A third of the way through season four, the writers have picked up the pace after last week’s slog. The prison was starting to get a bit stuffy, both for our cast of characters and for us faithful viewers (even if I didn’t entirely realize it). In Sunday’s episode, on offer are a hefty glimpse of Bob Stookey, some movement outside the prison walls, and a number of big revelations that were back-burnered to make room for establishing the season’s themes.
In the opening sequence, Carol visits the sick block to see Lizzie, who doesn’t look terribly ill. When Lizzie says nobody’s died yet, she adds hopefully, “nobody’s gotten to come back yet.” As though resurrection as a zombie is a second chance. Carol has to reiterate that walkers aren’t people. “We don’t get to stay the same way as how we started,” she says softly, before coaching Lizzie about her knife and what to do if she’s in danger. When Lizzie accidentally calls Carol “Mom,” the older woman prickles. Sometimes we forget that we spent an entire season of this show searching for Carol’s real daughter, Sophia. (Okay, I might have forgot on purpose – season two was so boring.) I’m becoming more and more certain it’s Lizzie who’s feeding rats to the walkers. She thinks they’re pets, and said as much to Carl a few episodes ago. During this series of scenes, Rick bandages his hands, which are still raw from beating Tyreese. He wanders around the complex, collecting supplies and experiencing visions of Carol’s solution to the flu; he sees her murdering Karen and David.
Out in the real world, Tyreese, Daryl, Michonne, and Bob are trying to find a working car to get them back home. Tyreese, with his crazy eyes and violent demeanor, is in exactly the same place Rick was all of last season. As Willow would say, “BORED NOW.” In the books, Tyreese was a dynamic figure who tended toward violence but maintained an edgy interest – and the writers are once again tamping down the character’s motivations in order to continue a motif (they’re also doing this with Carl and the Governor, whose characters were far, far darker in the books).
This episode features some truly marvelous set-pieces: a 4.377 upside-down on a gas station sign spells HELL. After a walker attack outside the service bay, Michonne asks Tyreese why he almost got dead, and in response he questions why she’s still looking for the Governor. Last episode featured some seriously condescending speechifying, but in this one our characters interact plausibly. Michonne advises Tyreese not to be angry – she isn’t, or so she claims – but she also has no idea why she’s still searching for the Governor, and it’s a little uncomfortable. Tyreese, on the other hand, is pretty upfront that he doesn’t know what he’s up to, and that yeah, he may just want to die.
At the gas station, Bob bares his true face. Daryl finds an empty bottle of antifreeze next to a pile of vomit and a sinewy walker. He narrows his eyes, shakes his head, mutters that anyone who’d commit suicide is a douchebag. Hovering next to Daryl, Bob defends people’s right to end their lives as they choose. Like everybody else, Bob has gone through some ghastly things in the post-apocalyse. He tells Daryl that when they found him, twice he’d been part of other groups, and twice he was the only one left standing. As a result of constantly reliving the deaths of everybody around him, Bob tells Daryl, “used to be I’d drink a bottle of anything just so I could shut my eyes at night.” Dragging on a cigarette, Bob spews his guts about Zach, tells him that Zach died as a result of Bob’s latent alcoholism. In true Daryl form, the hillbilly hero shrugs off this confession as bullshit and tells Bob to help hot-wire the damn car, already. Daryl’s suspicious of everybody on this run, and rightly so: Michonne has what one would politely term a wild streak, Tyreese is losing his damn mind, and Bob’s a little shady. But when Bob finally confesses, Daryl starts to trust him, just a bit.
Unfortunately, Bob is evidently not worth the small measure of confidence. After all, alcoholics are notorious for defending their right to kill themselves slowly (and for dragging everyone around them down a rabbit hole of doom). Bob surreptitiously picks up a bottle of booze, and when the walkers get hold of his bag, he fights them nearly to the death for it. Not for the medicine, not for the prison. For the booze. When Daryl tries to get rid of the bottle, Bob nearly pulls a weapon on him – and nobody tries to shoot Daryl without consequence. Particularly when said gunshot would draw every walker in a five-mile radius. Unless he can get himself together, Bob’s a hazard to everyone in an already treacherous universe.
