Fans of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” were on the edges of their seats before the season even started, probably from watching a marathon of the previous season leading into the premiere. Which is why they were probably thinking that things may be a little too good to be true when the cold open featured Rick nonchalantly farming while walkers growled at him from behind a nearby fence in the familiar prison yard.
As fans have followed the lives of Rick and his ever-changing band of survivors over the last four years the show has been accused of slow pacing at times, but its season premieres have rarely displayed such a sense of calm and serenity at the opening. After the costly war with the Governor, which was the overarching story of the previous season, Rick is viewed making his sword into a plowshare like Cincinnatus. This is made more explicit when he discovers a buried gun in the dirt and chooses to remove the magazine and throw it into his dustbin. In a later conversation with Virgil, we find that Rick has chosen not to carry a gun and abdicated the dictatorial responsibilities of the previous season.
[‘The Walking Dead’ recap: Season four, episode one, ’30 Days Without an Accident’ ]
This cold open sets the tone for the rest of the episode, where what was once horrible has become mundane for the survivors. New showrunner Scott Gimple is taking the fans for a ride and giving them a lesson in the banality of evil at the same time. The episode’s title: “30 Days Without An Accident” says it all, as survival has become just another job. A chore that is filled with treating the legions of the undead as pests to be controlled and finding enough food to go on. Even so, we are treated to glimpses of hope. The children of the camp have been encouraged to attend story time in the prison library and have taken to naming the zombies that snarl at them from the other side of the prison fence. Rick has been given to taking morning constitutional walks in the countryside without his gun. Romance is blooming among the survivors. Even super-intense youngster Carl has taken to raising a brood of piglets and made friends with a newcomer named Patrick.
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All of these stories set up the rest of the season, which is tied together with the story of rick’s walk. He encounters Clara, a woman who is barely indistinguishable from a walker since she is so emaciated and filthy. She claims to have nothing left to lose. Clara is truly the beginning of Season 4, and her senseless suicide – after she finds that she cannot kill Rick to feed her undead husband – sets the tone for what looks to be a pretty rough season for the survivors. We see young love cut short by a food-gathering trip gone horribly wrong. We see Carol using story time to teach the children how to kill with knives. No matter how pastoral things seemed, the menace was always there beneath a thin surface like the buried gun. At the ending of the episode one of the survivors within the safety of the prison sickens, dies, and turns as the fans are left where they started: on the edge of their seat.
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