I’ve been alternating The Walking Dead with True Detective and House of Cards (both of which, let’s be frank, are much better). Paired with the rapidly melting eighteen inches of snow that blanketed the east coast last week, this television trio makes for a very…intense February. Of all the shows I’ve recapped, I take the fewest notes on The Walking Dead; I can best guess what’s happening next and I have a sturdy handle on what the writers are doing. No idea if this is because I’ve been paying attention for three years now, or if the teleplays are particularly transparent, or what.
Either way, this week’s “Inmates” tries for an overarching theme about hope, about the prison of the mind. Now that they’re out of the physical prison, the scattered remains of Rick’s crew have to tackle their freedom and reevaluate their respective states of mind. The episode begins with a voiceover from Beth (a character I find immensely boring): she’s reading a journal addressed to her dead mother (R.I.P). You’ve just got to have hope! she’s telling us. Daryl, her sole companion in the escape, isn’t having it. That gent has no time or space for hope. We’re watching these characters revert to their original states – and it’s not very exciting. The key to keeping your audience interested is to move your folks in new directions, not to sweep them back to the beginning again. Beth and Daryl encounter the scene of a massacre, walkers consuming the flesh of some former prison inhabitants. A baby shoe lies abandoned in the center of a pile of viscera. As almost anybody would, Beth totally loses her shit – and Daryl stares impassively. We’ve all got our coping mechanisms.
After ten minutes and the reassurance that Daryl made it out (let’s face it, he’s the show’s biggest damn hero at this point), the writers bounce us over to Tyreese, Lizzie, and Mika. Tyreese has Judith, who’s very much alive, as Reddit guessed and I said last week. Let’s just pause this for a moment to give the show (and actor Brighton Sharbino, who also is on this week’s episode of True Detective) some mad props for depicting a child sociopath. When the four of them pause to camp, Lizzie spies two baby bunnies inside a log and stabs them to death with her knife. Her face displays avid curiosity, willful determination, and nothing else.
When Mika, the more sensitive of the two, accidentally grabs Tyreese’s injured arm, he chastises her, because OUCH. Of course, Mika runs away when she hears a noise, and Lizzie rips into Tyreese: “Don’t yell at her, she doesn’t understand walkers!” In a display of complete awareness, Mika responds, “You don’t understand them!” I think that’s far closer to the truth. It’s clear at this point that the flayed rat corpse Tyreese discovered in the bowels of the prison was left by Lizzie, and that she was the one feeding the walkers. She has no idea what or who they are – I think because she has no idea what death actually is. Because she is a tiny psychopath.
Tyreese places the girls back to back, hands Judith to Lizzie, and sprints off to help people screaming in the distance. When Judith just won’t stop crying, Lizzie places her tiny child hand over Judith’s hands and nose. She bears no expression as Judith starts to suffocate, and the asshats behind the camera made this moment suspenseful and terrible. When two walkers shamble up to Mika, we find out Lizzie’s about to let her panicked sister die in favor of murdering a crying, helpless baby. AGH. When Lizzie and Mika appear again, everyone’s still alive, but it’s not Lizzie’s choice. Her favorite person in the world, Carol, has returned to us. In the basement of the prison, just before the attack, Rick got as far as telling Tyreese that the person who killed Karen was not the same person as the one killing the rats – but he didn’t get to tell Tyreese it was Carol who murdered Karen. As such, he’s thrilled to see her. So am I, honestly!
The strange, insane family unit comes across a handmade sign pointing them toward a terminus, toward sanctuary and community for all. Squinty face.
Having run directly from the prison firefight, Maggie, Sasha, and Bob are camped out briefly on the river. Once again, we witness everybody’s version of coping; Bob’s grinning because he “knows it’s all gonna be okay,” while Sasha and Maggie are not nearly as sanguine. When Maggie stalks away to find Glenn, Sasha and Bob have no choice but to follow her. They pass a sign, riddled with bullet holes, screaming HITCHHIKERS MAY BE ESCAPING INMATES. Why yes, in a way, everyone moving around these parts right now is an escaping inmate. Escaping from the prison, escaping from each other, escaping from confinement; however, it’s proving to be out of the frying pan and into the fire, as the old adage goes.
The mismatched trio discovers the prison bus, and it’s full of walkers. In the interest of finding Glenn, they decide to let them out the back door one at a time…why does anyone think this is a good idea? “Because you’re a bunch of idiots,” I muttered aloud to myself.
Glenn, who is not among the walkers on the bus, awakens atop the crumbling guard tower completely surrounded by walkers. He’s still recovering from his illness, and now he’s been unconscious for hours. Not good, not good. He crashes on the bed in his cell momentarily to gather himself, and you can see that he’s on the verge of giving up. Freedom is complicated; this place is familiar and gave these people a sense of safety they hadn’t had in years. When he spies a picture of Maggie sleeping (CREEPY), it gives him that last push.
Glenn tears out of the prison dressed in full riot gear. On his way out, he encounters Tara, sitting catatonic and alone behind a portion of chain link fence, surrounded by walkers. He knows she’s one of the bad guys so takes her gun, which still contains every single bullet; she shot none in the fight. He needs her help, and the two of them escape together. Although she talked a hard game, she’s actually not very good at this zombie apocalypse stuff. On top of that, she’s crippled by guilt. She saw her sister murdered, and she was witness to Hershel’s beheading (which of course Glenn didn’t know about). “Hershel was a great man, and he told me all I have to do is believe, so that’s what I’m gonna do,” he says defiantly. Always the hero (and well-suited for Maggie, who’s always the damn heroine), Glenn tries to take on a whole herd by himself. In his state of weakness, Glenn falls to the ground, gasping for breath.
“Hope you enjoyed the show, assholes,” Tara screams to the military folk who climb idly out of their massive vehicle, armed with big guns. Are these good guys or bad guys? Something tells me the latter.
Everyone is dealing with this new development in his own way. As we saw last episode, Carl’s found that he isn’t equipped to be on his own yet; Michonne, oddly, discovered the same thing. Glenn, Bob, Beth, and Mika are clinging to fraying hopes, largely imparted by Hershel. Daryl, Tyreese, and Carol are nothing if not pragmatic. And if she goes unchecked, Lizzie’s going to start actually murdering folks. Carol’s return will no doubt prove dramatic, and I’m glad for it. But on episode 10 of season 4, we’re still wandering around without much development. In fact, we’re moving backwards. The military men feel repetitve, and their respective survival schemas take our characters in another big circle. Quit reverting and move forward, writers.
A frustrated aside: why are the walkers always completely silent until the proper scare moment? Beth’s necklace and long hair are so grabbable. Haven’t you people read the Zombie Survival Guide? Finally, if as we saw in last episode, Hershel’s disembodied head was zombiefied, why does knifing the walkers in the head supposedly stop them? The writers are losing some cred here. (ETA: a friend pointed out that Hershel’s brain was still alive. I suppose that is an answer. I got my mythologies mixed up.)