The Walking Dead has returned to our screens this week and we can finally see what has happened to the survivors after the events of season 3. This new season brings with it a new showrunner in the form of Scott Gimple, who was responsible for writing the fan favourite episodes "Clear" and "This Sorrowful Life." His episodes demonstrated that the show could balance interesting characterisation, zombie action and story. This balancing act was something that the majority of episodes last season struggled to do. More often than not the show would either hammer home bland character arcs (Andrea) or resort to appeasing the vocal critics of Season 2 by offering up constant zombie carnage until it became dull. So one can only hope that Gimple (and his team of writers) can offer something that forms a more satisfying whole. And for the most part "30 Days Without An Accident" shows a lot of promise.
In fact Gimple writes this opening episode to the new season and yet again the show time jumps forward. We return to the prison, but gone is the despair and isolation and in its place is a thriving community. The choice to skip forward in time allows the creators to cheat a little, but it also doesn't subject the audience to scenes that deal with slightly mundane tasks like planting vegetables. No, we are thrown straight into this new status quo. It is refreshing to see the survivors actually happy for once (even Michonne is smiling). The first half of the episode where we get to see our characters in new roles is a nice change of pace and opens up a lot of story potential for them. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) has given up his leadership role and has become a farmer, Daryl (Norman Reedus) is the local hero/celebrity, Carol (Melissa McBride) cooks and teaches children how to use knives. It is all very different and it is enjoyable to watch. If the show actually tackles the community dynamic head on and doesn't abandon the idea, then this will be a very different and entertaining season.
This time jump has also allowed the creators to move character relationships forward without really loosing any momentum. Daryl and Carol seem to be even closer, which is rewarding to watch as both characters have come so far since the first season. Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) seem to have hit a rough patch due to a potential pregnancy. Even the brother/sister bond between Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Carl (Chandler Riggs) is a solid new relationship that really helps deepen both characters. Even last seasons newest arrivals Tyreese (Chad Coleman) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) are given some much needed character development. It all shows that there is still a lot of story potential for the main characters and that is a good thing.
But as this is The Walking Dead we all know that the happy time in the prison will eventually disappear, especially seen as though the cliffhanger for this episode looks set to blow the community apart with an internal zombie attack. The cliffhanger is just one dark moment within this episode, as Gimple makes sure we remember why this is actually a horror show and not a drama.
Of course Rick is at the forefront of the darker moments as he continues to be the heart and soul of the show. He is still a broken man even though Hershel (Scott Wilson) is acting as his counsellor. He is distant from the group and the community's own council is worried about his disregard for his own safety. However what Gimple does with Rick here is a retread of the narrative from "Clear." He makes Rick face his own demons by encountering someone who has succumbed to the madness he could have. On patrol he meets Clara (Kerry Condon), who screams crazy from the get go. The two of them search for her friend who ends up not being alive and throughout their wander in the woods they discuss how far they have gone to survive. It is actually not a bad plot, but the fact we have already encountered this storyline makes it hard to get invested. Especially as this one isn't as subtle or engaging as the one presented in "Clear". As always Andrew Lincoln delivers a fine performance as the broken Rick, but Condon's Clara leaves little to the imagination. Her Irish accent only enhancing the crazy she exudes. But at least it ends with a more cathartic resolution for Rick and the promise that he won't go crazy again for a little while.
Outside of Rick's little trip we get a supply run that goes spectacularly wrong. However it has little tension as before Daryl and his gang go on the run nearly every character spouts out something about it being dangerous. The writers even highlight the poor soul who is going to die by having Beth (Emma Kinney) refuse to say goodbye to him. Although we do get to see an interesting new addition to the cast in the form of recovering alcoholic Bob (Larry Gilliard Jr) who is essentially responsible for the carnage that ensues. And what glorious carnage it is as the show delivers one of the most entertaining and ridiculous set pieces so far as zombies literally rain down on people. It is so silly it shouldn't work, but it does. The scene will easily appease anyone that just tunes in for the bloodbath.
The roof zombie attack moment is made all the more entertaining thanks to the shows make-up effects departments. The zombies look excellent, the blood is satisfyingly splattered and the deaths are wondrously detailed. The CGI involving the helicopter is a little ropey, but all in all the show continues to look good. This is probably due to director Greg Nicotero's eye for building tension. His camera work is often not very flashy, but he knows how to set the stage for action and deliver it with aplomb.
So, The Walking Dead is back in all its bloody glory. There is a lot of potential in "30 Days Without An Accident" and hopefully Gimple and co don't squander it by destroying the community within the first few episodes. Yes, people want zombies but there is a need to put forward compelling characters and this new status quo is the most interesting since the first season. Although some of the plot elements are predictable and familiar, it doesn't take away from the enjoyment of the episode. However it is unfortunate that Carl's friend and Daryl's sidekick didn't make it out of this episode alive as they could have been solid additions to the cast. But on the whole the episode only stumbles a little, as this is a return to form for the show.