The Walking Dead, S4 E3 “Isolation”

So far we’re 3 for 3 in good episodes this season; well done, Gimple. “Isolation” is one of the slower turns that we’ve seen in a while for The Walking Dead. Fortunately, it was a well-used slowness, one that developed characters badly in need of it while not being boring or meaningless.

In order for the story about the plague wreaking havoc in the prison to work, the audience has to care about what happens to more than just Rick and co. To that end, background characters are finally being given more agency, which allows the audience to get to know them outside the context of being cannon fodder. (It also allows us to grow attached to and then grieve the loss of characters we care about without having to whittle down the core group of Rick, Carol, Daryl, Michonne, Glenn, Maggie, Hershel, and Carl.)

Tyreese is none too happy about his girlfriend and that other dude getting murdered. His rage is understandable, if not a bit over the top. If this is how he reacts to a woman he’s only known for a few months, I’d hate to see him if/when Sasha dies. He demands Rick play cop and find out who did it so he can exact retribution. Instead Rick and Tyreese just beat the crap out of each other while Carol shrieks in the corner. Catharsis or something. Tyreese seems to need a lot of that, as he takes out his frustration on the earth as he digs Karen and David’s graves, then later as he smashes zombie brains with a hammer during the ill-fated quest for medicine.

The other pair of lovebirds aren’t having a good time, either. Glenn’s caught the bug and goes into quarantine with the other sickies. Maggie and Beth have some bonding time as the youngest is quarantined away with Li’l Asskicker to keep them away from the plague. Hershel takes “Do no harm” very seriously and gets himself contaminated when he tries to ease the suffering of the ill. Tyreese, Stookey, Michonne, and Daryl make a run for a vet hospital an hour’s drive away and get ambushed by a horde…just after they hear a voice on the radio. Is it an old recording or a red herring like the helicopter from a few seasons back? Rick takes a second look at the crime scene, then realizes the only person who could’ve done the vicious deed was Carol.

For Hera’s sake, Carol. I know things suck right now, but that doesn’t mean you take it out on your only water supply. My concerns last week that they were going to turn Carol into the new Lori were rekindled with this ep. Season 3 Carol never would’ve knocked down that water container or been so stupid as to get herself trapped out by the pond. And don’t say it’s because she’s a different person now than she was before. The only reason she did that was because the writers wanted to get her out to the pond, because risking her life for water for the prisoners is what gives Rick the notion she’s the killer. In essence, they do it because they need her to do something reckless and not because her character would do something like that (she wouldn’t).

On the other hand, I do buy her killing Karen and David to protect the prison. She’s shown all along that she’ll fight for those she cares about (remember how she kept pressing for everyone to go look for Sophia even though all evidence pointed to her daughter being dead?), and her ruthlessness with the first wave of sickness seems like the next evolutionary step. My qualm is that the Carol who kills isn’t the same Carol who knocks over a barrel of water in a temper tantrum. The transition isn’t a flawless one. I would’ve liked a few more scenes showing her inch closer to becoming a killer, or at least to have gotten to see her make the decision and do the deed.

I also think it was ridiculous of the writers to frame the whole thing as a whodunit. If you’re not going to give the audience a chance to speculate, why even bother? It added nothing to the proceedings and was a pointless misdirection. It should’ve been about Carol’s journey to Murder Town, not Rick’s journey to rediscovering how to be a half-assed detective. (On the other other hand, killing Karen and David is also pretty stupid. It was already clear the plague was spreading, so bumping off the two most advanced vics wouldn’t even stem the tide.)

In one corner you have Carol, a survivor willing to kill in order to live. In the other corner is Hershel, a survivor willing to risk his life for some human kindness. He attempts to wander off alone into the forest to gather elderberry leaves to make a fever reductive tea, but gun-loving Carl tags along. He risks his own life to enter the sick ward to tend to the ill only to come down with the plague himself. Where Carol sees life as worth living only so long as you survive (remnants of her abuse), Hershel sees life as a collective gain—we live only by virtue of our humanity. Carol wants to benefit herself and those she cares enough about to protect, while Hershel wants to protect everyone regardless of how little or well he knows them.

Enter Tyreese. He barely knows Karen, but in the Endverse, life moves at a different pace. There is so little goodness in the world that when you finally find a slice of it you hold on for dear life. Losing Karen to a walker or the plague would’ve been horrible but understandable. A tragic fact of life in a dark world. But for someone to willingly and intentionally kill her in a place that’s supposed to be safe and free from such violence, that’s untenable. They fled the Governor and Woodbury to escape such cruelty, and now it’s followed them home. Its no wonder Tyreese loses it. That doesn’t excuse the writers completely mishandling his breakdown—I would’ve been pissed if he had just given up and let himself get eaten alive—nor does it make his surprising burst through the foliage after smashing his way through untold walkers anymore believable. He better not be bitten…

At this point, I’m almost more interested in how the kids are being affected by the apocalypse than how the adults are. Watching Carl spiral into a bloodthirsty psycho, Beth grow cold and dead inside, and Lizzie so desperate for some semblance of normalcy that she starts naming walkers, all of it makes for fascinating subtext. I just wish it was handled better. The glimpses we get are so few and far between, and they’re about as obvious as a neon sign, but when it works it works.

Final Thoughts

  • “I wouldn’t plan on doing much typing in the next few days.”
  • “Is there anything you wouldn’t do for the people here?”
  • So, Rick’s now walking around in half a Sheriff’s outfit and half civilian clothes. That’s a metaphor, in case you didn’t notice.
  • The scene where Dr. S. coughs blood all over Hershel was nicely played all around. A nice, quiet moment for a nice, quiet episode.

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.

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