Sunday, October 13, 2013

Review: The Walking Dead "30 Days Without An Accident"

Non Spoiler Review:
The Walking Dead returns for a strong season premiere with 30 Days Without an Accident. Many months have passed after the battle with the Governor and Andrea's death, and the prison is now a secure and seemingly thriving community growing some of its own food. Relationships have sprung up with the new additions from Woodbury and others found along the way. Rick has given up his leadership role in favor of a new ruling council, and is content to be a farmer, hoping his son will be more of a child now that they're experiencing somewhat normal lives. Daryl leads a major supply run to a military refuge at a mall while Rick has an encounter in the woods.

30 Days Without an Accident appeared optimistic and hopeful on the surface, with all the progress the group has made and a real sense of community, but there was an overlying menace and darkness permeating the episode—which is a continuing theme for the series. New faces appear to be harboring some secrets, Carl remains a very adult child, the spectre of the Governor is in the background, and Rick struggles to keep their lives as normal as possible while faced with how the apocalypse has stolen their humanity. The episode ends with a very ominous moment that portends a new danger for the survivors.

Season four looks to be on the right track (now with its new showrunner Scott Gimple). There was a large (obviously expensive) set piece that gives viewers a healthy dose of zombies, in case they were going through withdrawal over the summer, and nice character moments without getting overly bogged down with explaining what's happened in the previous months. It strikes a great tone of hope with a healthy dose of foreboding.

Spoilers Now!
Time has passed. The prison has been transformed into a community with fields and livestock. Well-organized teams patrol the wall killing walkers that threaten to gather as a herd. The security perimeter has been strengthened with a variety of zombie traps. Rick walks out in the morning to tend to the garden. While digging he finds his gun. He stares at the walkers along the wall (one in particular with bleeding eyes), then tosses the gun away to resume his work. Carl joins him for chores and they find one of the pigs is sick.

Carol flirts with Daryl as she makes breakfast for the group. Carol informs Daryl the roamers are herding up again and they need to keep ahead of it. He's busy preparing for a major supply run. Patrick, one of the younger members of the community, walks up to thank Daryl for all his work, and it appears Daryl has become one of the more idolized survivors of the original group.

Maggie and Glen wake up and he asks her not to go along on the run, so she concedes and lets him go instead. Meanwhile, Tyreese tells new girlfriend Karen he's going on the trip. He doesn't like the killing on the fence given it's face to face, but only joined the crew in order to get to know her better. Beth also has a boyfriend, Zack, and he is also going along, though she insists on not saying good-bye to him. New arrival Bob wants to tag along but meets resistance from Sasha, unsure if he can perform on a team yet. She acquiesces as he was a medic in the army. Michonne returns on horseback and is greeted by Rick and Carl. She brings some comics for Carl and they hope she'll stay a little while—she's been searching for the Governor for months to no avail.

Hershel compliments Rick for bringing them so far, and his new role as a farmer has them growing a good portion of their food supply. But the others on the council wanted him to talk to him, as Rick's lack of carrying a gun has them concerned. Rick is happy with just his knife, but concedes to the request when he goes out to check the snares. Outside the wall he finds a deer half eaten, then spies a walker feeding on another wounded animal. To his shock she turns and begs him for help.

Her name is Clara and she needs him to help her take the animal to her husband. Rick cautiously approaches and gives her some food. She wants to come back with him as they've been doing very badly on their own. He wants to meet her husband first and ask him some questions. He asks to search her for weapons, but she's unarmed save for a knife and he warns her not to try anything.

Clara explains they were on their way to Mexico when the airports were shut down. Now it's just Eddie and her. She doesn't know what she would do without him. He asks what she's had to do and she confesses eating what they could find and leaving people behind, hiding from those who needed their help. 

Carl hangs out with Patrick, and finds some other kids naming the walkers. Carl has no patience for that and explains they're neither people nor pets and not to name them. Patrick is off to storytime, which Carl thinks is just for little kids.

Daryl's crew arrives at a mall that was chained up by the army during the outbreak to serve as a hospital. They move in to check out the army camp first. Michonne and Daryl hang out with Zack, who keeps trying to guess what Daryl did before the apocalypse. Daryl enjoys teasing him and insists he was a homicide cop. Sasha leads her team in for a sweep of the mall. Meanwhile the roof is full of zombies where a military helicopter had crashed. 

