“We all change. We all don’t get to be the same way we started.”
A more somber than usual episode of The Walking Dead this week, but not because of the usual bleak apocalyptic scenario. This week’s script, by new comer Matthew Negrete, was a more intimate affair than usual, focusing on the show’s characters; delving deeper into the ones we know, and establishing depth for the new characters too.
It was, in fact, quite reminiscent of last season’s Clear, which took a select group of the gang out of the usual setting to interact in an unfamiliar setting, while out on one of the show’s usually ill-fated supply hunts. With just about every major character ill and/or quarantined, we followed two parties out searching for medical supplies. The first was the continuing adventures of Daryl, Michonne, Bob and Tyreese, having fled their abandoned car last week. The other, inevitably, was Rick, unwillingly taking on the role of decision-maker again as he set out on a trip with Carol.
Ah, Carol. The show’s being quite brave in casting one of its most-loved characters in the role of “the new Shane”, with her calculated murder of Karen and David. For the best of intentions, of course. “I was trying to save lives,” she stated flatly. “I had to try. Somebody had to.”
It could have smacked of excuse-making, but Melissa McBride’s stoic, matter-of-fact performance sold it differently. This is a very different Carol to the cowed, passive beaten wife we met back in season one; in fact, we saw her talking about her former life here for the first time since the death of her abusive husband Ed and her zombified daughter Sophia.
Looking back, it’s a logical character progression, which really has its roots in the loss of her daughter. Not only did she take on the role of mother to the whole community, she adopted Shane’s pragmatic philosophy that morals had to take second place to loyalty and survival. Still, what mother wouldn’t go to any length to protect her charges? Especially one conscious that she’s already failed in that duty to her own daughter.
It led to the same kind of moral debates that occupied the characters so frequently when Shane was still alive to debate his ruthless pragmatism against Dale’s pre-apocalypse ethics. And as it did then, the debate led the viewer uncomfortably to contemplate whether Carol’s approach wasn’t, after all, the only logical thing to do. She had a chance to stop the plague before it claimed any more victims. It could have worked. But it didn’t.
How much more uncomfortable would this debate have been if it had, I wonder? As it was, Rick had that failure as another argument on his side – as he pointed out, Karen and David might actually have survived. He was right in saying that Carol didn’t have the right to take that decision by herself.
It was an intense debate, but not a static one as the ever-present Walkers continued to pop up while the pair searched an abandoned suburb. Well, as it turned out, not quite abandoned; having shot a lethargic Walker in a nice little house, they discovered a young couple barricaded in the bedroom, having been hiding for a couple of days.
Sam and Ana were another set of counterparts to our regular heroes, showing – like Clara a few weeks ago – how they might have turned out if things had gone differently for them. Unlike the unhinged, broken Clara, they seemed to have survived mostly by being very, very lucky; Sam was the first to admit their incompetence at killing Walkers, and Ana was handicapped (literally) by a badly healed broken leg.
It was perhaps a trifle unconvincing that they’d survived even this long; but luck eventually runs out, as we saw when, having been sent off to search more houses, Ana’s death was signalled when Rick and Carol found her distinctively tattooed leg – minus the rest of her. And Sam simply never showed up again.
It was an understated death for both, with Ana shown being eaten in long shot and Sam (presumably) dying offscreen. But it allowed for more cut and thrust in the debate between Rick and Carol. She was far less keen than he on welcoming them into the community, and when Sam didn’t return, she was dismissive of Rick’s desire to wait a bit longer. In short, it encapsulated where each has come to in their characters’ journeys. Rick’s just as keen as she is to protect the community; the trouble is, his kind of pragmatism doesn’t extend to killing its own members to protect it. Both had a point.
The other party got more or less equal screen time, and a fair bit of character exploration of their own. But as a less pressing plot point than Carol’s newfound status as murderer, their character business was intercut with far more Walker action. As with last season’s Clear, the ep never sidelined the Walkers completely, sensibly remembering that you really need some zombies in your zombie show.
