Beware: Spoilers included!
Rick, Hershel, Michonne, Daryl, Glenn, Carl, and the rest of the gang are back to life in the prison with more semblance of community than ever before -- complete with healthy-looking pigs living on the premises. The first scene opens with Rick strolling out to the prison yard with gardening shovel in hand, but we quickly see that life there is not exactly all green grass and sunshine. Instead of produce, Rick digs up a gun while dozens of zombies continue their reign outside the prison gates, leering at Rick's every move. The prison may be more of a home, but the survivors are still mostly captive within its walls.
Even brief escapes yield chaos: Rick runs into a zombie-like woman in the woods who's desperate to survive with her mysterious and beloved husband. She plays to Rick's empathy and earns the chance to be trusted, but desperation turns fatal for her in the end, testing Rick's ability to stay confident in his choices. Will this short-lived creepy character somehow return? Time will tell.
And then there's the group's run for supplies, resulting in a downpour of zombies through the store ceiling with blood and guts galore. Amazingly, even with the zombie-laden roof collapse, it seems most of the group made it out, except one very unlucky young man.
Meanwhile, back at home, Carol is teaching the youngsters in a makeshift classroom, complete with books lining the walls. But what's the first lesson that we see? It's not reading or writing, or even art or music class. It's how to use knives.
The episode didn't disappoint with its usual over-the-top zombie fight scenes and interesting new twists and turns (how exactly did the boy with the glasses get sick and turn into a zombie?). But we don't get as intimate with the core characters, or even the new additions, as we have previously. It was good scene setting for the rest of the season, giving insight into where the key characters are in their quest for survival, and how the group is learning to function among the dead. If the upcoming episodes bring us deeper into the hearts and minds of the survivors while also answering the important questions raised, there should be plenty to look forward to as season 4 unfolds.
Interactions between Hershel and Rick show Hershel is still the wise man guiding the leader. Will Rick remain in charge this season? Will Hershel emerge as head of the group? Will someone else? What will happen to baby Judith and Carl? And then there's the prison about to be attacked on the inside by the survivor turned zombie ... who will live and die? Where will they go if the prison is overrun by the walking dead?
What did you think of the season 4 premiere? Did it live up to your expectations? Was it a disappointment? What will happen next? Share your comments here.
About Viewer Discretion
ContributorsMatthew Gilbert is the Globe's TV critic.
Sarah Rodman is a staff TV and music critic for the Boston Globe.
Michael Brodeur is the assistant arts editor for the Boston Globe, covering pop music, TV, and nightlife.
Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.