The first thing you should know about The Walking Dead is that it’s unlike any television series you have ever seen before. The images here are intense, and the crew has been given a blank check to create this vision without the burden of censors looking over their shoulders. There are plenty of blood-and-gore effects that rival any of the Hollywood zombie films you’ve seen in the last few years. The makeup effects are handled by the very capable hands of KNB and supervised personally by Greg Nicotero (the N from KNB). KNB isn’t treating this like a television production, and while I personally get tired of the cliché about making a movie each week, this one lives up to the hype. They aren’t doing anything different here than they would do for a big-budget film. The zombies look incredible, and the effects are completely first-rate.
If you need to know more before considering the fourth season, you need to go back to the beginning. It will be well worth the time and money to do so. You can check out our reviews of the previous seasons by banging it here: Walking Dead Reviews. These will quickly get you hungry for the first three seasons and get you caught up with the rest of us and into the breach with Season 4.
The fourth season begins in a place I didn’t quite expect. It’s been several months, and things have gotten peaceful and nearly complacent at the prison. Rick has given up his leadership role and his gun to become a farmer. He’s trying to give Carl a real childhood, but after the events of the previous season, we know that ship’s already sailed. Of course, this is The Walking Dead, and things won’t remain at peace for long. I do think it was a pretty cool way to start a season, however. I don’t think it fooled anyone, but it wasn’t really intended to. But it’s a part of the evolution of characters I talked about in previous seasons. While we know Rick’s going to be forced back into his violent reality, this is an interesting place to find the character. It was like hitting the reset button on a video game. Now we’re off and running.
The best new wrinkle in the show hits soon enough. Rick’s pigs spread a version of swine flu that kills quickly and turns people into walkers. Now for the first time walkers develop from within. The gates and walls can’t keep out a virus, and suddenly they’re fighting their own friends as walkers. Nothing breaks down complacency like the thought of the horror being right there within the whole time. The season has taken some hits from fans of late, but this development was refreshing. It’s certainly a game-changer for wherever they might decide to settle.
After the disease outbreak, the season does grow a bit stale. As much as I love the idea of the prison, the show had taken it as far as it could go. What better to put an end to all of that than the return of The Governor (Morrissey). We get two episodes that take us completely away from the regulars. They show us what The Governor has been up to since his explosive encounter with our survivors. He’s a beaten man who doesn’t even appear willing to survive. The fight’s gone out of him, and he’s become quiet and reserved. He chances upon a family holed up in an apartment building and starts to get close to people again. Ironically, it’s love that leads him back to the power-hungry evil guy he once was. I love that idea that something good can bring out something so bad in a person. It all puts him with a new army and back on his quest to overtake the prison. The result is a mid-season finale that has to be the biggest show ever. All out assault on the prison. A beloved character is killed. There’s even a tank. The result is a destroyed prison and our survivors separated and scattered to the winds. We put the walking back into The Walking Dead.
The second half of the season is very mixed. There are wonderful character moments as episodes linger with certain small groups of the survivors as they work themselves toward a new promised sanctuary called Terminus. The bad news is, there’s not enough of some characters. While Rick and Carl get a couple of intense episodes, there are strings of episodes where you don’t see them at all. I can’t decide how I feel about the setup. If only there were more episodes, because these contain the most intimate character moments ever. I feel like I’ve gotten to know these people better than ever. It might not have completely paid off right now, but going forward these moments are going to make future episodes so much better. It was a somewhat brave choice that few shows would have had the courage to make.
The story arc with Carol & Tyreese is particularly moving. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it, but they are off with two of the girls and Rick’s baby. These episodes deal not just with walkers but the psychological damage the new world is having on the kids. We’ve seen this with Carl already, but these girls take it to the next level. The end of that arc is one of the most emotionally powerful moments in television history. I know that’s a bold statement. Watch it and tell me I’m wrong.
The f/x continue to be cutting-edge thanks to the talents of Greg Nicotero. It’s quite amazing to see how much detail and gore he can provide on a television budget. It doesn’t hurt that he obviously loves what he’s doing, and his passion is absolutely infectious to his fellow crew and castmates and eventually to us. This was groundbreaking television when it began. I’m happy to report it has only gotten better. One of the best new f/x marvels are walkers who have been in a forest fire. These guys are burnt black and smoking. Best makeup f/x on the show yet.
