* minor spoilers ahead *
Picture this if you will.
It’s a bright, sunny day, the birds are softlly chirping (no, they really are; the one thing that can outfly the undead it seems) and one Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), former Ricktator, now gentleman farmer splashes his face with water, affixes the headphones neatly into his ears, Gospel standard “Precious Memories” playing dulcetly, and wanders down the hill to inspect Violet the pig-who-should-not-be-named (and who is doing more than a little poorly, another subtlely worrying sign in a world chock full of them), and row upon row of healthy, soon-to-be-nourishing crops.
It is the very essence of the bucolic rural idyll, an agrarian nirvana where the swords have been quite profoundly beaten into plowshares (by Rick at least who refuses to even carry a gun), and the newly-minted hayseed and his young former psychopath turned late night comic book reader son Carl can merrily debate the merits of naming soon to be eaten animals.
Life is good … so very, very good.
(Save for gathering herds of ever more aggressive walkers, one with nasty blood-weeping eyes who we find has a twin inside the prison at the end of the episode … but we’ll get to them in a moment.)
Alas this is is The Walking Dead, and we are still in the midst of the apocalypse so the peaceful strains of “Ranz Des Vaches” from Gioacchino Rossini’s William Tell, which this scene brings to mind, and which might otherwise summon images of a small delicate Bambi-like fawn wandering ever so gently along in search of new plant growth upon which to feast, instead foreshadows doom in all it’s many hope-squashing manifestations.
Something like this in fact …
It’s no accident that I have selected a deer for this completely unrelated but oh-so-germane piece of visual imagery since there’s a good chance they may spell a whole lot more trouble than Bambi getting pummeled into the earth by Godzilla for the survivors at the prison.
For now Rick has sworn off carrying guns (even breaking up one he finds in the soil which is then discarded; he later grabs one at Hershel’s insistence), choosing to block out the ever present threateningly loud rumble of massed zombies at the fence with his iPod but alas life, despite appearances and Rick’s best efforts, is far from normal.
It’s not, of course that life in the prison doesn’t have the look and feel of blissful domesticity.
Gardens are being tended, the children, when they’re not playfully taunting the gathered walkers (you know that won’t end well) are attending reading sessions run by Carol (Melissa McBride)in the immaculately set up, well-stocked library (who may or may not be reaching the impressionable youngsters other necessary life-saving skills), Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) are sleeping in, tucked sweetly together, very much in love and an obsessively Governor-hunting Michonne (Danai Gurira) is actually smiling – yes SMILING – and on a horse, bringing home comic books for Carl (a nice nod to the series’ origins) and razors for an all-too-hirsute Rick.
And even gruff, taciturn Daryl (Norman Reedus), now a pin up boy provider and protector for the whole prison community (but sadly without signable headshots), a status which makes him distinctly uncomfortable, is making goo-goo-ish type eyes, well sort of, with a far more enamoured Carol, who has stepped into a leadership role on the prison’s council.
It all Hallmark meets Pollyanna with a chance of giddily-happy explosively-colourful Care Bears.
Lovely, and yet you know it can’t possibly last.
Cleverly though, Robert Kirkman and newly-blooded showrunner Scott Gimple, along Greg Nicotero who directed this episode, leave it to the end of a deceptively peaceful interlocking series of events to drop the other, far too bloodied boot, foretelling doom for the newly peaceful sanctuary from the apocalypse.
It’s not that a great deal doesn’t happen before that though.
We see walkers massing by the tens of dozens at the outer prison fence, their numbers barely diminished by the Cull Crew who spend hours in the hot Southern sun spearing walker heads like they’re flesh and blood piñatas (and in such a routine manner that Karen, former Woodbury resident played by Melissa Ponzio and new love Tyreese, played by Chad L Coleman feel free to stop momentarily for a loving chat in between spearings).
And a raid to fetch supplies from a nearby Big Spot store, led by Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), goes horribly wrong with one of the episode’s two “Ensign Fodders”, Zach (Kyle Gallner, who played Beaver on Veronica Mars), who is also the emotionally arm’s length-beau to grief-armoured Beth(Emily Kinney), dying a horrible walker-chomping-on-his-neck death amid raining, explosively-decaying zombies who drop through the ruined roof above (the ever growing decay of the walkers is graphically underlined as never before, indicating they do have an expiration date).
Finally good gospel-listening farmer Rick, who Hershel (Scott Wilson) good-naturedly jokes simply needs some straw and a pair of overalls to look the part of a true farmer, on a walk outside the fence to retrieve animals from his snares, encounters an altogether too-creepy woman Clara, who looks more like a walker than a person and who is more than a few sandwiches short of a picnic (pertinent since Rick hands the starving woman his lunch), her sanity corroded by “the things” (clearly awful things) she and her husband Eddie have had to do to survive.
Too far gone to ever “come back”, something which deeply affects Rick who needs assurance later from Hershel that both he and Carl have successfully come back from the brink of inhuman madness and incivility (ah but have they really?), she ends up killing herself far out in the woods so she can join her now-walker husband without whom she says she “can’t do this“.
But all these scenes, frightening and deeply unsettling as they may be, are a mere curtain raiser, narrative-wise, to the final chilling shower scene when a case of the flu, contracted by lovable eager-to-please dork Patrick (Vincent Martella) turns out to be far, far worse than a pronounced case of the nausea-inducing sniffles.
It’s a gloriously well-balanced and perfectly nuanced introduction to The Walking Dead season 4. where the menace of the walkers has become deceptively normal, where it’s all to easy to believe that all the threats have been contained (anyone want BBQ meat from a flu vector animal like a pig or deer hmm? Anyone?) and where everyone feels safe.
But you know in a world this brutal and beastly they can’t possibly be and the buildup to the revealing of a new, almost impossible to deal with threat in the closing moments of “30 Days Without an Accident”, presages a season in which the apocalypse, which you would think couldn’t possibly get any nastier or more threatening, manages to do it in one near-silent, elegantly shot, and dramatically intense closing scene.
The Walking Dead is back everyone, and it’s not just Bambi who should be looking around in abject, heart-trembling fear.
*Here’s the promo for next week’s episode, “Infected” …
And here’s a mirth-inducing parody of one of the episode’s key scenes (which trust me you will need after this episode) …
* And finally you can read a brilliant recap of “30 Days Without an Accident” courtesy of tvrecaps.ew.com