It's raining zombies, quite literally, by the end of the first hour of The Walking Dead's fourth harrowing season (Sunday, 9/8c, AMC). And when it rains, it pours blood. Just how fans like it.
But it's in the pauses between the gruesome action, those eerie and unsettling silences, when we're reminded there's no rest for the living in a treacherous world where swarming walkers are constantly pressing against the prison-shelter gates, insatiable and relentless. In these quieter moments, Dead reinforces its claim as TV's greatest horror drama by making us care so desperately about the characters' humanity.
"Things break, but they can still grow," the sage Hershel (Scott Wilson) assures the shattered-by-tragedy Rick (Andrew Lincoln), who's now tending to his growing flock of survivors as a hunter-gatherer and farmer, not a leader — until he is reluctantly called back into duty by an unexpected menace within their walls. In The Walking Dead, safety is always an illusion. And whenever someone wonders, "Am I talking too much?" during a soul-searching lull, you can bet that this soul is about to be tested beyond its limits.
With so many new faces and relationships to sort out six months after the Woodbury war, the core characters — especially the archer/warrior Daryl (Norman Reedus) — now enjoy legendary status as post-apocalyptic local folk heroes, reflecting the real-life fame these actors have achieved by being part of such a smash-hit pop-culture phenomenon. No time for complacency, though, when even an activity as seemingly benign as story time for the compound's children masks a survivalist's agenda. Nurturing is fine, but hardening the next generation of the endangered human species is more essential.
"You want to live, you have to become strong," says Carol (Melissa McBride), whom we believe because we've seen her do it. The Walking Dead shows no signs of weakness as it heads once again into battle. Anyone tough enough to watch without occasionally covering his or her eyes has my undying respect
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MAN WITHOUT A HOMELAND: You thought Carrie (Claire Danes) was put through the emotional wringer in the opening episodes of Homeland's third season? Wait till you see the grueling physical and psychological torment Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) endures when we finally catch up with the world's most-wanted suspected terrorist/fugitive. The third episode of Showtime's thinking-person's thriller (Sunday, 9/8c) devotes more than half of its screen time, and an uninterrupted 30 minutes off the top, to Brody's situation, and all we'll say in advance is that he's a prisoner of circumstance, trapped with no easy out — not unlike Carrie in the mental ward, where she informs her skeptical therapist, "I'm not here because I'm crazy. I'm here because they don't know where else to put me." Written by the late Henry Bromell (Emmy winner for last season's "Q&A" episode) and son William, and searingly directed by Clark Johnson, this episode is sparing with its action, which makes it even more unnerving when it occurs. And as an added incentive, this week is blissfully Dana-free!
Showtime's equally riveting Masters of Sex (Sunday, 10/9c) hits the brothel wall when Dr. Masters (Michael Sheen) concludes, after monitoring a "household of sexual invalids" including female and male prostitutes, "You can't deduce a model of normal [sexual] physiology from outliers and misfits. We're so far from the bell curve you can't even hear it ringing." But how to get his controversial study out of the cathouse and back in the university? It won't be easy with a boss (Beau Bridges) who has advised him since the start of his career (shown in flashbacks), "The world isn't kind to mavericks ... You want to lead an unconventional life, you've got to learn to hide in plain sight." Julianne Nicholson joins the ensemble as tightly wound Dr. Lillian DePaul, who resents the "boys' club" of women's medicine and yet doesn't exactly warm up to the barrier-busting Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan). Her loss.
THE FRIDAY GUIDE: PBS's magnificent Great Performances series of Shakespeare historical plays, The Hollow Crown, concludes with the always-stirring Henry V (check tvguide.com listings), starring Tom Hiddleston as the valorous warrior king. ... Lost's Jorge Garcia is back in Hawaii, on CBS's Hawaii Five-0 (9/8c), as conspiracy theorist Jerry Ortega, who helps the crew solve a double murder. ... Comedy cameos: Home Improvement's Jonathan Taylor Thomas returns to ABC's Last Man Standing (8/7c) as Kristen's boss, while Wendy Williams visits ABC's The Neighbors (8:31/7:31c) as a hairstylist who gives makeovers to Jackie and Debbie. ... Discovery's Gold Fever (9/8c) sounds like just another reality show, but this is a documentary miniseries, concluding next Friday, re-enacting the California gold-rush craze of 1848-50. ... Kanye West brought ratings gold to Jimmy Kimmel Live earlier this week. Can he work similar magic for Showtime with Jay-Z, Pearl Jam and other top acts in the concert documentary Made in America (9/8c)? Directed by Ron Howard, the film is an all-access look at last year's "Made in America" festival in Philadelphia. ... National Geographic Channel salutes the company magazine's 125th anniversary with the special National Geographic Photographers: The Best Job in the World (8/7c), as world-traveling shooters tell how they captured the images that put the iconic magazine on the map.
THE SATURDAY GUIDE: With a Christmas backdrop, Hallmark Channel's heartwarming Cedar Cove wraps its first season (8/7c) with a romantic reunion for Olivia (Andie MacDowell) and Jack (Dylan Neal) and a fiery crisis for Justine and Seth's new restaurant. ... Hallmark previews one of its next dramatic series with the two-hour "backdoor pilot" Signed, Sealed, Delivered (9/8c) from Touched By An Angel's Martha Williamson. With a 10-episode order to follow later this season, the show is basically "Saved By the Mail," set in a Dead Letters Office where the employees (including Ugly Betty's Eric Mabius and Daphne Zuniga as the postal supervisor) deliver long-lost letters and packages to unsuspecting recipients with life-changing results. ... Vanilla Ice Goes Amish on the DIY Network (10/9c) when rapper-turned-home fixer Rob Van Winkle (aka "Ice Ice Baby") settles in among the Amish to learn the tricks of the hand-craftsmanship trade. ... This is one of those weeks on NBC's Saturday Night Live (11:30/10:30c) when the musical guest (Katy Perry) threatens to outshine the guest host (Bruce Willis, making his second appearance).
THE SUNDAY GUIDE: PBS's charming Last Tango in Halifax (check tvguide.com listings) concludes its first season with strife between Celia (Anne Reid) and Alan (Derek Jacobi) when she refuses to accept her daughter's coming out. Can their relationship be saved? What do you think? ... The office intrigue escalates on CBS's deliciously compelling The Good Wife (9/8c) when Will (Josh Charles) makes Alicia (Julianna Margulies) a tempting offer that makes her think twice about setting up her own shop. ... It's wedding day for Rigsby (Owain Yeoman) and Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti) on CBS's The Mentalist (10/9c), but Jane (Simon Baker) is distracted by his Red John obsession, pursuing a case in Napa involving one of the remaining suspects, Sheriff McAllister (Xander Berkeley). Have patience. We're assured all will be revealed soon — though for many, not soon enough.