So what will you be doing when the zombie apocalypse finally hits? Will you be fighting endlessly to survive? Will you be hoarding food and supplies? Will you be seeking out other survivors and band together? Maybe you’ll just hole up somewhere and try and wait it out. Me? I’m going to find a solid generator, a high-definition television, an Oppo Blu-ray player, and all of The Walking Dead season sets I can get my hands on. You could consider it survival training, but I’m going to binge-watch one of the most unique shows in television history. Come to think about it, that’s not all that different from what I’m doing now. I’m not going to let a little thing like the end of civilization keep me from catching the latest episodes. Now that’s what I call must-see TV.
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 four seasons and get you caught up with the rest of us and into the breach with Season 5.
“You’re either the butcher or cattle.”
Fans remember that we left the fourth season with our team arriving at the promised sanctuary of Terminus. It was a big buildup last year and it lives up to its hype, at least for a very short while. We discover that the residents of Terminus have watched Soylent Green a few too many times and have big plans for our friends. They are about to be food until Carol (McBride) comes to the rescue without a second to spare. It’s the traditional fighting our way out of a bad place, and we’re back on the road. With the end of the season’s first episode, we leave Terminus behind us already.
Enter Father Gabriel, played by The Wire’s Seth Gilliam. Seth is a priest who is hiding a dark secret that Rick (Lincoln) picks up on right away. The only question is, will his secret pose a danger to the group? They save him from a rather perilous situation, and he leads them to his church, which has remained pretty much untouched since the beginning of the outbreak. It is there they settle for a while, with Carol reunited with the group. Rick agrees to keep the secret of her past deeds and his banishment of her earlier. She’s mostly untouched by the things she had to do, but it’s Tyreese (Coleman) who is troubled by the memories he carries of The Grove.
The dynamics of this group are always in flux. Not only to people come and go, but the time is taking a serious toll on how they interact. They are growing a bit numb to the violence, and Father Gabriel is the perfect character to add at this particular juncture. We see them from his fresh eyes. We’re becoming just as numb to the violence as the team has. Now we see it for what it’s become. It is here in the church that we have a final confrontation with some survivors from Terminus, and this is one of the most brutal scenes in the entire show. It might not be any gorier or vicious, but the scene is shot so perfectly from the Padre’s eyes that we get kind of hit over the head with how much humanity these people have lost. It’s a brilliant scene that opens our eyes quite a bit to these people we’ve spent five years getting to know. It will have a huge impact on you.
We also discover that Rick’s authority isn’t what it once was. It’s a nice dichotomy we see here. They are still fiercely loyal to him, but they end up overruling many of his decisions. This group has become more of a democracy, and members are starting to feel more comfortable pulling in a different direction. This will lead us on a trek toward Washington even after Eugene (McDermitt) finally admits what I think we all already knew. It is there that the second half of the season finds the group at a new settlement at Alexandria. It accounts for the biggest geographic move they’ve made throughout the entire season.
In between we get a few episodes that tell Beth’s (Kinney) story from where we lost track of her. She’s been taken to a hospital in Atlanta that is run by Officer Dawn Lerner (Woods), who has kept a settlement alive there by returning to some normalcy and a police force complete with cop cars. She rules strictly, however, and expects everything you get from them to come with a cost, or you get the crap kicked out of you. When the gang learn of her being there, they attempt a rescue that goes badly for both sides. That’s right. Oh my God, they killed Kinney.
While there are certainly powerful moments throughout the season, too much of these earlier episodes feel like the threads have come unwound, and now the writers are trying to pull them back together. There are a bit too many character sidetracks, and flashbacks are quite heavy in this season. That all changes when they arrive at Alexandria.
Alexandria is a walled community that has not only survived but appears to flourish. They have solar-powered electricity and running fresh water. Our friends are given jobs and two huge houses to live in. We’re told they once sold for the lower $800,000’s. Here’s where everything gets turned on its head. It’s a world where children walk their dogs on the street and play video games. It’s a world of hot showers and clean shaves. It’s a world of cocktail parties. It’s all run by a former Congresswoman Deanna Moore (Feldshuh). She’s a strong personality and has been the one to keep the community safe since the outbreak. Our guys had been recruited and invited into the group, perhaps to give them the reality check they might need. Rick is worried it has made them weak and is determined that it won’t happen to his family. He’s determined to show them how to toughen up and survive, or they’ll just take the joint over. It gets complicated when he falls for one of the city’s women, who is married to a man who beats her. It forces his hand a bit too early and leads to a night to remember that will take us into the next season with a bang. It also signals the return of a friendly face from the early days of the show. You should watch the end credits. A few of these are followed by scenes that show you this character’s journey to the group.
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 melted into the road surface of a parking lot at Slabtown. They had been napalmed a couple of years ago and have been fused to the road surface since that time. Daryl uses one of their heads like a bowling ball, sticking his fingers into the eye sockets to swing it as a weapon. It seems every season there’s a case where they go for something completely new and visually compelling.
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 four 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.
As every year, there are tributes to the lost members. Each is about 4-5 minutes.
There are two video diaries that run eight minutes each for actors Josh McDermitt and Michael Cudlitz.
Rotters In The Flesh: (4:33) A closer look at the “melters”. Much of this was in the earlier episode-specific material.
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. This season was no different. I’m not sure that even Rick is safe. I don’t know what to expect from next season, but I’ll bet someone else that we never expected will be exiting the show in some particularly emotional and gory fashion. Fear The Living Dead has now started its run, and we’re going to get glimpses of the west coast now. This is a huge world, when you stop to think about it. The possibilities are literally endless. It looks like there’s plenty more Living Dead coming our way. “It’s their world; we’re just living in it.”