If the series suffers at all, it’s from the constant change in leadership. I’m still a bit uneasy with how Frank Darabont was treated and cast aside. Since then the showrunner chair has been a revolving door. Currently Scott Gimple is running the show. I can only contribute the success to such a troubled leadership issue with the constant presence of Greg Nicotero. When you look at the behind the scenes material you can see that it’s Nicotero who appears to be driving this train.
This is a show I look forward to every year. The changes have made fans a bit vocal. Regulars are killed every year. Look at it this way. You’re getting the ultimate immersive experience. The reality of this world is that you get close to people and you lose them.
The season ends when the survivors arrive at Terminus, and just as you probably expected, when something looks to good to be true, it probably is. But they’re back together, at least those who survived, with a few new faces, and it looks like its time to kick butt, both zombie and human.
Each episode is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 25-30 mbps. The high-definition image presentation gives you the best possible view of the amazing production standards on this series. There is sharpness and detail enough to suck you right into this world. Sure, there are some CG elements that don’t quite look real, but these guys have kept the computer work to a minimum. Most of this is practical, so there is a texture and detail here that can’t fail to impress. Black levels are fair, but this show doesn’t hide in the dark very often. Most of what you see here happens in the cold light of day. It’s a brave choice, one that’s rewarded with this transfer. There is a fair amount of grain, but it only makes the image that much more alive.
The Dolby Digital TrueHD 7.1 is just as impressive here. Again, this just doesn’t sound like a television show. It sounds like a feature film with a lot of money to spend on sound design. There’s far more sub activity than I was expecting. The film also does a great job with silence. There are effective uses of silence throughout. If ever a sound were visceral, this is it. You can hear the bone-crunching and squishing sounds of body parts being munched on. Dialog still punches through perfectly.
You get 16 episodes on 4 discs with a bonus disc for extras.
There are commentary tracks and deleted scenes for select episodes.
Inside The Walking Dead: There’s a five-minute feature for each episode. Mostly it’s talking heads and clips. You get synopsis and some philosophy from cast and crew. Unfortunately, there’s no play-all. It gets tedious having to deal with selection every five minutes for 16 different episodes.
The Making Of The Walking Dead: Again there is one five-minute feature for each episode. This one is the behind-the-scenes stuff. You get a look at makeup f/x, stunts and production design. Still, it’s another 16 times working the remote to get through it all.
Drawing Inspiration: (6:06) This feature compares the moments that are most like the graphic novel with pages directly from the comic. Cast and crew talk about the importance of delivering some of those panels the fans will want to see brought to life just like it was originally.
Hershel: (7:38) A profile of the character complete with the actor’s own thoughts.
The Governor Is Back: (8:43) Another character profile.
Society, Science & Survival: (5:31) This feature looks at an online college course that uses the show across many disciplines. You get math by looking at the spread of the zombie population in equations. You get physics looking at the force that drives a crossbow bolt through a zombie’s head. Of course, there’s plenty for the social sciences here as well.
Inside KNB Studios: (18:19) Greg Nicotero leads a discussion with the makeup f/x team to talk about some of the best moments of the season. It’s not really a tour like the title implies, but there’s behind-the-scenes footage to go along with the discussion.
A Journey To Brutality: (8:18) This season features a lot of evolution for Rick. This piece looks at that process. Credit Lincoln with delivering such an emotional story arc. All the best writing and production design in the world wouldn’t matter if the actor didn’t sell it all.
Let me tell you about an odd experience I had with the series this season. Here at Upcomingdiscs we’re often forced into binge-watching when we get seasons of a series to watch. It’s actually the best way to watch a modern show with all of the deep mythology and huge story arcs. For me it meant watching several episodes in a sitting one day. After watching them I ventured outside to take a walk in the Florida August sunshine. It only lasted a mere second or two, but I had become so immersed in the show that the bright sunshine and normalcy of my neighborhood struck me as odd. When I saw someone else it almost startled me. The show managed to pull me in so far to that world that real life was a shock. It only lasted for a few seconds, like I said. But it reminded me of just how pulled in these shows can make us. The best part is, “we get to come back”.