Meanwhile, Rick and Carol are on a different run, this one for food. They venture into suburbia, where they discover a station wagon into whose grimy windows someone has smeared “Pardon our dust.” It’s such a simple, tongue-in-cheek message; pardon the apocalypse, it seems to be saying. Pardon the ashes of humanity. Please pardon us. Combined with the HELL of the gas station sign, it adds a bitter poignancy to this episode.
In what’s become a relatively rare occurrence, we meet a few characters who aren’t meant to stick around. While Carol and Rick root around for cough medicine and extra food, a walker tumbles down the stairs of a colonial, almost taking out Carol. Once she gathers her bearings and stabs it in the head, two teenagers pop out of the bathroom at the top of the stairs. The kids tell their own story as though there’s nothing to be that upset about. It’s all still exciting to them. They’re so super excited to help, even though they’re both injured. The whole world’s ahead of them, and it seems they’ve found saviors. This is how you know they’re not going to survive – the title of this episode, after all, is “Indifference,” and anyone who shows enthusiasm or feels heavy emotions is probably not too long for this world.
Carol fixes the man’s dislocated shoulder with grace and clinical ease. Rick asks her how she learned to do that, and she explains that telling the ER nurse she fell down the stairs a third time was just too much. Once again, Carol’s character has changed so drastically since first season that we very nearly forget she lived with a horribly abusive husband for decades. “I didn’t think I could be strong,” she tells Rick, without a hint of a smile. “I didn’t know I could. I already was.”
Throughout the whole trip, Rick’s been nearly silent, eyeing her, weighing and measuring her. He knows what she did, and he’s doing his best to figure out the next step. When the two begin to debate “humane” versus “right,” Rick suddenly understands she’s beyond a point of no return (or beyond Rick’s, anyway). She strenuously defends her actions, rationalizing that by murdering Karen and David she was trying to save them all; she was merciful, she was good. She also jabs at him lightly: he ain’t no saint, so to speak. He did, after all, murder Shane, and he would murder almost anyone to save his kids. “You can be a farmer, Rick, but you can’t just be a farmer.” Way to succinctly address the whole theme of this season. (I’m only rolling my eyes a little bit, this time – Melissa McBride makes Carol come alive, and if anyone can get away with these lines, it’s her.)
Rick details Lori’s desire to be a good, normal, Southern family. Even though she was terrible at making pancakes, Lori “wanted us to be the kind of family that ate pancakes on Sunday.” This yearning for normalcy, striving for the status quo, feels hollow and empty in this (un)dead world…but it’s difficult not to think about your family, your past, your good and bad deeds, when you’re surrounded by reminders. When the two of them poke their heads out from behind the white picket fence (metaphor alert!), they discover the walkers eating the enthusiastic girl. Nobody flinches. As Beth keeps saying, “We don’t get to be upset.”
Finally, Rick comes out with it. In Rick’s world, you don’t kill the living (unless you’re Rick). He warns Carol (rightfully) that Tyreese will kill her, and if not, the others will kick her out. Finally, he explains that he doesn’t want her there. He’s completely lost trust in her. She hands him a present from her former husband, wondering aloud why she hadn’t got rid of it before. After she jumps in the station wagon, she doesn’t even slow down to say goodbye. Pardon Carol’s dust.
This episode hit all the right buttons. As I’ve said before, The Walking Dead is at its best when it artfully balances the action of a deadly post-apocalyptic United States with the flawed humanity of the people who still inhabit that world. We’ve been stuck in the prison for so long, we started to forget what the outside world was like – and this episode was a brilliant reminder. The writers are still being a tad obvious for my taste, but if these storylines continue I’ll stick around for the long haul. What’s right and what’s humane? Who’s angry and who’s struggling with demons? Perhaps most importantly, is Carol actually gone? If so, Rick banished a truly pragmatic, very valuable character. (I certainly hope she comes back.)
What did you think of this week’s episode?