Things have gotten so bleak on AMC's The Walking Dead that it's not always easy to tell the walking wounded from the actual zombies. Which is part of the point as the fourth season resumes with the beleaguered survivors of the prison battle scattered to the winds — so much so that in this week's episode (Sunday, 9/8c), written by Robert Kirkman and directed by Greg Nicotero, only a very few series regulars are shown as they stagger away from the wreckage of their former shelter.
In what amounts to a short-story parable that's part of the larger coming-of-age-too-soon arc for young Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs), the swaggering lad takes center stage — because, for now, his bloodied and battered father Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is no longer capable. The scenario of a child as father of the man isn't exactly new, but rarely has a boy had such contempt as Carl expresses toward his dad, who can't keep up and can't answer back when Carl vents a series' worth of frustration and disappointment. Riggs has grown fully into this rich role, transforming from bratty albatross to a steely and defiantly reckless mini-warrior, whose adolescent immaturity bleeds through as he taunts his closest authority figure — and treats his violent encounters with the "walkers" as a game, crowing "I win" after each round. But at what cost?
We also get a rare moment of emotional transparency with one of the Grimes' most formidable fellow travelers, but this is Carl's hour to shine, to rise and fall and possibly mature into the man he has had to become way too early in life.
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YEAH, YEAH, YEAH: AMC is hoping the grisly allure of the risen dead will draw some fans away from NBC's Olympics coverage. (Many networks are leaning toward repeats most nights.) CBS's strategy for Sunday evokes nostalgia for the Beatles. Airing exactly 50 years to the day, date and time of the band's legendary first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, sparking a frenzy of Beatlemania, CBS presents The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles (8/7c). Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr perform as part of an all-star tribute, taped last month in Los Angeles, and they're also featured in an interview with David Letterman, conducted earlier this week (without an audience) in New York in the historic Sullivan-turned-Letterman theater. Among the high-caliber talent participating in the concert: a reunited Eurythmics (Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart), Alicia Keys performing with John Legend, John Mayer with Keith Urban, plus Katy Perry, Stevie Wonder, Dave Grohl, Maroon 5 and Joe Walsh. Beyond the archival footage, there probably won't be as many cutaways to screaming teen-age girls as there were in the Sullivan days, but boomers are encouraged to swoon to their hearts' content.
BRIT-A-MANIA: As PBS's Downton Abbey (Sunday, 9/8c, check tvguide.com listings) enters the home stretch, with only two weeks until the season finale, the master of the house sails off to America on family business, but there's plenty going on at home — including Lady Mary bonding with her dashing frenemy Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden) in a muddy pigsty and Lady Edith fretting over her unexpected bundle of complication. Below stairs, the return of the season's most loathsome villain rattles Poor Anna and awakens Bates' suspicions — what a dreadful subplot that continues to be.
Weepy Anna has nothing on the distressed damsel at the heart of PBS's The Making of a Lady (Sunday, 10/9c, check tvguide.com listings), a bizarre British import filling the void left by Sherlock and none too well. With elements of Rebecca and Jane Eyre (subbing a madman here) in this adaptation of a Frances Hodgson Burnett novel, Lady plays like an overheated Lifetime melodrama with posh accents. Before the Gothic intrigue kicks in, it's an oddly enervated not-quite-romance between Emily (wan Lydia Wilson), an impoverished lady's companion, and the widowed Lord Walderhurst (an embarrassed-looking Linus Roache), who's so restrained in his wooing he nudges rather than sweeps her off her feet. It seems a modest miracle when, after he leaves her to rejoin his military comrades in India, she discovers she's pregnant.
Which makes her a target for her husband's heir apparent psycho cousin Alec (James D'Arcy), who insidiously takes control of the household during Walderhurst's absence, drugging and threatening poor Lydia with the help of his exotic Indian wife (Hasina Haque) and her servant, whose lurking menace perpetuates all kinds of racist stereotypes about foreign devils. As the 90-minute movie shifts gears into hysterical horror cliché, you may find yourself longing for the relative sanity of The Following.
THE WEEKEND GUIDE: The Olympics Opening Ceremonies (Friday 7:30/6:30c) often provide a colorful, if sometimes cheesy, crash course in cultural history. Now it's Sochi's turn to see if Russia can outdo Beijing's 2008 extravaganza. Once the torch is lit, Olympics fever officially begins. ... Can't wait for the new season of Game of Thrones to begin in April? HBO whets the appetite with a 15-minute teaser titled Game of Thrones Ice and Fire: A Foreshadowing (Sunday, 8:45/7:45c), which includes clips from new episodes, interviews and footage from the sets, as well as a look back to what got us to this point. This could bring a sizable audience to the show that follows, HBO's mesmerizing True Detective (9/8c), just in time for the series' most riveting episode yet. ... On HBO's gay dramedy Looking (Sunday, 10:30/9:30c), a Sunday of all work and no play — even as a leather parade rages outside — makes Patrick (Jonathan Groff) a lot more intriguing to new boss Kevin (Russell Tovey, the show's most enjoyable asset).