Inside Bob stops by the liquor shelves and takes a bottle of wine, only to reconsider after much thought and put it back, which collapses the shelf in a ruckus that alerts the zombies on the roof. Daryl rushes to his aid to lift the shelf off him but he's stuck. The weight of the herd on the roof breaks the ceiling and walkers begin to tumble through the tiles. 

The group is overwhelmed and Bob has to fight off a crawling walker himself. The weight of the helicopter begins to break the roof. Daryl and Zack get Bob free but Zack is bit, and they're forced to leave him as the mall collapses and the walkers overrun him.

Clara wonders if they get to come back from the bad things they've done. They arrive at her camp and she goes to a canvas, happy that Eddie is still there. Something moves underneath. Then she rushes Rick with her knife but he overpowers her. She tells him he's starving and needs something alive. She kept him even though she knows it was wrong. She asks Rick to let her be like him, then stabs herself in the stomach, leaving Rick to struggle with what to do. Rick comforts her as she asks what three questions he was going to ask. Rick answers—how many walkers have you killed? How many people has she killed? And why? You don't get to come back from it, Clara says, and dies. Rick leaves them.

Carl spies on Carol's story time in the library. As she finishes reading, she brings out a box of knives to teach the children how to safely use them, but Patrick asks to be dismissed as he's not feeling well. She tells him he may have to fight through it to be strong in case he's ever left alone. But she let's him go when he feels like throwing up. Carol notices Carl watching and asks him not to tell his father. He leaves.

Tyreese returns to Karen's quarters and tells her he doesn't like going out there either. Daryl goes to see Beth about Zack. She takes it stoically, and goes to a sign that says 30 Days Without an Accident and takes down the number. She tells Daryl she doesn't cry anymore, but she's glad she got to know him. She asks if he's okay. Daryl is tired of losing people too, and she gives him a hug. As Glen returns, Maggie informs him that she's not pregnant, which comes as an immense relief. But she feels they could make it work and live there lives safely there, despite what happened to Lori. She doesn't want to be afraid of being alive. In her own room, Michonne continues to scan a map looking for hiding places for the Governor.

Rick returns to the prison and sees the same walker on the wall from the morning. The pig has died. Hershel counsels him that he tried to help Clara but some are too far gone. Rick came back. Carl came back. You do get to come back, he insists.

Bob goes to sleep and hears coughing as Patrick gets up and heads to the showers to try to cool off. He collapses on the floor in blood, then opens his eyes as a walker. 

The Verdict:
While we don't get an exact time jump, many months have passed, which is another wise move on the show's part (not the least of which is to keep Carl aging appropriately). It looks like Carol and Daryl continue their playful flirting without taking the next step, but he has evolved so much since last season that he's very much a part of the community and one of the rock stars of the original group.

Andrea's absence is quite evident and I can sympathize with Michonne's drive to hunt down the Governor to avenge her death. She looks like she's at ease with the new group, too. But I question how logical it is to think she can find the Governor given he could be anywhere at this point.

As for new faces, Bob survived while Patrick and Zack got dispatched quickly. He looks like he'll be a wild card in episodes to come. Tyreese's new girlfriend needs some screen time before I can get a sense of her. I'm happy that both he and Sasha are getting fleshed out. It's refreshing to see some children in the community and someone for Carl to interact with (and hopefully play out some other storylines in the graphic novels).

The it's raining zombies scene in the mall brought some action to the premiere, but it also showed how fine-tuned this group has become in surviving. There were no stupid decisions (weak liquor store shelves excluded). In that respect the series has moved forward and avoided pitfalls where idiotic characters bring disaster (at least so far. That could change). Meanwhile, Rick's story with Clara played out pretty much as anticipated. But the point was to show there are people too far gone to be saved. It was a tragic one, but a good contrast with Rick's own bout with insanity, showing at least he pulled himself back from the brink.

The big reveal of Patrick's death leaves plenty of questions—was he sick to begin with? Or is this a mutation of the zombie virus? The pig's death, and that bloody looking walker eying Rick imply something is spreading (even Daryl's interesting finger-licking handshake to Patrick stood out). Perhaps it's just the swine flu and Patrick was sick already. It's refreshing to see the writers explore the other hazards of this apocalyptic world—when a disease other than the zombie plague can prove just as devastating, especially in a closed community like the prison.

30 Days Without an Accident struck a perfect balance. There was enough quiet time developing characters without being overly heavy or boring, and enough zombie kills to satisfy pretty much everyone.

Note to Michonne, Daryl and Sasha—Really, you couldn't have put poor Zack out of his misery in the moments you were watching him getting eaten by zombies, rather than just run off and leave him to suffer?

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