Last season The Walking Dead kicked off their second half of season 3 by introducing Tyreese, a character which hasn’t yet made the impact he does in the comics, and hasn’t yet been developed properly. Despite this, it was still a big moment in the series and kicked the mid-season off with a finale-quality feel.
Fans who were hoping for something equally big may have been a bit disappointed in season 4’s mid-season opener, at least at first. The writers have gone for something with a bit more of a slow-burn, but with a load of character development; reminding us that this is a drama first and a zombie outing second. “Alive” was incredibly clever, with rarely any dialogue or sequence being relegated to filler; every scene filled gaps and propelled their characters forward.
Rick, Carl, and Michonne, were the only characters seen here (aside from the gut-punch the writers gave us with poor Hershel’s reanimated head; and Phillip’s contemptuous face); a huge risk taken but one which paid off in bucketloads. “Alive” was actually one of the best episodes of the entire series, and certainly one of the most unique. It seems this show is stronger when allowed to zone in on a select few rather than the entire group of survivors.
Carl (or is it “CAWRLLL”) was the main focus here; his full-throttle survival instinct and general defiance of his father was fascinating to watch; it makes more sense now, when back in Season 2 it was just plain frustrating, on the level of little forgettable Sophia.
One of the more impactful scenes was when he discovered a TV, with games and blu-rays, in an abandoned house; his eyes lit up with childlike joy, but then quickly dimmed as he figured out that the only use the power chord has now is to tie up the door and keep the zombies away. There is no childhood for Carl anymore; he is beginning to accept that they have to fully face reality and adapt accordingly. On the other hand, Rick – undoubtedly inspired by Hershel – believes that a normal life can still be scrapped together here and there, and that he still needs to be a conventional father to his child.
“You keep watch, you can barely stand, I’m not going to let you go in there alone” – Carl to Rick.
Carl bounces between pride – declaring ”I win” when he kills a pile of walkers – the only game he can possibly play in this new world – and an endearing vulnerability, which Chandler Riggs handles with a talent far beyond his years. He realises needs his father when he takes on one of the more aggressive walkers and runs out of bullets – recalling earlier in the episode where Rick tells him to conserve his bullets; he precedes that by spraying a great amount of vitriol at his resting father, where he blames Rick for a bunch of deaths and states ”I’ll be fine if you died”.
What this series needs to have less of, is the writers taking Rick on a rollercoaster; several times they have had him slip into the whole leader-that-doesn’t-want-to-lead schtick – which was done a lot better on shows like LOST – only to have something ‘wake him up.’ It took a few episodes for him to come back from that dreaded Lori-grief – as it probably should have, if the show is going to realism – but Andrew Lincoln’s melodramatic, nuanced way of portraying Rick’s emotions is only endearing half of the time. Perhaps with Carol suggesting to Rick that he can’t be a farmer and a leader at the same time; him “losing” Judith; and Carl going through the motions, Rick has now finally woken up and is ready to be a bit more aggressive.
Like Carl, another character that really benefitted from being alone was Michonne; her out-of-sync, surreal dream sequence was perfect. The comics do deal with the backstory of her original “pets” with a bit more depth, but this rushed way of developing her backstory through a dream was genius; mirrored by her anger when she realised that she has to create new pets in order to survive. Danai Gurira sells her absolute frustration with the situation very well, keeping a terrifying straight face until she loses it and gives us her best Katana-wielding scene to date.
It’s crucial to note that Michonne now has a sense of attachment – primarily to Carl, maybe Glenn, and probably to Rick – on the level that she hasn’t had before; preventing her from remaining the cold-hearted survivor we thought she was back in Season 3. Her progressive opening-up has been one of the best things about this season.
Looking ahead, the writers are capable of keeping the group apart for longer than we expected if they continue delivering quality episodes like this. Maybe being splintered (and the Hershel’s heart-wrenching decapitation) will remind the survivors that they can’t bunker down, anywhere; resting isn’t much of an option in a Walker-infested wasteland.
Perhaps Glen will realise that his affections for Maggie are leaving him vulnerable; Beth may have a huge opportunity to show growth similar to Carl; Tyreese will now have room for some major character development now that he is alone with three (possibly four – Judith) children; and Carol is going to be reworked back into the series somehow. There is a lot to look forward to in season 4, and quite honestly, it’s shaping up to be the best one yet.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS OUT OF FIVE
The Walking Dead screens on FX in Australia.