This season of The Walking Dead represents a new world and a new approach to living. It’s not a life of fear and chaos, it’s a life hope. Hope with a side of zombies.
Before I get to the premiere and Maggie’s words quoted above, let’s recap where we left our intrepid heroes at the end of last season:
Where we were:
In case you forgot, Andrea and Merle were zombified at the end of last season. However the audience may feel about these two, their deaths were emotional for all or at least some of the core characters.
Carl grew from zombie-bait to a wise-beyond-his-years asset to the team. Unfortunately, he’s seen too much darkness and that seems to be taking a toll on his state of mind.
The prison isn’t a Ricktatorship anymore. Rick abdicated his leadership title for a more democratic approach. Rick also “went clear” and has moved through the psychotic break he had after the death of Lori.
Our band of marauders has an influx of new blood from a busload of Woodbury refugees that arrived at the prison at the end of the finale. They could be a source of solace or a source of strife for the prison dwellers. Only time will tell…
And hey, that time is now, so let’s get on with the season premiere recap!
Where we are:
’30 Days Without an Accident’ opens with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) in the prison yard. Walkers are snarling at the fence to get to him. It doesn’t bother him because he’s listening to his iPod. He goes about his work despite them.
This opening scene represents the group’s shift from fighting the zombies to accepting their existence and building a community based on that acceptance. It’s a bit like Woodbury, but without the evil.
The music Rick is listening to is a gospel hymn called Precious Memories. and includes lyrics like “as I ponder, hope grows fonder…” This is a constant theme running through this episode and plays into the line from Maggie quoted above.
The people at the prison have hope now. It’s been 6 months since the end of season 3. In that time the survivors have established a makeshift government they call a council. They’ve started farming. They’ve dug wells for water.
Everyone at the prison has settled into a state of complacency. After everything they’ve been through, they deserve some calm, but is a state of calm even possible in post-apocalyptic zombieland?
Everyone is building relationships, shacking up and nesting…. or as a friend said “everyone is all boo’ed up and shit.” Tyrese has Karen, Glenn has Maggie, even Beth has a teenage love interest in a boy named Zach. Rick’s group and the Woodbury refugees appear to have adapted quite well to life together.
There’s even a storytime. But after storytime, Carol teaches the kiddies about knives – how to stab, slash and aim.
These people are living full lives in the new world. They aren’t cowering in fear or hiding from it. They are learning to live with it. That means teaching your children how to kill walkers and even people. Carol teaches this lesson, not out of fear, but out of practicality. It’s just the way it is now.
We learn a few other things about life at the prison. Including that Carl is a comic book nerd! And so is Michonne!!
The Woodburians are in awe of Daryl (Norman Reedus). Who can blame them? My ovaries are in awe of Daryl, too. This adoration is not undeserved because later in the episode, Daryl kills a walker by stepping on its head. He’s so awesome he doesn’t even need weapons! Daryl smashes in the skull of a zombie with only his foot!
Daryl’s zombie head smashing comes during one of the most inventive zombie invasions the show has done. He, Tyrese (Chad Coleman), Michonne (Danai Gurira), Zach and others go on a supply run. Things go badly when former army medic and apparent recovering alcoholic Bob knocks an entire shelf of wine onto himself. The shelf falling over is a bit ridiculous (and also a waste of wine) but you forget about the plot device because what comes next is fantastic. The zombies on the roof of the supermarket hear the ruckus and start to move. The unstable roof caves in and it starts raining zombies! At least a dozen drop on the group.
Beth’s (Emily Kinney) new beau Zach is a casualty. The death itself is not significant, but Beth’s reaction is.
When she hears the news she tells Daryl “I don’t cry anymore Daryl. I’m just glad I got to know him.” She seems unmoved, but her coping mechanism is rather smart. They live in a world of loss. The only way to navigate that world is to be thankful for the time that you have. Otherwise, you live in fear. So Beth, much like Maggie, doesn’t want to do that anymore.
Some people aren’t in that place, though. Maggie tells Glenn that she doesn’t want to be afraid of being alive but Glenn’s response is “being afraid is what’s kept us alive.” This inner war between being afraid and learning to live full lives inside of the given circumstances, no matter how terrible they may be, will be the theme of the season, not just the theme of the episode.
Rick’s story arc continues this theme. He meets a woman who asks if she and her husband can come back to the prison with him. Rick tells her that he will bring her back to the prison if she and her husband answer three questions. We don’t find out those questions until the end.
Rick’s walk with this woman is a reflection on his journey to the leader that he is today. She tells him that she’s done horrible things because of the zombies. “Did you do things like that?” she asks him. He did all of those things, and more. Some of them we know he regrets, others he would do again, but they were all part of learning how to lead in this new world.
The most notable change in Rick is that he’s learned that “people are the best defense against walkers.” He’s evolved from his former stance of keeping the group small. He’s learned there really is strength in numbers. I’ve been hard on Rick in the past, but I do think his character development has been realistic. He hasn’t always made the best decisions. He even lost his mind out of grief last season. But what makes him a good leader is that he learns from his mistakes and his past.
We’ll never know how this woman and her husband would have evolved, because when Rick gets to their camp, we find out her husband is a zombie! She planned on feeding him Rick’s brains. But, overcome with grief, she stabs herself. In the end, all she wants is to be a zombie like her husband so that she can be with him in death.
With lesser actors, this scene would have been melodramatic but with Lincoln and Kerry Condon in these roles, it hits all the right emotional notes.
As she’s dying, she asks Rick what the three questions were that he would have asked her and her husband.
“How many walkers have you killed?”
“How many people have you killed?”
It turns out she hadn’t killed any zombies and the only person she’s ever killed was herself, making the situation all the more tragic. To answer Rick’s final question, she breathlessly states “You don’t get to come back from things.”
This deeply resonates with Rick who’s just narrowly come back from the brink after losing Lori. Later, he doubts if he will stay stable. But the ever wise Hershel assures him:
“you get to come back, you do.”
The writers are going out of their way to telegraph the theme of this season. It’s repeated almost ad nauseum in this episode, and almost always by a member of the Greene family. Despite fear, despite loss, despite horror, you still get to live a life.
Where we’re going:
A lot of people didn’t like the pacing of this episode. But I think it was purposeful and on point. It was slow and boring because life is currently slow and boring for the characters.
As long as the show doesn’t stay in this lull, which it clearly won’t, I think the complacent nature of the premiere was a wise choice. It’s going to make what’s to come hit even harder.
And what’s to come is major. Because the episode does not end with Hershel’s inspiring words. It ends with a terrifying scene. Patrick (Vincent Martella), a friend of Carl’s, feels ill during storytime and then drops dead in the shower. Moments later, he turns into a walker.
We don’t know why or what happens next. We know there was a sick pig on the farm. Is that the cause or has the virus gone airborne? He also coughed into the water supply – which means he could have contaminated it and doomed everyone.
We’ll have to see how this plays out and which characters are hold onto their hope and which ones believe they will never come back from the madness of the new world.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 on AMC.