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We watch television for a variety of reasons. For crazy explosions, the killing of monsters, to see two people fall in love, or to watch an average person save the world from some horrible evil. But, at the end of the day, what keeps us coming back week after week isn’t the crazy make-up or special effects of a series (although, for a show like The Walking Dead, those elements certainly enhance things quite a bit). What keeps us coming back are the relationships between characters that develop over time. It’s seeing a character go from being a doormat for an abusive husband to become a strong character who acts with conviction in the face of danger. Or watching a broken man struggle and fail to contain his alcoholism, even when he desperately knows it can and likely will destroy him.
“Indifference,” the latest episode in Walking Dead’s fourth season is yet another stellar outing for the series. And, it’s so great for the reasons I outlined above. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Walking Dead works best when the show remembers that the characters we turn in to see week after week aren’t the zombies. This episode is the perfect balance of action and character building.
I’ll start with the weaker of the two storylines for this week: the continued adventures of Daryl, Michonne, Tyresse, and Bob in the search for medicine. In addition to giving us several awesome zombie kills, this arm of the week’s story serves two distinct purposes. First, it serves to let us know that this killer flu has become an epidemic of sorts (or, in the alternative, was an epidemic that has now spread from the hospital), as the walkers trapped within the hospital are all showing signs of the virus. The second, and more important, purpose of the storyline is to offer us a few crucial glimpses into Bob’s past struggles, as well as bring about some form of closure for both Tyresse and Michonne’s continuing struggles with the deaths of those they held dear.
Bob, like his comic counterpart, is a man haunted by many past demons. To quell those demons, and drown out the “silence,” Bob self-medicates through alcohol. Bob’s frank admission of his trouble with alcohol completely surprised me. Not that he has the problem, but that he is willing to admit to it, only to give into his desire to drink later in the episode. Daryl’s hurt and angry reaction to the revelation that Bob is willing to risk his life to save his bottle of booze is appropriately heartbreaking in light of all Daryl had to endure at the hands of alcoholics in his own past (while it was never expressly stated, Merle clearly had a past with alcohol, and it was hinted that their father was an abusive drunk as well). As with so many things on Dead, I’m sure Bob’s problem will only get worse before it gets better. But, despite the potential for disaster, I’m thrilled the show is slowly peeling back Bob’s layers.
In a slightly more disappointing bit of characterization, Tyreese gives up his quest to get himself killed after Michonne has a heart to heart with him. While I appreciate that the conversation adds more layers to Michonne’s character, her admission that she doesn’t know why she has continued to search for the Governor rings hollow. A key point of the first few episodes was that Michonne is always leaving. If even she doesn’t understand why (I assumed it was to avenge Andrea, right?), it just screams of poorly plotted writing. Similarly, Tyreese becoming suicidally sloppy when he’s on a mission to potentially save his sister doesn’t make much sense either. Sure, Karen is dead, but your sister needs you, Tyreese. Stop being a selfish idiot. I’m hopeful that Michonne actually has a reason for her Governor trips that we’ll discover later, and that Tyreese has officially left the land of self-pity.
The best portion of this week’s episode is, without a doubt, the Rick and Carol supply run storyline. While the episode’s title is apropos for several characters, it rings most truly when associated with Carol. Her outwardly blase attitude toward the death of those around her screams of indifference (and, is intrepreted as such by Rick). As I’ve written in past weeks, the transformation of Carol this season has been nothing short of miraculous. To take a secondary character and flesh her out in such vivid detail over the course of a few episodes is amazing. And to have each change within the character link to her past tragedies and triumphs was even more wonderful to see. A huge tip of the hat to Scott Gimple and his staff for the work they have done.
This new Carol is hardened. She puts on a front, giving off the impression she doesn’t care about what she must do to survive. But, it does in fact cut her deeply, as we have seen in the few moments we get Carol on her own. She cries over the thought of Lizzie dying. She breaks down defending the killing of Karen and Dave to Rick. She’s not the emotionless drone Rick fears Carl may become, but I wonder if that lingering fear of Carl’s mental state colors Rick’s actions with Carol. She’s no longer the compassionate, yet broken, woman he first met. Like Carl, she has lost those close to her and learned that this new world has little place for compassion. She ascribes to the kill or be killed philosophy Carl was clinging to last season.
It is chilling to see Carol nonchalantly walk away from the dead girl she and Rick met. And to see her tell Rick they need to leave Sam when he doesn’t return on time. Rick’s justification for sending her away is that she cannot be trusted now that she’s killed two of their own. But, considering some of the actions of others in their group, I’m not sure that reasoning holds water anymore. I’m more apt to believe his other reasoning – that Tyreese is sure to kill her when he finds out – is a more sound reason for having her leave. Either way, since so much time has been spent on deepening the character of Carol these past three episodes, Rick’s unilateral decision to banish her from the prison cuts all the more deeply than it would have if she remained a forgotten secondary character languishing in the background.
I have every confidence that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Carol, if only because Daryl certainly won’t stand for it when he hears that she’s gone. I just hope that we don’t have to wait an entire year before we see her again, as we had to with Merle. After all, there are precious few female characters on Dead, the show can’t afford to lose many more.
-- Lizzie’s outlook on the world is the polar opposite of Carl’s. It is also strangely similar, in a way, to Milton’s last season. Her speech about how the walkers are the same people, just different brough back memories of Milton’s experiments to find latent humanity in walkers last year.
-- I’m actually kind of sad that Sam didn’t make it back to the prison. Granted, he could very well still be alive (and, perhaps be bringing some friends to the prison, since Rick did tell him where it is), but I’d like for someone Rick runs into outside the prison to actually make it back to the prison.
-- I could have sworn Bob put medicine in his backpack.
-- Is it just me, or was it a bit scary when Michonne smiled?
-- Speaking of Michonne, I’m trying to figure out if the show wants to pair her off with Rick, Daryl, or Tyreese. Or, perhaps, she just has chemistry with all three?
-- Finally, hurry back Carol! We’ll miss you! And, if this is the last we'll see of Carol, kudos to Melissa McBride for her excellent work throughout the series, particularly in these past several episodes. You will be missed as well.