Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review The Walking Dead each week in a series of letters. Want to join the conversation and see your name on the digital pages of Paste? We publish a Walking Dead Mailbag every Friday to whet our appetites for the new episodes. Mailbags require actual mail, so send your Walking Dead questions, theories and rants to firstname.lastname@example.org before Friday, and Josh or Shane will answer the best ones.)
First question: With Patrick and his black frame glasses gone, does that mean the dream of an Apple store inside the prison is also dead?
Second question: Beth not only had several lines this episode, but she also has a ”__ Days Without an Accident” sign in her room that she uses to measure when someone was last killed by a zombie. Beth is turning into a strange duck. Oh wait, that wasn’t a question.
Third question: Hershel thinks Rick should have overalls and a bigger ass. Also not a question, though it does bring up a few.
Fourth question: Did that weird Irish-sounding woman manage to look and sound creepier than any zombie in Walking Dead history?
Fifth question: Am I the only one who thought Tyreese and Sasha were husband and wife, and that he was cheating on her in the beginning when he openly made out with that other woman, and then got super confused that Sasha wasn’t dead or at least a little miffed?
Okay, enough questions. In “30 Days Without an Accident,” The Walking Dead’s season four premiere, so much happened that it all felt a little disjointed, and that’s my excuse for the helter-skelter beginning here. I know we had some catching up to do—particularly with all the newbies from Woodbury—but even by first-episode-of-a-season standards, this one felt very foundational (I originally typed “groundworky,” which I think should be a word. But I digress.)
Anyway, things at the West Georgia Correctional Facility aren’t great, despite the relatively calm veneer. There are a lot of sinister undertones here, starting with the volume of the zombies themselves. Is it just me, Josh, or are they a bit louder this year? It felt like they’ve reached a new pitch of terrifying, as though they had a motivational football coach tell them, “you’re not playing with any urgency!” Rick even had to wear headphones to tend his garden in peace, which actually feels like a pretty dumb move in the dystopian zombiescape, for the same reason it’s a dumb move in a car—you want to watch your six.
Then there’s the mystery disease that killed Violet the Pig (THAT’S WHY WE DON’T NAME THEM, GUYS) and may have infiltrated Patrick’s immune system as well. I’ll miss that crazy kid. It felt like we needed someone who wasn’t a total tough nut, and a dorky kid who looked about 19 and still went to story time fit the bill. I’m also sad to see Zach go, because I also want to know what Daryl was up to before all hell broke loose, and I think he was on the right track. (Side note: This was my wife’s Facebook post that went up mere seconds after he appeared on screen: “OMG- V. Mars fans, Beaver is on The Walking Dead this season!!!” Not sure why she abbreviated the word ‘Veronica.’)
So there’s a lot of death and ominous droney music and collapsing helicopters and knife lectures when the kids just wanted to enjoy story time. Still, it was a fun premiere. Among other things, I like how Daryl has become a rock star. Finally, the characters are treating him like we viewers have for years. And I’m 100 percent on board with D’Angelo Barksdale (or Larry Gilliard Jr., if you prefer) joining the crew as the wonderfully named former army medic Bob Stookey. Apparently the show runners didn’t want a second Wire alum to go along with Chad Coleman, aka Cutty, but his reading was so good that he beat out a group of older white guys, which is how the character is written in the comic. I thought the best drama of the whole episode was whether or not he was going to pocket the bottle of the wine in the store, and I cheered for him when he overcame his demons just before the entire shelf collapsed and alcohol almost literally killed him.
And now I want to talk about the creepy Irish woman in the woods. The wife and I were both as shocked as Rick when she began talking, and we had the same question: Can zombies speak now? Have they become tricky? Because their lack of strategy was the only thing keeping civilization alive! If they start taking on the slippery traits of leprechauns, we’re all screwed, Josh. But as the camera drew closer, she looked less like a zombie and more like one of the never-ending supply of pale, shambling, long-haired girls from horror films. Like an older version of the girl from The Ring. I expected her to start singing a children’s song in high, haunting tones at any moment. And after a while, I really started expecting that she was leading Rick straight to The Governor.
Neither happened, of course. She only wanted to kill Rick to feed her dead zombie friend. Totally normal. Instead, she stabbed herself and made Rick promise not to shoot her in the head. He obliged, and even rattled off the Three Important Questions for her as she was dying. But that begs the question—where is The Governor? Where is he, Josh?! We need some psychopath in our Walking Dead! And on that note, I guess I’m happy to see that Carl’s cold-blooded murder from last season wasn’t step one in his transformation into a crazy sadist. He seems to be adjusting well.
And one last question before I kick it to you: Why do you think Rick’s favorite sculpture was the leap frog one? What does that say about him? What does that say about US?
With the zombie apocalypse further in our rearview mirror, there’s a lot this episode needed to establish: Like, who’s on the council? How shitty is zombie-on-the-fence-poking duty? How shittier are supply runs in creepy discount stores? How many days since the last accident? And which knife is best for an eight-year-old girl in close-range combat?
