This is a review for the current episode of The Walking Dead. If you have not watched it, don’t read this… spoilers abound.
There have been moments throughout the four seasons of AMC’s The Walking Dead that have left me wondering whether or not the show is worth all the hoopla and excitement surrounding it. I have alternated between feeling like an apologist for sub-par story telling and a cheerleader for quality that others seem to be overlooking… fortunately, the last two episodes have put my mind at ease in thinking that the show has finally hit its stride, and I believe much of that has to do with getting a showrunner, Scott Gimple, who understands what works in the source material as well as how to apply it, and more importantly, what should be changed and what should remain the same in terms of bringing this story to life for television and bridging the two media in a way that will work for fans of both.
What worked so well for me in this latest episode, Inmates, is how they are now playing with structure and technique in ways that they hadn’t before… specifically, I loved how they created four different arcs divided into two different clusters… and really, if taken together with last weeks episode, six different arcs divided into three. Plus, and I believe most fans continue to forget this point, time is compressed in such a way that very little time has passed between the first episode of the fourth season and this. I’m not even sure if a full week has passed… we began with the introduction of the flu, took a brief detour to get caught up to speed on the Governor’s whereabouts, the attack on the prison, and now the scattering of our heroes… and last nights episode took place over the course of two days for Daryl and Beth, and only one day for the rest. The events of After couldn’t have been more than three days, and more than likely, only two as well… which helps when trying to clarify certain specifics, such as how long Carol had been out on her own. When you stop and look at how much has happened and just how quickly it occurred, you will see that Carol had only been on her own for a few days at most.
Let’s dig into the show…
Beginning with Beth reading from her diary entry, a message of hope and belief in the possibilities that the prison would hold for them, we see she and Daryl running through the woods, dispatching zeds left and right… eventually collapsing in a relatively awkward heap. This may be the first time we have seen Daryl despondent and distant, while Beth, having gone from suicidal to hopeful in a matter of months, is motivated to pick up the pieces of her shattered family and search for Maggie. Again, interesting use of voice over in a way that had not previously been used in the show, and the contrast between what she is reading in her diary about being happy with Daddy and how Lori is about to have her baby and the current situation, fleeing the scene of her decapitated father and fending off walker after walker, was a fantastic way to introduce this episode that joins multiple vignettes while at the same time giving each their own space to breathe.
I was riveted as she and Daryl began tracking what we eventually come to know is Tyreese and the children… and elated when we got the answers immediately following a commercial break. Like a well laid out jigsaw puzzle, Gimple is creating a series of mysteries that will eventually all fit together, but withholding critical information at key points to elevate the tension and begging to have those questions dealt with sooner rather than later.
Although it was wonderful to see Daryl and Beth fighting and tracking their way towards their compatriots, it was the segment with Tyreese and the kids that was my favorite. Not only do we immediately get the reveal that Judith is still alive (I assumed she was alive, and saw some compelling evidence that it was in fact Ty that had her), but we then quickly get to see that Carol has returned and has managed to save one of Rick’s children… which is fascinating considering that Rick told her that he didn’t want Carol to be around his children. As far as Lizzie essentially smothering Judith… that was a difficult scene for me to watch. I was literally on the edge of my couch thinking, “no way… they can’t do that… no way… holy shit, they are going to do that… I can’t watch this… fuck, I can’t not watch this… no, no, no, no”.
For as much grief as those two actresses who play Lizzie and Mika are getting (Brighton Sharbino and Kyla Kenedy respectively), I seriously enjoyed their performances in this episode… and I am completely rethinking my thoughts about who really killed Karen and David. Now that Carol is back and was obviously sticking close to the prison in addition to watching over what was going on, I think it’s entirely plausible that she was covering for the wee murderous lady and was either going to go back to get her or, at the very least, let someone know that there is something wrong with her. I’m now in the camp that Carol’s admission was more of a metaphorical “I did it” than anything else… it was Carol that taught Lizzie to be cold and unfeeling when dealing with life and death situations, therefore…
As to Tyreese’s decision to leave the two girls alone with Judith… from our perspective, wow, what a shitty idea… but from his perspective; adrenaline is high, they had just escaped by the skin of their teeth (or in Ty’s case, escaped by the barrel of a little girl’s gun), and for all he knew, those screams could have been from his sister. He did what he felt was the right thing to do… thankfully, Carol arrived when she did. What I enjoyed about this though is that it showed someone making a strange decision in a difficult moment without making it come off as some sort of hero’s dilemma. It was a rash decision in the heat of the moment, done for the right reasons, but ultimately futile.
