‘The Walking Dead’ gets some fresh blood

By Verne Gay


What it’s about

Ah, prison life at the West Georgia Correctional Facility - it’s a peaceful idyll here under the broad blue Georgia sky, as clouds lazily drift by and buttercups toss gently in the breeze. A garden grows in the prison yard, tended by Rick (Andrew Lincoln), who gets sage agricultural counsel from Hershel (Scott Wilson). It’s almost enough to make the inhabitants of this protected world forget about the snarling, sniveling, snapping, sneering army of undead that shuffles around the fenced enclosure. Nevertheless, a certain degree of normalcy has returned to the prison, much needed after the convulsive melee that demolished Woodbury and most of its inhabitants - except the governor (David Morrissey), who remains out there, somewhere - at the end of the third season. There’s even love in the prison air, or as Daryl (Norman Reedus) pungently observes, “It’s a damn romance novel (around here).” Not for long, however: The gang needs to go grocery shopping, and one of the pigs is acting strangely. The undead are hungry, too, and an awful lot of them seem to be gathering around the prison perimeter. Uh, oh.

My say

There’s a scene - oh, about two-thirds of the way through Sunday’s episode, “30 Days Without an Accident” - that will force a few million viewers off their duffs to either run from the room, overcome by rank disgust, or to cheer long and loud. “Dead” does tend to have that polarizing effect on viewers - although for some strangely perverse reason, that old Weather Girls’ song, “It’s Raining Men,” came to mind.

The point is, “Dead” fans never want to fence-sit on any episode: This series, at its best, is visceral horror that demands a visceral reaction - admittedly because there is so much viscera.

Once again under new management - executive producer Scott Gimple is currently running the fourth season - “The Walking Dead” seems to have its bearings exactly right on this crucial point. With two episodes to judge from, Gimple’s “Dead” appears to favor straight-ahead storytelling a little more than Glen Mazzara’s “Dead” (to the consternation of many “Deadheads,” Mazzara was let go last season for reasons never made clear by AMC). “Dead” at its simple best pivots the unliving around the living; but the third season, consumed with Woodbury, was mostly about the living against the living. At least so far, the fourth puts the walkers back in the starring role, where they belong.

Meanwhile, Gimple’s “Dead” has kept some other basics in place, and then some. The “Rictatorship” remains firmly in force, but it may not be giving too much away to indicate here that his kingdom will shrink. And as a character in its own right, the prison remains the uneasy ally of the living, by protecting as well as confining them. (As in the early part of last season, the prison is a changeable character, too - sometimes benefactor, sometimes executioner.)

The fourth season especially seems to relish audience manipulation, as all good horror must. Children, for example, are deployed a little more this season - poor, sweet innocents who will and must lose that bloom of youth quickly.

And moments of abject insanity - interpret this any way you like, but do use your imagination - are placed next to moments of tranquility. That’s another old horror trick, of course, but used to considerably grotesque effect Sunday.

Bottom line: Disgusting - but in a good way


“The Walking Dead”

9 p.m. Sunday, AMC