The internet is angry.
I’ve noticed a growing number of people online dissatisfied with Season 4 of the Walking Dead. More specifically, the second half of the season.
Before I continue, it should be noted that there will be plenty of SPOILERS discussed if you’re not current with the series.
It seems like forever ago that we saw the final resolution between the Governor and our prison based hero tribe. Most were fairly satisfied with the way it ended but before that, we saw a pattern start to develop. Before the final showdown, we got to get a glimpse into the Governor/Phil/Brian’s head and for awhile, we actually had feelings for him.
That character development became a huge part of this season.
Then the show seemed to hit the reset button.
The show had been a slow build over the first 4 seasons. First it was the battle to survive against walkers and find others. Then it was about finding a safe place to live and possibly stay long term at the farm. When the farm was no longer viable, the now expanded tribe moved to the prison where the battle eventually moved from walkers to another (and larger) group of people who wanted what they had. When that escalated to the point of tanks and an all out assault on the prison that really left no room for getting larger. How could they have gone up from there? Nukes?
So hitting the reset on the show became necessary.
It went from the constant tension of the battle back to the individual stories and it was a reminder why we like these characters.
Except they weren’t the same anymore. And that is part of the strength of this season.
When Michonne first experienced the apocalypse, she lived life alone and got a long fine. She built walls and just survived. After meeting Andrea she realized she needed relationships -perhaps the most fundamental desire given to us by God. When she found herself alone again after the tank attack, Michonne responded by creating new “pets” and going out on her own. She chose to pass by Carl and Rick’s tracks. She went back to her basic instinct. Only this time the alone life was draining on her. She couldn’t handle it. When she saw what could have passed for her doppelganger it sent her over the edge.
When faced with the same decision she had before simply surviving wasn’t enough. She wanted to live. To do that requires her to be a part of a community.
With the boy who no longer needs to be told to stay in the house, Carl we saw a dramatic transformation. There were times where you could see him struggling being a teenage boy in this era. I remember one scene when they had gone into a house and there was a gaming system. You could see the look in his eyes. What he wouldn’t have done to just play a game. Instead in that episode, killing zombies became his game.
Part of Carl’s struggles also dealt with regular teenage angst. He hates his dad. He loves his dad. That same episode we saw Carl go from “I don’t need you! I got this on my own!” to “I would rather die than live alone without you.” It was a powerful moment when Carl thought his dad had turned and would rather have been eaten than gone on without him.
Then there’s Daryl and Beth’s story. In particular, I was glad to see Darly’s arc this year. This beloved character went from jerk in season 1 to super hero by season 3 and there was little explanation. Season 4 again thrust a character into an old familiar place – alone. The way he treated Beth felt like Season 1 – the scared little brother who put up walls and would rather fight someone than let them in.
Beth eventually pulled the center of that insecurity out of Daryl and we saw one of the finer moments of the season when he broke down. I now believe Daryl is a stronger person for it. Why? Because he is now connected to that tribe.
When Season 4 ended last night with most of the group reunited (except for Tyrese, Carol, the baby, and Beth) we saw a reunited group more determined than ever to endure together.
There’s so much more that could be discussed in defense of the slower pace and narrative – Tyresse forgiving Carol, Lizzie snapping, Glen and Maggie’s search for each other, Tara’s guilt driving her, and Eugene’s fantastic mullet – but that would be simply discussing the trees and not the forest.
Season 4 excelled in reminding us why we love these characters. It excelled in showing us how they’ve grown from their pre and even early apocalypse selves.
We all grow and change. Some for the better, some for the worse.
Previous experiences and decisions inform current decisions.
And every character, having experienced that community God created us for, realized that surviving wasn’t enough. They wanted to live.
That resonates with us, I think. We all realize that simply surviving eventually gets old and we may even want to give up. But when we belong to a tribe, we find a reason to do more than survive, we find a reason to live.