The names of "quality TV" showrunners have become almost as well known as their stars: Matthew Weiner, Vince Gilligan and Shonda Rhimes are practically synonymous with their brainchildren. (In the case of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., not even the fact that Joss Whedon doesn't actually participate in the show's day-to-day activities can stop fans from thinking of it as his.) But ask a Walking Dead fan to name the showrunner -- or the one before him, or the one before that -- and chances are good they'll come up short.
For the record, "30 Days Without an Accident" marks the debut of new Walking Dead showrunner Scott Gimple, who's been on the writing staff since season 2. But you'd be hard-pressed to notice any big changes. True, in the (temporary) absence of the Governor, the group's concerns have turned inward: Early on, Rick pops in his earbuds to do some gardening out by the prison's fence line, the music all but drowning out the growls of the massing walkers. There's no chance of forgetting the threat, but in a period of relative calm, it's possible to put it ever-so-slightly aside.
This being The Walking Dead, the calm doesn't last long -- and therein lies the secret of the show's success, and its failings. For all the cast members who've been bitten or bled out, very little really changes. And showrunners, it seems, are just as expendable. From the network's point of view, it must be ideal: a hit show -- their biggest, in fact -- with no pesky prima donna at the helm? Perfection.
Much of the show's consistency can be attributed to Robert Kirkman's ongoing comic-book series, which, as much as the TV version may deviate in plot, at least lays out a consistent tone. But it's also, frankly, because The Walking Dead isn't distinctive enough to need a strong voice at its core. For all the upheaval in its world, very little has changed.
"30 Days..." at least introduces some promising developments. For starters, there's the "new enemy" Gimple has been teasing for months, a sickness that fells one member of the prison group and will undoubtedly affect more. The Walking Dead is a show that valorizes physical strength and ruthless strategy, but neither is much good against an invisible virus. There's Bob Stookey, joining the cast alongside his fellow Wire alum Chad Coleman, as a hinky army medic whose demeanor all but screams "I have a dark secret." And, most promising of all, there's Melissa McBride's name in the title sequence, the sign of a long-overdue promotion to series regular. But after having watched "30 Days..." and next week's episode, the show still feels like it's stuck in a corpse-choked rut, plenty willing to kill off cast members but unwilling to do anything that might make its audience nervous.
Todd VanDerWerff, The A.V. Club:
Finding stories for the survivors is an increasingly futile effort, and even the lengthy sequences of zombies being killed are losing what punch they once had.
Zack Handlen, The A.V. Club:
As an episode of television, then, this is solid -- nothing remarkable, exactly, but entertaining. (And the store attack scene really is swell.) But as an episode The Walking Dead -- or, more importantly, as the first episode of a new season of The Walking Dead -- it’s somewhat troubling.
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix:
Interesting start to the season, but that's never been the issue for this show, no matter who's in charge of it. Will Gimple be able to maintain a level of quality and consistency over a long period? We'll have to wait and see.