When The Walking Dead returns for its fourth season on Sunday, Oct. 13, it will be seven and a half months since we last saw the splatter of black blood or heard the delightful slurping noises attending every zombie kill.
When we left Rick and the group, they had won the battle of Woodbury, but it wasn’t a complete victory; Glenn and Maggie were engaged; the Governor escaped to roam the countryside with his best soldiers; Carl killed a defenseless person in cold blood; and Rick, seemingly recovered from his mental breakdown, reversed his longstanding policy of not accepting new members by bringing in Tyrese, Sasha, and about 50 survivors of Woodbury’s demise.
Thanks to AMC, we get a taste of what we’re in for this season:
The action picks up, amazingly, about seven and a half months from where we left off. As we learned from the trailer, there won’t be many single- and double-walker attacks this season — the zombies now attack in swarming hordes like we haven’t seen since that last night on the farm. Late last season, we pointed out that our group has been fighting walkers for so long, they were hardly afraid of them, and the show’s writers faced the challenge of creating interesting set pieces to keep the action flowing. The answer, it seems, is to toss zombies by the hundreds against the little oasis. Excited yet?
Here are 10 things we’ll be looking for in the new season:
Will Rick maintain his sanity?
At varying times, Rick has been a hero, a jerk, a dictator, a paragon of virtue — and a totally crazy person. Rick suffered a serious breakdown after his wife died in childbirth, spending the majority of an entire episode on a phone that didn’t work, talking to a person who didn’t exist. But Rick has always been the leader, and with respect to Daryl (who’s combat skills I hold in the highest regard), Rick is the top soldier of the group. He’s resourceful, imaginative, rugged and brave. Despite my the occasional grief I give Andrew Lincoln for really one scene of blatant overacting, he’s a fine actor, and Rick is the backbone of the show. According to our trailer, Rick goes into leader mode and investigator mode again. It’s a welcome return.
Can Carl be a kid (or at least a teenager) again?
Per our sneak peek, for a while at least, things in the prison settle into a slow pace. They’re growing crops; they have story time; there are more boys and girls about Carl’s age. Sadly, I’m going to bet the answer to this question is no. We met Carl as an awkward tween. Chandler Riggs, who plays Carl, is now 14, taller and lankier. Carl hasn’t had much of a childhood for the past few years. He’s been shot. He’s seen (and participated in) incredible violence. He’s was forced to deliver his baby sister by emergency c-section and shoot his mother in the head to keep her from turning into a zombie. It’s no wonder he snapped, as he did last season when he killed a Woodbury resident trying to surrender. A more mature Riggs can probably show more acting range, so it’ll be interesting to see where they take Carl this season.
Can our new characters carry some of the show?
Excluding The Governor (who’s basically in a category by himself), we haven’t had an interesting new character since we met the Greene family — at least not one that’s stuck around. And by the Greene family, I mean Hershel and Maggie, because the rest of them were pretty boring (and died in the battle of the farm). Beth survived, but other than a brief bit of innocent flirting with Carl and some singing, her character hasn’t brought much to the table. This season, The Wire veteran Lawrence Gilliard, Jr. joins the cast. As D’Angelo Barksdale he brought a lot to that show; let’s hope his new character Bob Stookey can do the same.
Will they or won’t they?
Maggie and Glenn have been together so long they seem like an old married couple (no offense to old married couples). The budding romance we’ve really been watching is the one between Daryl and Carol. Like many TWD fans, Daryl is my favorite character. I was really impressed by Norman Reedus’s performance at the end of last season. Carol has always been a dependable member of the group, but a pretty vanilla character. Given her back-story (battered wife whose husband was devoured by the zombie horde way back in the first season), there is more than enough room to explore how she might move on and love again. Delving into Hershel’s vices gave us great drama; let’s see the same from Carol.
Speaking of ‘will they or won’t they’?
Some sub-categories of this category: Carl and Beth? (Sure, he’s still a little young, but he does have a couple years of battling zombies under his belt). Tyreese and Sasha?* Rick and a new character? Is there a nice woman for Hershel — now sporting a new prosthetic leg–to love in his autumn years? And Maggie and Glenn. They’re engaged, so we know they’re firmly together, but will they or won’t they….have a baby? Seven months of post-battle tranquility is as good a time as they’re going to have to start a family, but we know how this went last time.
When will we see The Governor again?
He’s out there. He’s pissed off. He knows where the prison is and he doesn’t let grudges go. It’s only a matter of time.
What’s next for Michonne?
The katana-wielding definition of badass has been one of the most popular characters on the show. When she fights walkers, it’s a bit like watching a Jedi in his prime. Michonne and Andrea had a falling out, but it’s clear she’s going to take Andrea’s death hard. Most of Danai Gurira’s dramatic moments have consisted of her intense stares, looking utterly pissed off. I hope the writers let her explore Michonne’s story a little more deeply.
Can TWD keep pace as a ratings juggernaut?
We’re all about the story here, but it would be malpractice not to mention the fact that TWD is the most popular show on cable — the 12 million viewers who tuned in for last season’s finale were more than watched the series finale of Breaking Bad. The show is so popular, it has network executives looking over their shoulders. The producers are promising more twists and more action. If they deliver, it could become even more popular.
That won’t happen if the story lapses into the lumbering complacency of the middle of Season 2 when we were stuck on the farm. The original showrunner, Frank Darabont, a brilliant filmmaker and storyteller, plotted long story arcs that never seemed to end, and it’s one of the main reasons he left the show. It looks like we’re going to be staying at the prison for a little while, so we won’t have the momentum of moving from place to place. We’ll be watching to see if new showrunner Scott Gimple can find the right pace.
Speaking of a new showrunner…
Partway through Season 2, veteran producer Glen Mazzara was hailed as a hero, and all he had to do was move the story off the farm. Season 3 was a higher quality program, but due to reported creative disputes with TWD creator Robert Kirkman, he was sent packing. Gimple comes from the show’s writer’s ranks, and he’ll no doubt have overall story quality in the front of his mind. But TWD has a lot of moving pieces and the more popular it gets, the more pressure he’ll feel to keep delivering hordes of fans. If he can line up viewers like the walkers swarming the fences, chances are he’ll be just fine.
At the end of the trailer, whose voice do we hear on the radio?
Perhaps some semblance of civilization survived after all.
(Watch below: Colson Whitehead’s Favorite Pop Culture Zombies)
*Many thanks to a sharp TWD fan, RobinAntjoesmom, who pointed out that Tyrese and Shasha are brother and sister. According to AMC, many viewers (including yours truly) didn’t realize they were siblings. Let’s hope, for that sake, that they wont.