Three episodes into season 4, and I feel comfortable saying that this season already has more promise and direction than the last two years have shown. I feel totally, solidly on board with the show again. It seems like a lot of credit needs to go to the new showrunner, Scott Gimple, who replaced Glen Mazzara, who in turn replaced Frank Darabont, who left in the middle of the uneven second season. This kind of revolving leadership is never a good sign, but The Walking Dead seems to have found its footing again. I can’t be the only person with renewed faith in the show — it was recently announced that AMC picked up a 5th season with Gimple remaining at the helm.
If the name “Scott Gimple” doesn’t mean that much to you, it should be noted that he is also a writer on the series and is responsible for some of the best standalone episodes so far, including “Pretty Much Dead Already” from season 2 (ZombieSophia’s discovery) and last year’s “Clear,” which showcased the return of Morgan, Rick’s savior from season 1. In a recent interview with EW, Gimple said, “I did ‘Pretty Much Dead Already,’ and I was so happy and proud to do that episode. I did ‘Save The Last One,’ I did ‘Clear’ and ‘Hounded,’ and I just want to make more episodes like that.” I think we’ve seen “more episodes like that” in this trio of initial 4th season offerings.
So, let’s talk “Isolation.”
At the end of last week, Tyreese discovered the murdered and immolated bodies of Karen and David. This week picks up with Tyreese, distraught, showing the bodies to Rick, Carol, and Daryl. As we’ve learned, Rick has stepped out of his leadership role, yet when something awful goes down, it’s no surprise that he’s the one summoned to deal with it. And he’s uniquely positioned for this particular problem — someone murdered Karen and David and as a former Sheriff, this is his mystery to solve.
Meanwhile, more of the survivors are coming down with the flu, including Dr. S and Sasha. The council decides to declare cell block A (where we find the lethal injection room is ominously located) isolation and with more and more of the survivors being quarantined, Rick is thrust back into leadership again out of necessity. In turn, he enlists Carl to help protect the un-infected, who are also quarantined out in the administration section. Over the last several months, he’s tried to keep both of them out of the death and killing as much as possible. But now Rick has given his son back his gun and told him to use it to protect his sister, but that the answer isn’t always going to be pulling the trigger. During this conversation, Carl is angrily packing a bag — it’s the same one they took off the dead hitchhiker in “Clear.” I predicted the actions of that one episode were going to hang over this season. Here it is again, hiding in plain sight.
Later, Rick comes across Hershel and Maggie fighting. Hershel isn’t ill, but he’s headed into cellblock A anyway with a crate of herbal flu remedies. Neither Rick nor Maggie want him to go in — it’s selfish, of course, because he’s Maggie’s father and Rick’s friend, but also practical as one of the few medically trained individuals the group has. Hershel angrily tells them that everything about this world might kill them, “even breathing,” so the only control over your life (and death) is what you’re willing to risk it for.
Maggie lets him into the cellblock.
During the council meeting, when it is decided to isolate the sick from the rest of the population, Hershel identifies a veterinary college that might have the medications they need to treat the infection. Daryl, Michonne, and Bob agree to take the trip. After a tearful exchange with Sasha (who appears to have bedded down in the death chamber), Tyreese decides to accompany them. We’ve gotten relatively little screentime with the duo since their introduction last year, but it’s clear from their scenes that the siblings are very close. The murder of his girlfriend and the threat of his sister’s death weigh heavily on Tyreese.
During the drive out, Daryl tries to tease out of Michonne her reasons for continuing to hunt The Governor down, though she declines to discuss it with him. As they talk, the radio scanner picks up a faint broadcast of a voice calling out “sanctuary.” Distracted by the broadcast, the away team literally plows into a herd of walkers. There are so many walkers that running them over eventually creates such a pile of bodies the car no longer has any traction and must be abandoned. That’s a lot of walker bodies.
Daryl, Bob, and Michonne fight their way to the tree line but realize that Tyreese isn’t with them. He’s been sitting in the car the whole time, the door open, seemingly ready to give up the fight. In a burst of anger he exits the car, swinging his hammer at the horde surrounding him. There was a real moment where I thought Tyreese might go down. The show’s willingness to kill off main characters doesn’t mean that a comic fan-favorite like Tyreese is necessarily safe from death. And, let’s be honest, the show hasn’t done itself any favors with its history of Highlandering the POC characters. Bob is right there and he’s had a couple of lines of dialog. Last year, that would have meant Tyreese was toast.
But instead, Bob, Michonne, and Tyreese manage to survive the onslaught and escape into the woods.
A long shot of the horde shows thousands of walkers, the largest group we’ve seen so far. And they’re headed in the direction of the prison.
I’ve said before that Carol has developed into one of my favorite characters on the show. She’s had a quiet but incredibly satisfying arc — one of the few female roles on the show to have had a lot of development. She was a mousy domestic violence victim in the 1st season, a grieving and almost catatonic mother in the 2nd, and the 3rd started to see the beginning of the resilient, practical, and determined woman she is now. Just look at her clothing choices — in this episode, she’s in heavy military boots and cargo pants, with her knife prominently displayed on her hip. We used to see her in flowing sweaters and shapeless clothing. It’s the outward display of her inward transformation.
Carol’s also stepped up quite a bit in the leadership of the group. She may not be able to take on a bunch of walkers with a gun and survive, but there are other ways to be a fighter. Who can forget her Mata Hari advice to Andrea last season? She sits on the council, she organizes patrols, and teaches the kids how to handle knives behind their parent’s backs.
When the infected need to be isolated, she’s the one who ushers them into cellblock A. When the sick cry and plead, she is firm on the need to keep them separated. When Lizzie, the girl that Carol has adopted, shows up saying that she’s sick and terrified of the quarantine, Carol gives her a hug and still sends her into A block. When the group needs water and Rick is distracted, Carol goes out to the lake on her own to clear the pump lines, even though it puts her at risk of being attacked by walkers. And she is — though Rick is close enough to rescue her, picking up his gun for the first time in months to save her life.
Carol does what needs to be done to protect the group. That is her place. That is her role.
That’s why she killed Karen and David, and burned their bodies. And she has to live with what she did and know that it didn’t save anyone.