Sunday’s return of “The Walking Dead” to AMC marked the beginning of a new era. Scott Gimple has taken over starting with Season 4 as showrunner, the third man to lead the horde during the show’s run. Coming off of a uneven and ultimately disappointing third season, starting over with a new showrunner is in itself a reason for optimism. And Sunday’s premiere, “30 Days Without an Accident,” offered some reason to think better days could be ahead.
While Season 3 wound up dragging long and getting cluttered with Governor-related silliness, it also featured one of the best episodes of the series. “Clear,” which had Rick, Carl and Michonne venturing back to the Grimes’ hometown and running into the Morgan character we hadn’t heard from since very early in the first season, was a welcome escape from the Governor’s strange super villain turn and painful romance with Andrea. “Clear” was essentially a bottle episode which could have come at nearly any point in the season (or series) and the telling of a one-hour contained story served everyone well. (It also helped that Lennie James, now wasting away on “Low Winter Sun,” was excellent as Morgan.)
“Clear” was written by none other than Gimple, now at “The Walking Dead” controls. Like that episode, “30 Days Without an Accident” featured a one-off story with Rick (or should we call him the Gardener?) meeting up with a lost, Irish-accented woman who begs for help in the forest. Eventually we find that this woman is only trying to lure Rick to her camp to become a meal for her hungry, zombiefied husband, and when her plan fails, she opts to kill herself to join her lover in the flesh-eating afterlife.
“The Walking Dead” has aimed for season-long serialized storytelling before and shown that it’s just not the creative team’s strength. When tales have been told over the course of a season, it’s resulted in repetitive what-to-do? debates on a farm and evil eyepatch-wearing wheel spinning. If episodes could become more hyper-focused on small stories – like Gimple has shown the ability to pull off — while keeping the long game stuff more in the background, it would make “The Walking Dead” a better show.
Then again, the record-setting ratings indicate folks will tune in each week to see different ways for walking corpses to get mutilated, no matter the story. So don’t fix what ain’t broke, right?
–Shane Nyman, email@example.com or on Twitter @shanenyman