By BRUCE DENNILL
The Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season / 18VH
In its fourth season, The Walking Dead’s mythology is well established: everyone understands that the walkers, thought a permanent threat, have no personal agendas, and that the real potential for evil, corruption, malice and greed comes from the human survivors.
There is almost literally no end to the permutations the scriptwriters can come up with given this scenario – the only limit is the eventual death of all the characters, but even that can be mitigated by the discovery of a secret camp or the arrival of a plane full of previously unknown men and women.
Here, the core group of survivors, led by Rick (Andrew Lincoln) has made a prison their place of safety – one of the series’ more obvious theme inversions (what was good is now evil; what had value now has none and so on) and strive daily to not only survive but to better their lot if they can.
As an ongoing study of psychology, The Walking Dead is fascinating, both on and offscreen. The characters are, for the most part – and perfectly understandably – paranoid, stretched to capacity by the stress of constant danger and the physical trials involved in keeping things on an even keel. They crave normality; the chance to interact as normal humans do, have the relationships conventional society encourages and enjoy the capacity to dream and to achieve those dreams. Such a status quo is, obviously, unattainable, but the capacity to hope for a positive result is infinite, so there is always a compelling reason for the writers to heap more misery on the good guys (a relative term throughout).
Viewers, too, will find their norms challenged. At the prison, a quiet day’s chores involve poking the undead in the face with crowbars so that they don’t gather in such numbers along the fenceline that they cause the barrier to fall down under their collective weight. In every episode, dozens of the creatures die, and there are violent, unexpected twists that mean getting attached to any character could leave you emotionally short-changed ten minutes or an hour later. And yet, other than when you revisit the story after a period away, the gore is not offensive, as the storylines make dramatic and narrative sense and the characters’ actions are in the best traditions of classic tragedy.
It’s dystopian, often horrifying material, but it’s possible to empathise with almost everyone on the screen for as long as they show what remains of their aptitude for good, and this balance makes watching the show addictive for different reasons – some adrenalin-inducing and others heartwarming.