But the show has set a high bar for season premieres (Rick coming out of a coma, the group’s first encounter with a horde on the highway, the discovery of the prison), and I was a little bit underwhelmed by “30 Days Without Incident.” There was more action in the preview for next week than there was in all of tonight’s episode. Not to minimize the zombies falling through the ceiling (that was pretty cool), but this was not quite the action-packed beginning I was hoping for. Still, a decent first effort under Scott M. Gimple’s new reign.
On to your questions…
1. I thought he was a PC.
2. After seeing Beth’s unemotional acknowledgment of the dangers Zach would face on his mission, I had a feeling she would take his death in stride. At some point, you stop letting yourself feel so intensely.
3. I like the idea of Rick settling into the role of farmer. But Hershel will always wear the overalls in this family.
4. I watched the show at a Walking Dead party last night, and the host was convinced she was a new kind of zombie. She sure seemed like one of those people in World War Z (the book) who identify with and pretend to be zombies. Especially when she never bothered to eat Rick’s sandwich.
5. Sasha is Tyrese’s sister, so I think she’s going to be okay with it. This is The Walking Dead, not Game of Thrones.
In that first scene with the headphones, Rick finds a gun, looks at the zombies and then breaks it apart and tosses it into a wheelbarrow. We quickly find out he doesn’t like to carry his gun, even when he’s beyond the fence. That’s a big change from six months earlier when he was leading the assault on Woodbury with guns a’blazing. He’s more open now, learning to trust, but maybe tired of killing the living and afraid of what he’ll have to do if he has it on him.
I was predicting we’d lose one of the current cast members to make way for new blood, but it was the new blood getting spilled to kick off Season Four. First Zach, who wasn’t watching for ground-level zombies (rookie mistake). Then Crazy Irish Lady, who made Rick look like a bastion of sanity. And finally the President of the Daryl Fan Club. I just hope it wasn’t Daryl’s saliva handshake that made him sick.
Bob Stookey was an interesting character in the comics—basically Woodbury’s town drunk. He’s pretty useless until he’s called upon to save The Governor’s life after Michonne nearly kills him. Larry Gilliard Jr.’s version has already successfully battled his alcoholic demons (and put his thumb in a crawling zombie’s brain). I’m excited to see how he develops in the series. By the way, as a Georgian, I was so happy to see all that Sweetwater and Terrapin beer—and so sad to see it all smashed by the helicopter. It’s not hard, guys. You get in, you get the beer, you come back for the digital cameras later.
My favorite scene, though, was in the woods, while this new woman was lamenting all the things she’s had to do—wondering if there was any coming back from it, and then attempting use Rick as zombie food. The more she talked, the more you knew that something bad was waiting for Rick at that camp. It was a wakeup call for where Rick had been heading, but as Hershel reminds him later in the episode, he did come back. I don’t think he’s been taking any more phone calls from Imaginary Lori.
It looks like The Governor is the least of their worries now. The problem with setting up secure locations in this particular zombie apocalypse is that the living are all zombies-in-waiting. It doesn’t take a breach to infiltrate even the most secure fortress against the undead. Next week looks intense. But when we do see The Governor again, it won’t be because he’s been plotting revenge on the Prison Gang. It’ll be because Michonne is out there looking for him. And you don’t want Michonne hunting you down.
As for the leap-frog statue, I just think it means that Rick must not have ever seen The Secretary Bird.
By the way, I was really hoping that Rick would open the bag, and the head would a cameo from Michael B. Jordan. “Where’s Wallace, Stringer?”
My prediction is that one of the young girls is going to have to kill Zombie Patrick with a knife, and that will justify Carol’s tutorials, and then story time will be done for good. Thanks a lot, Patrick. That was our only escape.
Do you think Rick is incapable of killing anymore? He wouldn’t even put a mercy bullet in the head of Creepy Irish Lady, and it looks like Daryl is kind of taking on the role of warrior while Rick settles into more peaceful chores. Meanwhile, I hope Michonne doesn’t turn into an Ahab figure, hunting down her White Whale to the detriment of herself and the rest of the camp.
One thing that made me laugh was Glenn’s reaction to Maggie not being pregnant. “Oh thank God!” You could tell she was a little annoyed at his enthusiasm. Like, hey, you know we can have kids, right? It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world? Glenn needs to ease up on the relief throttle there.
But there wasn’t a whole lot of life in this episode, and death was the order of the day. I, too, thought we might see one of the old guard go down, but right now it seems like the influx from Woodbury are just pawns to be killed off to heighten the danger without eliminating anyone cool. Also, super bad luck that they showed up to the convenience store the day the roof rotted. But I did like Bob Stookey’s thumb kill. That was an instant classic, and he was so calm and clinical about it, the way only a former combat medic could be.
While we’re on this topic, I’d like you to rank the following “old-school” characters in terms of how expendable you think they are. In other words, which ones are most likely to die since we can afford to lose them? Your choices: Rick, Carl, Daryl, Maggie, Glenn, Hershel, Beth, Carol. EXPLAIN YOUR ANSWERS.