Futility is another theme that seems to be recurring this season. For as hard as everyone tries, living in a world of pure survival leaves little room for joy or comfort, and just when things begin to feel better, some asshole shows up with a tank and blows your house to smithereens. And how can you possibly raise a well adjusted child in a world such as this… and as Carol questions, what does well adjusted even mean anymore? Is doing whatever it takes to stay alive really the goal if you lose your humanity in the process? For those of you looking at The Walking Dead episode by episode as opposed to viewing each season thematically, this may not be a question for you… but for me, these questions are glaring, and I’m grateful that this is how the show is evolving.
Maggie, Sasha, and Bob make up the third segment… Maggie wanting to find Glenn, much the way Beth is searching for Maggie, but Sasha kicks into survival mode and wants to set up camp and gather food. In a slightly awkward twist of character motivation, Bob is the one making the plea for having a reason to live, and Sasha is the negative one. Does anyone else foresee a potential relationship between the two?
I don’t have much to say about this vignette… it was great for all of the zombie action on the bus, but it leaves plenty of questions about what the hell happened. I don’t really need an exact answer, and again, I like having some things unanswered, but it seems somewhat implausible that no one could have run out of that moving smorgasbord. Then again, I don’t turn to zombie stories for plausibility… and I will admit, when I hear people having serious discussions about survival or how accurate a situation is depicted, I giggle inside… and don’t get me wrong, I find myself in those discussions all the time… but still… tee hee hee… it’s all a bit silly (as is devoting thousands of words discussing a television show about something I’m mocking… I know, it’s a circle of insanity).
Needless to say, I was happy that Glenn was not on-board the worst commuter vehicle ever… and enjoyed his segment immensely. I liked that they still acknowledge the effects that the sickness had on him in terms of him being very weak, I thought that he had the wherewithal to gather as many supplies as possible (and gathered them in the orange backpack that the group took from the dead backpacker) was a fantastic nod to reality, and the scenes of him charging through the undead hoard in his riot gear was simply wonderful visually.
Bringing Tara into the fold was another fantastic touch as far as unifying the overall themes of the show at large. It was the back end of the third that made the point that you can’t survive in this world alone, and Glenn has become the torchbearer for that concept, and it appears that almost everyone has come to understand the importance of togetherness. Tara may feel guilt over having been duped by the Governor and having been a part in the overall chaos, but she certainly isn’t the first to have made mistakes, and will hopefully find comfort once the group reassembles and everyone has had time to lick their wounds and recover from the many mistakes and wrong headed turns that have brought them all to this low point… because remember, it’s only been hours since the events of last season.
Having buried the lead… let’s mention that final scene… the arrival of three new people and a fantastic “what the fuck” moment of television. For comic readers, this was an exceptionally welcome scene as it introduces three fan favorites… for show watchers, much confusion is being had. As much as I would love to explain who this trio is (it’s safe for me to say that their names are Abraham [big dude with the stache], Eugene [dude rocking the mullet], and Rosita [do I really need to specify which one she is?]), I will leave that up to the show to explain.
Looking at both this episode and the previous, After, I am extraordinarily happy with the direction the show is taking and feeling a genuine sense of relief that I no longer need to feel like an apologist. By moving in a somewhat experimental direction in terms of the aforementioned structure and techniques being used, The Walking Dead is becoming more of what I’ve always believed it could be… a riveting show that delves into both character driven drama as well as awesome zombie horror. As a comic reader and fan I am tickled pink that they are moving in a direction more in line with the source material, and on top of that, instead of introducing new characters and plot points, they are simply filling in the gaps (in the comic we don’t know what happened to Michonne between her finding Ty’s head and meeting up with Rick, much like we had no idea what happened to the others before meeting up with Rick, Carl, and Michonne).
I don’t grade my reviews… but if I did, I would be giving this current season A’s across the board. Could I quibble? Certainly, but I feel that there are more than enough detractors and people getting angry about a fictionalized zombie show while also claiming to be fans that I can sit back and simply enjoy the show with some confidence that I’m going to enjoy each moment I get to spend in this utterly fucked up world.
To say that I’m excited for next weeks episode would be an understatement.
I hope you enjoyed the review assholes,
Cornelius J. Blahg