Last time, we discussed Season Three, a chaotic mishmash of two simultaneous stories that rushed through almost four volumes of comics. Massive changes to characters combined with an inexplicable season finale (before the story arc was over!) left the show feeling off-kilter for years to come.
In this fourth article (of eleven), we discuss Season Four, which tried to return to crucial comic plot points and pacing. Although there was some success, there were also flubs, including hyping something big that didn’t pay out.
Scott Gimple would take over as showrunner and probably came the closest to comic accuracy since Darabont. However, while Gimple would make some good choices, he’d also make some very poor ones.
The show would reach a better point years later, but starting in Season Four, it was a rocky road full of pitfalls.
Season Four’s timeline struggled due to a misplaced time jump between the Governor’s two attacks.
As mentioned in Season Three, the comics prison storyline had a moment of peace after their initial fight at Woodbury, which left the Governor injured (and angry). He wouldn’t show up with his army for a couple of months later, making two back-to-back attacks that led to massive death and loss.
The TV Governor, however, would fail at his first attack and spend over half a year “finding himself” before going after Rick again.
In the meantime, the TV Prison would spend those same six months dealing with its growth and other issues. Then, in a single day, the Governor would attack (once more), death would ensue, and everyone would be scattered.
The rest of Season Four would involve the survivor’s on the road, squeezing several months of comics plots into a week of TV time.
Despite being in sync, Season Four’s finale would end almost halfway into Year Two after the outbreak (due to time jumps). Meanwhile, the comics would still be less than a couple of months into that same year.
Once more, pacing suffered, due to both the Governor’s flashbacks and covering multiple separated characters.
The first half of the season included adaptations of the Governor novels and comic issues 45-48 (which they’d left hanging in Season Three). Afterward, Season Four would try to cover plots picked from comic issues 49-61 (Vols. 9-10 and the start of Vol. 11).
The TV story was all over the place as they dealt with five different protagonist groups, not reunited until the season finale. The comics focused primarily on Rick and Carl, adding in the missing members over each issue before the group moved on together.
Although not the worst pacing, some people grew disinterested in jumping to a different group each week. Since many episodes co-occurred, a lot happened on TV in a very short time.
The main pacing issue would be how long the group spent wandering from the Prison to Terminus, apparently never leaving the Atlanta area (given the plot in Season Five). Once they met Abraham’s crew, this decision to not actively move north would create a timeline issue down the road.
Season Four would find many characters fulfilling the fates of comic counterparts who had already been killed in the show.
Season Four also introduced the Chambler family, adaptations of the Chalmers from the Rise of the Governor novel. Unlike their unknown fate in the book, the TV show kills almost all of them, leaving only Tara (who would join Rick’s crew).
The Governor’s final attack would also change due to character differences, the most notable being Hershel’s beheading, a fate that originally happened to Tyreese. Hershel was merely shot in the original material, as were others who’d long been dead in the TV show: Lori and Axel (Season Three) and Patricia (Season Two).
However, other characters would survive their fates, including Tyreese and Judith Grimes. The former would live on (until a season later), and the latter would fulfill a significant role in the final seasons. Another “new” addition would be Bob Stookey, a minor character from the comics and novels, who would have more depth (although a worse fate).
Two shocking TV deaths mirror a critical point in the comics: Lizzy and Mika. In the comics, these would happen to Allen and Donna’s twins, Ben and Billy; as that family had been poorly adapted (and killed off) in Season Three, the writers shifted the event to new characters, including moving the “sympathy” killing from Carl to Carol.
Abraham, Rosita, and Eugene were almost direct adaptations of their characters (down to their appearance).
Meanwhile, with Andrea gone, Michonne began to fill her role, including the budding relationship between her and the Grimes family. These changes were welcomed as Comic Michonne was a lot more unstable and didn’t have the healthiest relationships with others.
An unnamed gang in a single comic issue would be turned into the multi-episode Claimers arc, although their fate would be the same. More importantly, Terminus would be an attempt to grow a simple group of roving cannibals into an entire settlement.
Sadly, the hype for Terminus would be blown out of proportion, as seen in Season Five.
The story in Season Four is pretty close to the comics, except for the timeline and pacing. Major plot points from the source material included:
- The (final) loss of the Prison
- Rick’s illness (and Carl’s growth)
- Meeting Abraham’s crew
- Dealing with a marauding gang
- The death of two siblings
- The reveal of cannibals
The main difference is that many of these co-occurred to separate groups rather than sequentially to the main cast.
Also, elements of the Rise of the Governor novel were used to fill in his activity during the show’s half-year gap. In contrast, those events occurred mere weeks after the outbreak in the books, explaining how he became the Governor.
If they’d accurately focused on the initial Prison storylines in Season Three, then all of Season Four could have been dedicated to the Governor. The mid-season finale could have been the attack on Woodbury, leaving the Governor wounded, while the season finale would have ended with his final assault on the Prison.
Such an approach would leave us wondering who made it out alive for Season Five and where the road would lead them.
The adaption of Season Four was, overall, much better than the previous two. It still felt discordant, though, as they spent half a season fleshing out the Governor and finishing the Prison storyline.
The pacing wasn’t as bad but still suffered due to wasting more time on the Governor and having five co-occurring protagonist groups post-Prison. Yet, they still managed to hit the major plot points from the comics, even if they rushed through them.
The cast began to solidify, with characters fulfilling the roles (or fates) of those killed off in the previous seasons.
Michonne, in particular, came to the forefront as Rick’s compatriot, while Carol was now a “made-for-TV” concept alongside Daryl. The show would add more depth to Tyreese and Bob, bring us Tara, and introduce the long-awaited crew of Abraham.
When we return, we’ll look at Season Five, where all the hype of Terminus would fall apart, leading to unnecessary filler (and deaths), magically speedy travel up the East Coast, and ramming our way into Alexandria.