I'll be honest - the title of season 4's debut episode, "30 Days Without an Accident," didn't instill a lot of hope in me for a great new beginning. I've always been a big proponent of moving the setting of the show around a bit; season 2's farm got stale really quickly, and the prison worked for a while but began to feel a little too safe towards the end of the season. And since season 3's finale indicated that we wouldn't be moving anytime soon, what with the busload of Woodbury residents taking up residence at the jail, I was hoping for at least something that would break up the monotony, something that might put the survivors at risk.
"30 Days Without an Accident" does, sort of, although it works under a premise that has been the main idea of The Walking Dead all along. The survivors venture outside of the safe jail for a reason - this time to get supplies from a store - and find themselves overwhelmed by zombies. It sounds familiar, and it's a situation that has happened in multiple episodes. In a way, this makes sense, because let's face it - there aren't a whole lot of different plots that the show can create for its characters without introducing a large arc, and it's clear in this opening episode that the show isn't ready to do that just yet.
But you'd think that, by now, some of these characters might have learned some common sense. Maybe we're supposed to believe that some of the Woodbury newbies haven't fought out in the wilderness yet, like the victims of tonight's episode. But Daryl and Michonne have, which makes it somewhat frustrating when they're easily overwhelmed in a store when a freak accident occurs where zombies break through the roof.
There's more to it than this, but if we're thinking logically about the situation, what made the roof give way in the first place? Why, after all of this time with a helicopter crashed on the roof, does it decide to give way at this moment? In short, it's because The Walking Dead needed it to. The plot required it. But the events that follow feel hollow, as though the show is being manipulated by some mean God who deems it time for a character to die. It doesn't feel authentic.
The B-plot of tonight's episode follows Rick as he checks out his traps in the wilderness. Besides being a really good place for zombies to dwell, the traps attract a Michael Jackson-in-Thriller stand-in who takes him back to her camp to meet her lover. They share war stories, she confides that she's done some bad things, and finally she proves that she's not as trustworthy as Rick first thought. The shocker comes when Rick learns that the person she's been bringing Rick back to meet is really a zombie head that she's trying to feed.
This isn't a huge twist; we've seen someone so attached to a zombie that he keeps her locked up in his basement. Except in that storyline, the General was someone we knew - this chick's just someone in the woods that I thought was at least half-zombie from the moment we met her.
If there's anything at least moderately interesting about "30 Days Without an Accident," it's that there seems to be a new development with how people become zombies. Perhaps a mutation in the zombie virus has occurred, because now it's starting to look like the survivors don't need to be bitten to be turned. How this will affect the group has me the most interested, as well as the coldness that some of the survivors appear to be exhibiting (mainly Beth, who finally has something to do!).
But for the most part, "30 Days Without an Accident" is a premiere that does exactly what I feared: it places the characters in a relatively safe place, and for now, there's not much on the horizon to indicate that anything's going to change. The trailer for the coming season does hint at some inner turmoil within the jail, but the one thing the show desperately needs is a new setting, or at least an arc that involves something other than taking short trips out for food. Otherwise, the show's going to rot in the jail.