It only took 3 showrunners and 4 seasons, but The Walking Dead has finally come into its own. We’ve had a run of 4 straight good-to-very good episodes in a row—an unprecedented feat. My big fear at the end of last season was that, what with the introduction of the ex-Woodburyites, the prison would become Hershel’s farm 2.0. Gimple and his writers have (mostly) figured out how to balance the quiet talky scenes with the action-y horror spurts in such a way that they don’t feel dragged out or jarring. Gimple has obviously learned from the mistakes of the past and has done everything he can to redress the problems. He’s proven the show can handle the gross-out zombie violence and the slower but equally as important moments of character development. And with the recent, not so surprising news that AMC has renewed the show and Gimple for a 5th season, it looks like we’re in for a good, long haul.
The 4th episode of the season split its time between the two traveling groups, giving the audience a much needed break from the depressing prison and fretting over the plague and giving the plot a breath of fresh air, literally. Rick and Carol got some alone time as they went to scour the suburbs for painkillers and cough drops, while Daryl, Michonne, Stookey, and Tyreese wandered back around to the vet hospital then headed the long way home. Fun times were had by all.
First up is Daryl et al., who survived a night in the zombie-filled wilderness. They come across an abandoned garage with a passel of walkers, and, after Tyreese’s most recent bout of acting out nearly gets them all bitten, they clear the place. Daryl patches up a car and has a heart-to-heart with Stookey about his guilt tangentially causing Zack’s death as Michonne talks Tyreese down off his emotional ledge.
Tyreese’s death wish is really starting to get on my nerves. At first it felt necessary; he’s a temperamental guy so he’d naturally have a rather explosive reaction. But it’s starting to feel like an over-long temper tantrum. All he needs to do is shout “YOU’RE NOT MY REAL DAD!” and slam the door and he’ll have hit all the marks. I gripe, but at least his whinging is well-acted, even if it has gone on several scenes too long.
Anyway, the group make it in the backway to the vet hospital, clear it of meds and booze, then waken a horde and flee for their lives. When Stookey’s continued alcoholism is found out, Daryl is having none of it and makes it clear the only reason he’s allowed to come back with them is his medical training.
Group number 2 has the world’s most awkward car ride. They talk about Karen and David without actually talking about them. While clearing out a house, they come across a couple of damaged, incompetent twentysomethings who, due to their poor survival skills, had been trapped in a bathroom for 2 days by a solo skineater. Rick reluctantly gives them a chance, though if Carol wasn’t there he probably would’ve left them behind just as he did the hitchhiker last season. Carol pushes him to let them help, only because she sees the efficiency of their assistance, not because she’s ready to welcome them with open arms. Rick and Carol basically have one long conversation about her crime broken up by a few unavoidable interruptions. By excommunicating her, he is effectively her judge, jury, and executioner. She expects no less from him, but is still disappointed.
“Indifference” was about, well, indifference. Or, more accurately, the appearance of it. I think Carol’s supposed indifference is what really pushed Rick into kicking her out of the car, more so than her murderous crimes. She’s right when she points out that Rick killing Shane to protect his family isn’t all that different from her killing the sickies, even if Rick still holds enough moral superiority to disagree. The show smartly doesn’t make either of them “right” or “wrong.” They’ve both made mistakes and are able to rationalize them. To Rick, Carol’s reactions to killing Karen and David, to Hipster Girl getting eaten, and to Hipster Boy going AWOL with Rick’s watch, to her never speaking about her dead daughter seems like callous indifference. But to Carol it’s pragmatic acceptance of reality. It’s her coping mechanism, her survival technique.
Carol can’t live in the past or she’ll drown in her sorrows, so she puts it in a box and buries it deep in the back of her mind where she doesn’t have to think about it. Compartmentalizing pain is a skill she developed living with her abusive husband, and it’s one that translates well to life in the Endverse. She can cavalierly toss around Sophia’s name at Rick—when he not so subtly accuses her of not properly mourning her daughter—because her daughter’s memory is locked away in that box. The name is just a name outside the box, because the memories, the pain, the sadness are hidden and inaccessible. Carol’s way of dealing, of surviving, is to stop holding onto the things that cause her pain and suffering. She let go of her daughter…no, not so much let go as told herself to stop thinking about her. She doesn’t have to let go of Karen, David, and the hipsters because she never let herself form a connection with them in the first place. It’s telling that the only people she’s concerned about leaving behind are Mika and Lizzie. Even though she tells Lizzie not to call her Mom, she clearly thinks of herself as such to those girls.
It’s quite the profound change from season 1 Carol and even season 3 Carol, and Melissa McBride pulls it off brilliantly. The writers have written themselves into a corner with this one. Carol has become one of the show’s best and most interesting characters, and getting rid of her is a huge risk. If this happened in any of the previous seasons I’d say all hope is lost. Now? I kinda want to see where they go with this. I can’t decide which I want more, for Carol’s story to still be told until she can be folded back into the prison, or for her to reappear months or years later à la Morgan in “Clear.” Either way, I hope this isn’t the last we see of Carol Peletier.
Carol’s not the only one having trouble with indifference. Rick wants to be indifferent about Carol when he abandons her, but can’t bring himself to be. Stookey wants to be indifferent about his alcoholism, but can’t let go of that damn bottle, even if it puts him and others at risk. Tyreese refuses to be indifferent about Karen and David even if, like Stookey, it nearly kills him. Michonne says she’s indifferent to the Governor, and maybe she’ll finally start to believe that. And Daryl is indifferent to indifference. He makes friends and stays positive not because he has to or because he’s Little Miss Sunshine, but because staying positive is keeping your humanity. He’s the only one besides Hershel who seems to get that the only way life is worth living is if it’s a real life. Surviving isn’t living, and if there’s a strong chance you won’t make it to the next day then why not make the best of what little time you have left? Easier said than done.
- “We all change.”
- “I just don’t wanna see you die. Is that what you’re trying to do? Do you even know what you’re trying to do?”
- “Anger makes you stupid. Stupid gets you killed.”
- “That’s bullshit.” The Tao of Daryl.
- “I had to do something.” “No, you didn’t.”
- I cannot wait to see how Daryl reacts when he finds out Rick played the Decider again and booted Carol. The way he freaked out when Stookey betrayed the group should pale in comparison.
- The plague also gets a cameo. Turns out it’s a lot bigger than what they thought. It’s likely it was brought in by the Woodburyites, which makes Rick’s gregarious offer at protection even more ill-advised.
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.