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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON -- DVD review by porfle



When we last left AMC's "The Walking Dead" at the end of season three, there was one exasperating hanging thread--the fate of the Governor (David Morrissey), the charismatic but psychotic leader of a community of people who had come together to survive and help protect each other from the constant threat of the reanimated, flesh-eating corpses wandering the land like something right out of a George Romero movie.

But with Anchor Bay's latest 5-disc DVD set, THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON, that maddening bit of unfinished business is dealt with in such spectacular fashion that I didn't mind having to wait for it. In fact, the character of the Governor, who now calls himself "Brian Heriot", is fleshed out in such fascinating ways that we almost begin to root for him until, ultimately, he fully reverts back into the ruthless, power-mad whacko that we all know so well and forms yet another collective of blind followers.

All of this, of course, occurs even as former Georgia state trooper Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), the series' hero and main character, is still trying to keep his own hardy band of survivors together within the walls of an abandoned prison that serves as their sanctuary. Last we saw, they'd just weathered a fierce assault by the Governor and his previous acolytes, many of whom have since seen the light and are now a part of Rick's group.


Picking up the pieces and getting on with the business of life is hard enough even if you don't have hungry hordes of zombies forever massing around your fenced-in perimeter in ever-growing numbers. Rick's still dealing with the death of his wife Lori last season while trying to raise their son Carl (Chandler Riggs) to be both a good man and a capable zombie killer. As always, the ever-present plague of the walking dead casts its shadow over every story element, giving even the most soap opera-tinged moments an undercurrent of twisted existential dread.

Scott Wilson (IN COLD BLOOD) returns as the group's current sage, Hershel Greene, whose calm wisdom is essential in enduring each new crisis. This is especially important during one of the season's most pressing concerns, a deadly flu epidemic which creates killer zombies who attack from within the prison itself when those infected start to die off. A rigidly-enforced quarantine seperates Hershel's daughter Maggie (Lauren Cohan) from her beloved husband Glenn (Steven Yeun), who is in an advanced stage of the disease.

This storyline keeps things tense for much of the early part of the season, with many risking their lives in perilous supply runs in search of medicine which, needless to say, they must fight their way through armies of the living dead in order to procure. This gives us a chance to become reacquainted with such fan-fave characters as redneck outlaw-turned-hero Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus, BLADE II, MESKADA) and samurai sword-wielding Michonne (Danai Gurira), both loners who learn to thrive as valuable members of the group.


There's a lot of dramatic turmoil in that group as well.  Carol (Melissa McBride), formerly a timid abused wife, now displays such a fierce, unflinching resolve that her actions force a shocked Rick to send her into exile. Rick himself comes to blows with Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) after two of his friends are found murdered and their bodies burned, which the burly newcomer suspects Rick to have done.

We even see the strange effect the continuing zombie threat has on two small children, sisters Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) and Mika (Kyla Kenedy), one of whom must watch as the other becomes more dangerously unbalanced with each passing day. Sharbino ("True Detective", CHEAP THRILLS) is especially good in her demanding role, with the sisters' storyline supplying some of the season's most stunning moments.

All of which leads to a mid-season finale which, action-wise, blows the doors off of everything that's gone before. When the Governor and his brand new army--now fortified with an honest-to-goodness tank in addition to plenty of other lethal weapons--show up at the front gates of the prison demanding that Rick and his people evacuate immediately, the situation erupts into a carnage-drenched clash between two living armies both of which quickly become engulfed by the resulting zombie feeding frenzy that we knew was inevitable since the season's first episode.


At this point, we understand why the whole business of defending the prison against the Governor took a whole season and a half to work out--it's because this is a tale that was worth taking the extra time to tell. The climactic battle is cathartic, exhausting, and, by the end, exhilarating because the catastrophic outcome takes the series back to its hardscrabble roots, with our beloved characters scrambling through the wilderness scrounging for food and eking out an existence amidst constant threat from both the dead and the increasingly desperate living.

Even worse, this time they've been broken up into small groups unaware of each other's location or even which of the others are still alive. Once again our peace-loving heroes come into contact with the most ruthless of roving survivors, including a band of bad boys led by Jeff Kober ("Sons of Anarchy", THE BABY DOLL MURDERS) whom Daryl immediately regrets falling in with. 


 Like characters out of Stephen King's "The Stand", they're drawn to a distant place that promises sanctuary, in hopes that their loved ones will also be there, but is this place known as "Terminus" really the end of their struggle--or just the beginning of a whole new fight for life?


The 5-disc DVD set from Anchor Bay Entertainment (also available in Blu-ray) is in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with English Dolby Digital 5.1 and French Dolby Surround 2.0 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish. Disc 5's many bonus features include:

Featurettes:
•Inside THE WALKING DEAD (covers each individual episode)
•The Making of THE WALKING DEAD (covers each individual episode)
•Drawing Inspiration
•Hershel
•The Governor Is Back
•Society, Science & Survival
•Inside KNB EFX
•A Journey Back to Brutality
•Deleted Scenes
 Cast and crew commentaries for episodes 1, 5, 12, and 14 (also for episode 9 on Blu-ray).
 Episodes 9 ("After"), and 14 ("The Grove") are extended on the Blu-ray™ only.

As usual, I devoured THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON in just two or three marathon viewing sessions and was left ravenous for more at the cliffhanger conclusion. This is, without a doubt, one of the most compulsively watchable and addictive series in television history, and one which, according to some people I've talked to, you don't even have to be a monster fan to appreciate.

But it helps, especially if you're a gorehound, because--also as usual--this show is a non-stop, total indulgence in state-of-the-art zombie and gore effects. The SPFX artists that make the show's title come alive (so to speak) just keep outdoing themselves, and even when we think we've become numbed to such sights, they think of new ways to flabbergast us. Still, it's always the fascinating characters, and the riveting storylines, that keep bringing us back for more.

Buy it at Amazon.com:

Blu-ray
DVD
Limited Edition Blu-ray

Third Season Review
Second Season Review
First Season Review

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