As has been noted before, The Walking Dead is very good at premieres and finales. The intensity and drama take a sledgehammer to the audience’s building disillusionment with everything in between. But instead of sweeping clear the broken crap that didn’t work, the writers have a nasty tendency to glue the pieces back together and hope we don’t notice the cracks. The show is also great at standalone episodes, ones where the events function independently of the bigger storyline while affecting the characters participating in it. “After” is a prime example of both situations, and “Inmates” what happens after the high wears off.
Last week, it took a lot of work to keep my gushing praise under 1400 words. This week, I’ll be pleased if I make it over 1000 without spiraling into frustration. In some ways, “Inmates” mirror “After,” but without any of the dramatic flair or character development. It was like an anthology of short vignettes, some more interesting and impactful than others.
I don’t know which group has it worse: Daryl getting stuck with Beth, Sasha and Bob with Maggie, Glenn with Not Cop Tara, or Tyrese with the baby and the psycho sisters (plus Carol! Hey Carol!). Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the writers pulled names out of a hat to see who ended up where, but it kinda worked. I guess. I mean, it was terrible or anything. At least we got to see characters who don’t normally have anything to do with each other exchange some lines.
First up is Daryl and Beth. If you ever had any doubt Daryl is the best thing about this show, this episode reinforced it. Any other character would’ve treated Beth with annoyance or pity, but he respects her emotions and trusts her with his life. He doesn’t treat her like a child, like Rick does to Carl, nor does he treat her like a delicate creature needing protection, like the Governor did with Mommy Whatshername and Replacement Penny. He never once rolls his eyes at her teenage angsty outbursts or bosses her around. She makes a decision and he backs her up. Or you could take it as Daryl not knowing how to be in charge and that he’d rather follow a teenager than take on the responsibility of making a decision. (Remember, he literally ran behind Beth through the field, he follows her when she storms off, and he waits for her by the train tracks.)
Tyrese is doing an epically worse job with Lizzie, Mika, and Li’l Asskicker. It’s understandable. Dealing with 2 young girls and a baby would be trying enough pre-apocalypse, so kudos for Tyrese not flipping out and ditching them in the woods. Although he kinda does. A day or so into their wanderings, they hear screaming. When Beth sets off on her own, Daryl recognizes she’ll never survive alone and goes after her. Tyrese makes the opposite choice with the girls, albeit with noble intentions. There’s a definite violent act occurring nearby, possibly involving prison survivors, and Tyrese is physically powerful enough to intervene and possibly help, but he risks putting the girls in danger. So he leaves them in the woods with weapons where there’s only a 50-50 chance of them getting eaten alive. Not good odds, but better. Lizzie over-focuses on getting Judith to shut up, while Mika can’t do much more than look panicked and try not to flee, so it’s lucky Carol shows up. (Apparently she’s been tracking them since the attack. Or something.) It also means we’re now going to have to have that conversation about that one time she killed his girlfriend. So there’s that to look forward to.
Oh, by the way, Judith is still alive, in case you were worried. On one hand, I’m kinda glad she’s still living; on the other hand it shows the show isn’t willing to push the story far enough. Which means when crazy Lizzie gets a little too enthusiastic about hushing up a crying Judith, the dramatic tension never really builds. Why keep the infant alive through the attack on the prison just to off her in the woods at the hand of messed up little girl? As creepy as Lizzie is—and at this point I think it’s all but certain she was the one leaving dead rats all over the place—she isn’t a baby killer.
Maggie, Bob, and Sasha made it to some creek and plot their next moves. Sasha wants to shore up supplies and set up camp, while Maggie wants to go back to find Glenn. Bob doesn’t give a shit what they do as long as they do it together and he gets to keep smiling like an idiot. They come across the school bus stopped in a rakish angle on the road, and it’s full of biters. Maggie goes on a braining spree, but fortunately Glenn isn’t on the bus.
No, Glenn apparently took a nap through the entire attack. He raids supplies from inside the cell block, and gets a few moments to gaze longingly at a photo of Maggie. His courage built, he puts on his riot gear and heads into the crowd of walkers. Before he gets too far, he comes across Tara, who has caged herself up just inside the prison walls. She’s ready to die there, but Glenn needs her, so off they go together.
All these vignettes share a common plot. One character is overcome with grief and despair, another is full of shiny faith, and everyone else is left to grumble as they get towed along by the hopeful one. All that hope seems to come down to “because Hershel said it’s nice to be nice” or that the only alternative is to give up, neither of which seem like solid reasons for risking your life or the lives of others. But whatever. TWD has never been strong on logic. And while their reactions are perfectly understandable in the real world, they’re awfully dull on television.
That’s not quite true. They’re dull reactions because the characters experiencing them are blank slates. On the surface, “After” and “Inmates” are very similar, but where the former brought a new depth to Rick, Carl, and Michonne—quite a feat, considering Rick was unconscious for most of it—the latter added nothing to anyone. By the end of this week’s episode, we learned nothing about any of the characters we didn’t already know. What was the perfect opportunity to develop woefully underserved secondaries turned out to be 42 minutes of catching up and place setting. Their survival suddenly has less to do with the characters themselves as much as the obvious machinations of inconsistent writers. Worse, they made Daryl boring. HOW DARE YOU, WRITERS. GO SIT IN THE CORNER AND THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE DONE.
- I don’t know that I’d go so far as to call Hershel a “great man,” but he was definitely the Jiminy Cricket of TWD.
- Am I supposed to recognize any of those walkers in the school bus? Were they in the prison? I know Maggie said they were the Woodbury survivors, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen any of those faces before...
- Ugh. We cannot get out of the freaking woods soon enough. They are literally circling the same 5 locations all episode.
- The excellent Michael Cudlitz, recently from Southland, that awesome show you never got around to watching but totally should have, plays Abraham. Given how far from Kirkman’s original story the show has strayed, it’s unclear how much or little like the comics he’ll be.
- Every time I come across the word “Terminus,” my mind immediately goes to Dr. Terminus. Because I’m old and weird.
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.