So, while their plot strand explored the similarity of Tyreese’s rage towards Karen’s unknown (to him anyway) killer, and Michonne’s unresolved issues with the Governor, they also had to contend with an overgrown service station full of penned-in Walkers. It was a well-realised set piece, with the rage-driven Tyreese hacking thoughtlessly at the vines and unwittingly releasing the Walkers penned within, who were surprisingly difficult to deal with. Particularly since Tyreese’s anger seems to have given him a death wish, as he grappled with a Walker even as Michonne urged him to let it go so she could kill it.
Of that team, we already know Daryl pretty well; but even if his character didn’t get any more development than it already had, he served perfectly as a sounding board for the others. He it was who got Michonne to concede that her ongoing search for the Governor was a Captain Ahab-style waste of time; he also drew the reticent Bob out to admit that he felt guilt over his alcoholism and its vague but (to him) real connection with the death of Zach.
Larry Gilliard has been an interesting presence as Bob, given more depth here than his comic book counterpart. The character’s alcoholism, though, is right out of the comic, and has been played well after the initial hints of his indecisive lingering by the wine rack in the season premiere.
So it was that, even while Daryl insisted that the new world gave him a second chance, he fell inevitably back into old habits, endangering the whole party as they finally found and plundered the veterinary college Hershel had directed them to. This was another good set piece, well-directed by Tricia Brock, as the gang warily picked their way through the college’s darkened corridors, trying and ultimately failing not to attract the attention of more bleeding-eyed Walkers.
This might be some kind of a clue about the mysterious disease; Bob found evidence that people had been camping at the college not that long ago. Were they the ones who had turned into the Walkers the gang didn’t dare shoot for fear of infection? There wasn’t time to linger over the question though, as the escape turned into a full-pelt chase for an exit that was hard to find. And then Bob risked his life to retain the bag that was being grabbed at by Walkers. His companions presumably thought he was desperate to save the medicine within; but the viewers may have been less surprised that his fervour was to protect nothing more than a bottle of booze.
Daryl, to give him credit, has never been so angry. Norman Reedus sold the moment well as he seemed almost ready to throw Bob to the Walkers. But whatever else he is, Bob’s a medic. They need him. But I think he’d better take Daryl seriously when he said that if he took a drink before the sick got their medicine, his life expectancy would be a lot shorter than previously assumed.
Gore of the week
Actually not much this week; in keeping with a rather understated episode, even the gore there was was less spectacular than usual. Aside from Ana’s severed leg and the long shot of her being eaten, most of the gore came from Daryl’s party fending off the vine-tangled Walkers at the service station. In particular, there were some good decapitations:
And it’s worth noting, as we get a fait bit of detail on them these days, that the Walkers are getting conspicuously more decomposed as the show progresses. The makeup is impressive; but it does beg the question of whether the Walkers will eventually decompose so much as to be effectively immobile and no real threat. Perhaps that’s the best our heroes can hope for.
This was a contemplative, dialogue-heavy episode, but the investment in the characters stopped it from being in any way dull. Well, that and the continuing inclusion of a basic quota of Walkers per week. It was really Melissa McBride’s episode, as foreshadowed by her cold open chat with the rather creepy Lizzie, who still seems to think Walkers represent life after death.
That scene came across like a goodbye from Carol, who didn’t seem all that surprised when Rick firmly told her they needed to part company. Again pragmatically, it’s doubtful any of the community, particularly Tyreese, will ever trust her again. But her departure is bound to have consequences; driving away, Rick was plainly not quite holding back tears (nice performance from Andrew Lincoln). And just what will Daryl do when he finds out what’s happened to his beloved Carol?
As it happens, I’d be surprised if we’ve actually seen the last of her. But it’s hard to know. The ep played like a goodbye, but with the exception of the Governor and his cronies, no character in this show has yet had a goodbye that involved them remaining alive. And we know the Governor’s due to make a reappearance; I’d very much expect Carol too as well. In the mean time, this ep served very well as a riposte to all those reviewers who maintain that the show’s characters lack depth and don’t engage the audience. This was an ep all about the characters, and it was gripping and affecting.