The Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray Review
Written and directed by various
Based on characters created by Robert Kirkman
2013, Region A, 688 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray released on August 26th, 2014
Andrew Lincoln as Rick
Steven Yeun as Glenn
Chandler Riggs as Carl
Norman Reedus as Daryl
Melissa McBride as Carol
Lauren Cohan as Maggie
Danai Gurira as Michonne
Scott Wilson as Hershel
David Morrissey as The Governor
At the end of season three, our heroes were recovering from losses at the hands of The Governor, whose attack on the prison left no clear winners. The fourth season picks up a few months later: the prison dwellers have become a stronger community with the addition of the Woodbury refugees to the general population, and Rick is stepping down as leader in hopes of creating a democracy run by council. His intentions are noble, but his motivation for the change comes in attempt to reset his moral compass and focus on family.
Despite everyone's best efforts, the undead population of the world outside their gates refuses to go quietly and things soon take another turn for the worse. In addition to the dangers from both zombies and fellow apocalypse survivors, a deadly flu-like virus threatens to claim countless victims unless medical supplies can be obtained. Things continue to spiral out of control and soon our heroes are forced to evacuate their shelter only to find themselves split up in unknown territory. New dangers await at every turn, but not all of the threats come from outside their circle. What follows are a series of adventures that find our protagonists struggling to hold on to their humanity in a dangerous world.
Four years ago, Director Frank Darabont (The Mist) adapted Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead for television with a six-episode story arc that set the stage for one of the most popular shows currently running. The AMC network picked up the series and the seasons that followed are more than twice as long, but do not fare as well in terms of advancing the story on a consistent basis. The biggest shortcoming is the pacing; while it cannot sustain the weight of an “all zombies, all the time” approach, neither can it survive a full-stop in the action to break away to the mundane activities of secondary characters. This is particularly frustrating because the writers have repeatedly proven themselves rather strong and it feels like many scenarios are merely padding to compensate for the additional season length.
The fourth season of The Walking Dead is particularly guilty of these breaks, going so far as to reject logic and force people who know better to behave in a certain manner simply because the script says so. Case in point is the episode “Still”, in which we get to play drinking games with Daryl (Norman Reedus, Blade II) and Beth (Emily Kinney, It's Complicated). I appreciate the opportunity to spend time with individual characters, but what works well for Carol (Melissa McBride) or The Governor (David Morrissey) is clearly missing in this time waster. Cross cutting to your B storyline is part of the art, but by the time we reach the finish line in episode 16, so many of these quiet moments reveal themselves to be quite shallow. There is a pattern at work here that whenever things get too far off track, either Ernest Dickerson or Greg Nicotero are brought in to direct an episode that puts things right.
There are plenty of strong moments this season to make the missed opportunities all the more obvious. My favorite episode this time around, “The Grove”, is a beautifully-written piece that mixes elements of Mark Twain with John Steinbeck and gives Brighton Sharbino (Cheap Thrills) some of her best moments as young Lizzie. Ultimately, this season focuses on the nature of man and his desire to avoid senseless brutality. This has been a driving force for Rick (Andrew Lincoln, Love Actually) who has seen what man is capable of and fears what darkness lurks both in himself and his young son. It is too bad there are so many senseless detours along the way.
I was a fan of the first season of the show, but until receiving this title for review I had not seen more than the original six episodes. I powered through the series in a little more than a week and found the experience rewarding. I don't know that I would have the patience to watch on a weekly basis, but enough pieces work in this puzzle that I am curious to see what happens next. The seasons all have merit, but are declining in quality. I liked the quiet farm location of season two, though the first half of the run was painfully slow, and the prison of season three (also uneven), but if the show needs to mix things up to keep it fresh, there needs to be a serious effort to make every episode advance the overall story.
Two of my fellow staff writers wrote a weekly recap for each episode as they aired and I will offer a link to the first episode HERE for anyone who would like a more detailed breakdown of the season. At the bottom of each page are a selection of links to additional episodes. Enjoy.
Video and Audio:
The show is presented in the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and looks every bit as fantastic as one would expect for a program of this quality. I was most impressed by the amount of small-object detail in clothing and faces as well as the surrounding environments. Colors are a bit muted, but deliberately so, and black levels are deep and rich. This really is a great looking transfer.
The default Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track offers a solid presentation that gives every speaker in the house a proper workout. Atmospheric sound effects creep from the prison halls, into the woods and beyond, while the directional gunshots are equally powerful. Music cues are aggressive but not overwhelming and dialogue remains clear and free from distortion. English and Spanish subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
There are quite a few goodies on display here, starting with an audio commentary on six episodes, each featuring various members of the relevant cast and crew. Specific titles are: “30 Days Without an Accident”, “Internment”, “Too Far Gone”, “After”, “Still” and “The Grove”.
Inside The Walking Dead (80 minutes) is a 16-part featurette that takes a look at the characters, themes and placement within the story arc of every episode of the season. Each piece averages five minutes and are all worth checking out.
The Making of The Walking Dead (77 minutes) is a technical counterpart to the previous supplement that focuses on the behind-the-scenes work of each episode. These featurettes are also presented in 16 sections running approximately five minutes each. I found this the most interesting of the special features.
By far the most entertaining piece on this set is the trip to the special effects house for a look at the practical make-up effects. Inside KNB Studios (18 minutes) offers the artists behind the magic a chance to discuss their work, but in a rare switch they are inside the shop instead of on location. Pretty cool for the geek inside us all, especially as they point out the “tribute zombies” honoring earlier film characters.
Next up are a pair of character specific segments that focus on Herschel (8 minutes) and The Governor (9 minutes), featuring interviews with members of the cast and crew.
Andrew Lincoln discusses the pressures his character faces as Rick struggles to control his temper and do the right thing in the featurette A Journey Back to Brutality (8 minutes).
Drawing Inspiration (6 minutes) takes a look at the relationship between the television program and the original comic book source material.
The popularity of this show is unavoidable, and the supplement Society, Science & Survival (6 minutes) offers a glimpse into how online courses use the program to encourage learning.
Rounding things out is a collection of deleted scenes (9 minutes) from assorted episodes. Nothing too major here as the content was wisely trimmed, but super fans will want to check it out.