Spoilers ahead for those of you who are not caught up with AMC’s The Walking Dead.
Since the fourth season premiere, I’ve been trying to suss out exactly which differences Scott Gimple, the latest showrunner, is bringing to the series that deviate from the approach his predecessors, Frank Darabont and Glenn Mazzara, took in bringing the comic series to the small screen. I believe I can now see a pattern, and it’s one that I appreciate and am becoming excited about.
He seems to be making a concerted effort to bring many of the iconic moments and story lines from the comic to life as well as constructing a very intricate and tightly woven web with which each character is being given the space to come into their own, while at the same time still retaining their connection with the group as a whole… simply put, the stories have become more complicated with greater character development, and a balance seems to have been struck between the slower more character driven bits and the balls out zombie mayhem.
That said… for as much fun as I’ve had in watching the new season unfold, it’s also become difficult to write about each episode without getting into “recap” mode. In order to avoid that, I’m just going to focus on three things this time around… Tyreese, Carol, and Hershel; three people whose struggles sum up the experience of the whole best.
For comic readers, Tyreese’s appearance last season was one of the more exciting moments of the series thus far… which quickly turned quite sour when we saw one of our favorite characters rendered lame with the arc he was given. I’m generally not too hung up on changes to the source material, this is a different medium and they are telling a slightly tweaked version of the same story, I’m cool with that… but I haven’t been cool with how they have handled Tyreese… until now.
Not only did we get two iconic moments that were ripped straight from the comic with minor alterations (the fight with Rick and his coming out of certain death with his mighty hammer flying), but his character was allowed to grow and show some depth beyond the whole nice guy routine. We saw a glimpse of the fire behind his eyes in the last season when he held Allen over the screamer pits, but it hasn’t be present until now.
Of course… some of the similarity between this episode and the comic could have something to do with the fact that Robert Kirkman wrote the script for Isolation. That may have a slight influence.
His arc this episode was to show a man brought to as low a point as could be imagined (paralleling Rick’s descent into madness last season), then making the decision to continue the fight… to not give up… and to maintain his humanity and self in the face of the truly horrible. He found a use for his sadness and rage, and it manifested itself in the decision to essentially kill himself… then to pull out in the last minute.
Also, and this is what I meant by the expert weaving of the story telling this season, he was able to have scenes with multiples characters over the course of the hour, and to flesh out more of who he is a person… a caring, loving man with a deep intensity for doing the right thing… and a hidden brutal ferocity. His scenes with Rick were stupendous… not just the fight, but also Rick’s apology and his question of whether murder is allowed in the prison. Tyreese is a lover… but he will fight for justice. Which then made the scene with Carol a very uncomfortable moment… even before we knew just how uncomfortable it would become. There was a moment when Tyreese was standing behind Carol that simply felt ominous… little did we know just how ominous that scene really was.
Now, Carol… has any character had as much of a tranformative arc as she has? She began as the battered wife to Ed in the first season, the frightened mother to a lost, and eventually undead Sophia, a woman escaping death and finding herself in the third season, and now a battle hardened and murderous bad ass willing to do whatever it takes to protect herself and those around her. For someone who had such a minor role in the beginning, and was, in my opinion, annoying and thoroughly unlikable, she has become a fascinating character.
I think what surprised me the most about her reveal that she killed Karen and David is that I didn’t see it coming at all. Some people are speculating that she is simply covering up for Lizzie, who many believe to be the true killer… but I don’t buy it. I can understand why she killed them… trying to protect the prison for further infection… but I don’t see how she is going to explain her actions to a very upset Tyreese.
Here’s a question I have. I don’t recall… but did she injure her hand in the previous episode? How did Rick deduce that it was her based on the blood on the door? I enjoyed Rick playing detective… I just don’t understand, other than her behavior when she went out to get the water, how he figured it out.
I admit… I was not a fan of how the show was treating Carol in the beginning. Much like Tyreese, they took a number of liberties with her character, although, I didn’t mind the changes as much since she was never one of my fave of the original characters. I am very pleased with how she has evolved over the seasons… it feels believable and makes her a very sympathetic and well rounded person… and her flirtations with Daryl and Axel have been highlights in an otherwise dreary and morbid tale.
Another highlight, and someone else whose first appearance left me a bit cold, is Hershel. He has become the de facto moral center of the group and a wonderful grandfatherly figure for everyone. He is just as capable dispensing pearls of wisdom as he is little jabs of humor, and has become a solid foundation for Carl to learn how to become a better man. The scenes between he and Carl were some of my favorite moment from Isolation… and he is helping everyone, the viewers included, in understanding the difference between need and desire. Carl may have desired to take out the walkers in the woods, but thanks to some guidance from an older man with perspective, he can learn that he doesn’t need to. Like Rick said, only take it out when you need to.
Hershel’s decision to leave quarantine and to administer aid to those that need it shows us just how deep his humanity runs… and that act alone, for all of it’s stupidity, is exactly why Hershel is so dear to the show. To do the right thing regardless of what it may mean to you personally is a lesson that, if every person were to follow, the world would be a much better place. He is a constant reminder of what we could become if only we had the heart for it… and fortunately, Rick and Carl have been paying attention to the grizzled old guy.
Three bad-asses… three different flavors… one amazing episode.
Of course, there was a ton more that happened in Isolation. The flu rages on and people are being put into quarantine… Daryl, Michonne, Bob, and Ty are on a supply run and get stopped by a massive herd of zombies, probably the best zombie scene of the season thus far… a message was heard on the radio… Carl has his hat back now that he’s no longer farming… Glenn is sick… Lizzie is sick… Sasha is sick… Dr. S is very sick and coughing up blood and splattering Hershel in the face… and Rick seems to have finally come full circle and is back to being the cop he started as, even if he lost his shit a little and beat the living tar out of Tyreese. It’s tough keeping your cool in the zombie apocalypse.
Overall, Isolation was a fantastic episode that not only propelled the story forward, but advanced a number of character arcs without dragging the episode down with exposition. We got an answer to a mystery, who killed Karen and David, yet we still have the mystery of who was feeding the rats hanging in the air… we have some hope for the flu victims in the search for the meds, yet we get a herd of zombies blocking their path… like I said, many threads being weaved with nary a straight line to be seen… and that becomes a story worth investing your time in.
Also… what’s with every episode title, minus the premiere this season, starting with the letter I? Do you think that is a mystery that will become clear by the end?
Oh Bob… you red herring you,
Cornelius J. Blahg
PS: Someone needs to make a video of Tyreese and his hammer and synch it up with MC Hammer… please do this.