|'The zombie epidemic is consistently relegated to the background; a generic plot device to call upon when needed, but rarely the imaginative horror showcase seen in earlier seasons'.|
Originally broadcast as two separate halves with a hiatus of around three months in between, Season Four of The Walking Dead feels distinctly like a pair of eight episode mini-seasons. It’s a narrative choice which makes this the most fractured season of the series yet, a problem heightened through some of the plot decisions made within those two blocks of eight.
The plot focus within the first half of the season – a deadly virus sweeping its way through the group of survivors, now larger than ever – deserves credit for exploring an idea often given little consideration within the zombie genre. The problem is that, in opting to turn into a grim, dystopian take on a medical drama, The Walking Dead may inadvertently have proven why most other writers and directors previously stayed away from this area: quite simply, it’s not actually that interesting to watch. Whilst we get some of the most genuinely realistic scenes the series has offered across all of its four seasons, too often this first half becomes slow and depressing viewing, allowing the action and conflict to take a bit too much of a back seat.
Tied into this issue is the presentation of the “walkers” themselves. Having previously provided highlights throughout each season thanks to Greg Nicotero’s superbly creative and gruesome special effects, here the zombie epidemic is consistently relegated to the background; a generic plot device to call upon when needed, but rarely the imaginative horror showcase seen in earlier seasons.
As Season Four heads towards its midpoint climax, things pick up with the re-emergence of The Governor (David Morrissey). The character’s return is welcome, but nonetheless feels hastily grafted onto the end of the season’s first half in a three episode block. Whilst undoubtedly providing the season highlight, there’s no doubt The Governor’s story as told here would have functioned much better as a slowly revealed subplot over the opening eight episodes, in a similar style to the multiple narratives of Season Three.
With the group finding themselves more splintered than ever at the start of Season Four's second half, so too does the narrative. The focus shifts between groups with pleasing control, but there are just too many stories being told for any of them to feel fully fleshed out over the eight episodes remaining. Some characters such as Tyreese (Chad Coleman) and Bob (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.) are developed well; others, such as young sisters Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) and Mika (Kyla Kenedy), are less satisfying and feel as though they’re only being built up merely to serve as plot devices somewhere further down the line.
In the end, much of the success of Season Four of The Walking Dead is down to the series' strong cast. Even Andrew Lincoln manages to make his presence firmly felt despite Rick having stepped down from his leadership role at the start of the season. Other notable performances come from Scott Wilson as Hershel and Danai Gurira as Michonne, both of whom imbue any scene they are in with dramatic and emotional weight. With the series having recently returned for its fifth season on both sides of the Atlantic, let’s hope the drawn out and despondent disarray seen too often in Season Four is put to bed in quick and satisfying fashion