick another lesson about living in a zombie apocalypse, but it never brought the emotional weight that the writers intended.
The raiding party’s excursion on the other hand featured the tense action that The Walking Dead has become known for, and it sported more zombie guts than a Halloween mega-store. Thanks to newcomer Bob Stookey (a comic book character) the group comes under heavy attack from the zombies that have been loitering around the store they were raiding. The group must contend with zombies pouring in from all sides, and that includes the ceiling, as multiple zombies began falling through the dilapidated roof thanks to the weight of a crashed military chopper resting on it.
Watching the zombies drop in on the survivors like trained ninjas who were drunk was both exhilarating and frightening. The gore factor that accompanied this scene surely gave the suits at AMC some heartburn, because there was no shortage of putrified guts, crushed skulls, and headshots to be found in the melee that ensued. If a major character was going to lose his/her life in the season 4 premiere this scene would have been their swan song, but the showrunners decided to leave the core group in tact for now, opting to off a new character in their place. This may have cheapened the emotional moment the writers were going for at the frantic end of the stand off, but it reinforced the dire situation that they’re all facing to provide a stark contrast to the relatively peaceful existence they’ve established at the prison.
Meanwhile back at the ranch
The raiding party ran into all sorts of zombie trouble thanks to Stookey’s penchant for boozing, but something more sinister looms over the prison camp. Throughout the episode a sickness of sorts was teased, and the tease paid off during the last frame of the show. The camp sickness was first alluded to during the opening few minutes when Carl and Rick talked about one of their pigs being ill. The fact that they even brought it up should have keyed viewers in on the idea that some sort of disease was about to hit the prison refuges. This fact is made perfectly clear when one of the younger new members of the group starts exhibiting flu-like symptoms after a community meal. His ailment is dismissed as just a cold, but it later turns out that whatever made him sick ultimately leads to him dying in the community shower and reanimating him as a zombie.
The credits closed as he woke as a flesh eating walker effectively setting up a cliffhanger for the second episode of season 4. Rick and his crew must now face a looming threat within the safety of their prison walls – The zombies have returned!
The Walking Dead’s season 4 premiere may have started slow and peaceful, but it ended with a zombie guts filled bang. The new dynamic of the prison camp and its survivors was put on glorious display, but we all know deep down that this harmony won’t last thanks to the final scene. The core cast of characters have all undergone personality changes thanks to their previous ordeals, but each still has demons and mistrust ingrained into their souls.
If you just watch The Walking Dead for its gore, then ”30 Days Without an Incident” will surely fill your zombie hacking quotient for the week thanks to the raid-gone-bad-scene, and its raining zombies motif. Season 4 is off to a great start, so head on down past the break to check out a sneak peek of next week’s episode, as well as a two behind the scenes looks at episode 1′s production.
Photo by Gene Page/AMC