By the way, we got to see baby Judith last night, and maybe this is harsh, but so far she’s no Holly White. Not even close. She’s played by twins, Adelaide and Eliza Cornwell, and I only mention that because the idea of them Googling themselves in 20 years and reading this is hilarious to me. Sorry, Cornwell twins! (On a side note, apparently Holly is played by three actresses, Josh! Three! What happened to integrity?? This is just like when I found out that Franklin W. Dixon wasn’t a real author, and that the Hardy Boys novels were written by a conglomerate.)
Back at you,
What? Franklin W. Dixon isn’t real? I need a minute. In fact, let me go get my twin brother to finish this up while I recover…
Okay, on to The Expendables from least to most…
9. Daryl – Least expendable. Sure, Rick is the main character, but if this show was based in the UK, he’d already be dead. Daryl is the baddest of badasses who’s escaped from underneath his elder brother’s boot. Besides, who could kill him? Maybe a zombified Chuck Norris?
8. Carl – When I had the opportunity to interview Robert Kirkman last year, he half-jokingly said, “I’d like to get it to 25 seasons… We could see these people running around in their sixties.” But is there any doubt that Carl is the leader of the Kingdom of Georgia by 2025?
7. Michonne – Not old-school enough for your list? I don’t care. I want at least one Michonne-only episode this season, where she takes on the entire zombie city of Macon. Or maybe the AMC Walking Dead spin-off can be her own show.
6. Rick – Okay, he’s kind of important, too.
5. Carol – She’s lost her husband and her daughter, but she’s only gotten stronger. And those young girls need a mentor to read them stories and teach them the softest entry points in the human skull.
4. Maggie – The strongest member of Team Hershel, it’s time for a breakout season from Lauren Cohen.
3. Glenn – A couple of seasons ago, I’d have put him in a tie with Daryl for least expendable. But he’s pretty angsty and humorless these days. If Maggie does get pregnant, he’s going to be a blubbering mess.
2. Beth – A surprise move out of the top spot this week after her unexpectedly detached response to the passing of her boyfriend. Was that creepy? Admirable? The logical extension of the zombie apocalypse? I’m not sure, but I want to see more.
1. Hershel – Things are about to get downright Darwinian inside that prison, and I predict Beth’s stoicism is going to get tested further next week.
So, one final question for you. This was Gimple’s first episode as captain of the whole ship. He’s the third showrunner after Frank Darabont and Glen Mazzara and wrote and directed “30 Days Without Incident.” So how did he do? All the tension was in the middle, with a little twist at the end. It seemed like he was really excited about zombies coming through the ceiling, and the story was just built around that effect. But it didn’t have the punch of any season opener we’ve seen yet.
I would agree with you that Gimple’s premiere was, like a boring prom, a bit punch-less. The main problem I’m seeing right now is that we don’t really have a distinct enemy yet. In most television shows, and in Walking Dead premieres past, the first episode establishes what will become the conflict for the season. In the pilot, the enemy was obvious: The zombies themselves. Season Two’s opener expanded that theme and introduced the disappearance of Sophia. Season Three brings us to the prison and the new, more secure life the group hopes to establish. Which isn’t to say that important elements haven’t come a couple episodes in; they didn’t find Hershel’s farm until the second episode of Season Two, and the Governor first graced our screens in Season Three, Episode Three. Usually, though, we’ve got at least some inkling of what’s in store by the end of the premiere.
This time, I’m not really sure. Is the enemy disease? As many vanquished civilizations can attest, plagues are indeed no joke, and can be deadlier than any army. But will the threat of a virus be as compelling on TV as humans raised from the dead, or a sociopath like the Governor with his own army? Definitely not. The main thing Gimple needs to accomplish in the next two weeks is to lay out a dramatic conflict that unifies the season. As viewers, I think we’re past the point where zombies can serve that role. They’ll always be a danger, but in Season Three the writers made the excellent choice to focus on inter-human drama, and there’s no going back now. It would make sense to bring the Governor back, but after yesterday’s episode it seems like he’ll be used sparsely; Michonne’s comment about not finding him was their way of telling us that he’s off the radar, for now.
So what else could we be looking at? Another group of people? Deadly bacteria that turns the group into walking, dying, time bombs? Some kind of zombie mutation that makes the dead more formidable? It’s all in play, but I personally think going the disease route might be a mistake for Gimple. There’s a reason that war movies mostly skip over that part. We don’t care too much about Valley Forge; we want to see the redcoats running scared! But if Gimple fails to heed that lesson, we can start calling him “Simple Gimple” and demanding his head. I’ve never led a charge for someone to be fired before, and I’d love to change that here at Paste, Josh. Let’s keep a really close eye on this developing situation.
I mostly agree with your rankings, except I think Hershel might be immune from the reaper now that he’s lost a leg.
In conclusion, we rooted for George R.R. Martin to stay alive during our Game of Thrones recaps, and we prayed for Jesse Pinkman’s survival during Breaking Bad. Considering that we’re two-for-two, might as well let the good luck flow. Here goes:
Please don’t die, Daryl Dixon.
Remember, send your Walking Dead questions to email@example.com and check back on Friday for more Walking Dead goodness. Also, follow Shane Ryan at @ShaneRyanHere and Josh Jackson at @JoshJackson on Twitter.