By GORDON DRITSCHILO
Sundays, 9 p.m. on AMC
Starring: Andrew Lincoln, Steven Yeun, Norman Reedus, Lauren Cohan, Chad Coleman, Danai Gurira
Sometimes I wonder if “The Walking Dead” suffers from impossibly elevated expectations.
There was a time when an hour-long drama set during the zombie apocalypse, taking the subject matter seriously, with a decent budget, good acting, and competent writing would have been like coming home to find Cindy Crawford waiting for me in a Slave-girl Leia outfit, holding a bottle of 25-year-old Macallan — as welcome as it was unlikely.
While the show has a collection of award nominations that would make most of us proud and ratings that have broken records, the bitching it inspires online serves as exhibit A in any argument that geeks just don’t know how good we have it now.
So, yes, sometimes “The Walking Dead” gets a bit talky. And, yes, some of the characters need common sense beaten into them the way a martini needs an olive.
Still, let us not lose sight of the fact that the same channel that brought us “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” is making a pretty good zombie show that’s going into its fourth season, and that, when it’s on its game, is as good as anything else on television.
In other words, let us rejoice.
The third season stripped the show of two of its more annoying characters while adding a few more that haven’t quite paid off yet.
The first major newcomer was Michonne (Danai Gurira), who has been given very little to do but scowl and swing a sword, making it hard to tell why her character is so popular among fans of the original comic book. I think we’re all hoping she gets developed a little more this season.
The second was Tyreese (Chad Coleman, who was fantastic as reformed tough guy Cutty on “The Wire”), whose introduction was given such a massive build-up online that I expected him to have more of a presence in the third season. He was, however, subject to enough character development that he seems poised to become the show’s moral center.
The third season also introduced a villain I doubt we’ve seen the last of. The Governor (British actor David Morrissey) ended the third season stripped of his power base, but still nurturing an Ahab-like hatred for our scrappy protagonists.
As for those protagonists, the central question for the new season will be whether leader Rick Grimes is going to get his shit together after spending most of the last season losing it, or will he step aside as Darryl (Norman Reedus) continues to rise to the occasion, developing from a petty criminal to the sort of man who can shepherd a community through disaster.
We can also expect a mess of new characters as the third season ended with Grimes’ group taking on the survivors of Woodbury, the town run by The Governor, which looked so idyllic it was obvious something was going to be horribly wrong.
Woodbury had all the comforts of the pre-apocalypse world, so the writers will no doubt explore the difficulties of shifting from that life to what they will find in the abandoned prison occupied by Rick and company.
Carl, Rick’s son, has been growing up in the rapid and unpleasant way that the end of the world would likely force on a child. The end of the previous season saw him killing a man under questionable circumstances and dressing down his father for not being more bloodthirsty.
However, Carl is about to have another kid his age around for the first time in the show. Vincent Martella of “Phineas and Ferb” joins the cast as a youth from Woodbury who, presumably, has not had to grapple with anything resembling the pressures and traumas that have shaped Carl.
The final question going in regards the ongoing romance between Glenn and Maggie (Steven Yeun and Lauren Cohan). Perhaps I’m a victim of too many Joss Whedon shows, but they ended the third season way too happy to make it through the fourth one intact. Though I wouldn’t mind if, even as the world ends, there was still time for love.
The fourth season of “The Walking Dead” premiers Sunday, Oct. 13, at 9 p.m. on AMC.