Let this review serve as a rallying cry to anyone who was so disillusioned by The Walking Dead’s abysmal third season that they felt compelled to abandon the series altogether, an impulse I understand all-too-well. After all, I was one of those devoted viewers who decided to tune out, and frankly I wasn’t alone. While I determined to never watch another episode after the third season finale, there are folks even within my circle of acquaintances who jumped ship earlier than I– some as early as the third season’s mid-season break.
Taking a step back, the first two seasons were phenomenal. At the heart of it all stood the incredibly tense conflict between Rick and Shane, which was effective in no small part because it really should have been avoidable. And in that, the series did what any great zombie story does: it focused on the people– and people are imperfect. Rick and Shane should have been able to come to an understanding, but instead they came to blows at a time when only teamwork and collaboration could possibly keep them and everyone around them alive. They were stories about humanity first and foremost, and therein laid the real horrors of the first two seasons (see my review of season two for more on that).
Following the demise of Shane in season two, David Morrissey joined the cast, and even though we all knew he would be the season’s central antagonist (The Governor was evil as hell in the comic books, after all), something just wasn’t right about it from the start. Whereas we were never quite sure what Shane would do at any moment given his history with Rick, The Governor’s plot wound up being completely devoid of mystery or subtext. Though he smiled a lot, he pretty much wore his evil on his sleeve and it left the season virtually bereft of real horror– at least after the initial altercations with the prison’s inmates. Indeed, season three proved to be so atrociously plotted that it not only made the terrific Andrew Lincoln and David Morrissey somehow both look bad, but it also found me cackling at the death of a central character in the finale, try though they might to tug at heartstrings. And don’t even get me started about how poorly almost every single death was handled in the third season! All in all, season three was beyond insulting, agonizingly disappointing, and truthfully the single worst season of any show I had ever sat through. And so I was done.
Now I know what you’re thinking: the title of this article seems to indicate that I’m here to talk about season four and yet all I’ve done so far is alternatingly praise or bitch about the previous seasons. But I swear I’ve my reasons! I hope the setup here will show anyone who abandoned the series as I did that I am with you in your complaints, that I too found the failures of season three to be absolutely untenable. More importantly, though, I use this as context for my opinions about season four, as I’m not just some zombie fanatic who gleefully swallows everything the writers of Walking Dead shove in my face hole. With that in mind, I announce with all sincerity that if you’ve abandoned The Walking Dead as a result of your distaste for the handling of the material in previous seasons, you absolutely have to make that journey back to Georgia for the fourth season.
Honestly, were it not for the fact that I received an advance copy of Anchor Bay Entertainment’s release of The Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season on Blu-ray, I never would have watched the fourth season. I had been burned too many times by the third season as I desperately clung to the series, hoping that it would return to its former glory but instead finding my expectations of greatness betrayed more and more with each episode. But then, season four arrived and, with great reluctance, I popped in the first disc. What awaited me was a masterwork of television scripting, storytelling so engaging that it could revive in me a love for the series I had come to vehemently detest.
I don’t know that anyone hated the third season more than I, and yet here I am applauding the work of new series showrunner, Scott M. Gimple. The man returned Walking Dead to its roots to explore the human condition, rather than using some tired supervillain as a crutch for character-driven dramatic tension. And the amazing thing is, he managed to do this even while reviving the character of The Governor! Granted, Gimple’s Governor would have been even more effective had Mazzara’s Governor not been so horribly botched, but Gimple honestly does more to salvage the character than I ever would have thought possible.
In closing, the little to nothing I’ve written about the season’s actual narrative here is as much as I’m comfortable writing for fear of spoilers. I don’t want to give anything away; it’s just that good. Those of you have stuck with the series for better or worse already know that though. You understand, and that’s why I decided not to write this review for the average viewer but instead for the few like myself who took offense to the butchering of season three and decided to opt out. So if that sounds like you, trust me here and do yourself a favor: pick up The Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season when it hits shelves next Tuesday, August 26, 2014.