[This is a review of 'The Walking Dead' Season 4, Episode 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
In his two episodes as head honcho, new series showrunner Scott M. Gimple has asserted himself by delivering the kind of scares and tension expected of a series like The Walking Dead, while still managing to throw in some compelling character drama and unique story elements that build progressively in a more logical fashion than we've seen before. Perhaps most importantly, Gimple seems to have a firm grasp on the idea that, while the survivors are having a rough go of it and may even be suffering to some extent, the audience needn't necessarily be a part of every second of that suffering.
Now, we've only seen the first two episodes of season 4, so all of that could change, but as of Tyreese stumbling upon the sight of his ladylove's charred remains, there is at least something intriguing outside the main plot of survival against the undead for the audience to chew on and become invested in. And considering the undead elements have been more thrilling this season, these new concerns serve as an addition to - rather than a distraction from - the show's primary antagonist.
In that regard, Gimple and his fellow writers have managed to turn the prison storyline into something of a siege film, with the walkers' relentless need to feed serving as the persistent invading force waiting outside the relatively secure walls the survivors now call home. The trouble is: No one knows exactly how long the undead can last, but it's certainly a far cry longer than anyone inside.
This idea of successfully waiting their enemy out and slowly thinning the herd day by day in a methodical manner goes back to the vague idea hinted at in the season premiere that perhaps even the walking dead will eventually weaken, and either become easy pickings for those looking to rid the world of them, or just turn to dust and fade away. Aside from the metatexual implications of that notion, it does generate a rather hopeful waiting game that makes the idea of an incredibly aggressive virus working against the survivors all the more frightening.
But the fear of a collapsing fence, a virulent illness, and a murderer on the loose wouldn't mean much if it weren't built on the foundation of characters the audience want to see succeed. That's been a point of contention for the series in the past, as most of its characters have succeeded in earning the viewers' ire more than their interest or compassion.
And in a rather clever move, Gimple and the rest of the staff have managed to make Rick, Carl, Michonne, and even Beth all more worthy of the audience's consideration by underlining how their collective experience has made them hesitant to become emotionally invested in anyone or anything; it's forced them to cope by becoming distant, dispassionate and somewhat detached with regard to certain aspects of their new lives. In a weird way, this makes them all seem more human.
It's safe to assume the writers want to convey how these are all human characters first and potential zombie victims second. So, by pitting them against a three-pronged siege of their humanity, their health and the tiny sanctuary they've managed to eek out in this incredibly hostile world, The Walking Dead may have found a convincing way of doing just that.
The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with 'Isolation' @9pm on AMC.
Photos: Gene Page/AMC