The Walking Dead: "Indifference" (Season 4, Episode 4)

Flabbergasted

We pick up where we left off last week. In order, we get some inspired set pieces that don’t actually involve gratuitous gore, some good dialogue, and a low key, downbeat ending that more or less works. Enough so that I’ll overlook for the moment what could be arbitrary angst of convenience. A good episode all things considered.

The opening isn’t as poetic as the last three episodes (I particularly liked that moon morphing into a flashlight from episode 2). We get Rick wrapping his bruised knuckles in gauze while brooding like a manly man. It’s a good brood as brooding goes, but after three years of this show most of us have started to tune out Rick brooding.

The situation in the prison’s quarantine wing has gone downright medieval. Dark and filthy, people dying and getting knives in the back of the skull, slug-like trails of blood where the bodies have been dragged out. The scenes are mercifully brief tonight, although next week’s preview seems to threaten a genuine wallow. We’ll see how that goes.

There are two distinct tales tonight. The first is Darryl, Tyreese, Michonne and Bob trekking through Georgia back roads on foot. The other is Rick and Carol on a supply run to scavenge a little tract of suburbia.

Darryl and company have an awesome visual early on. We see them arrive at a car shop on a road surrounded by stunningly green woods. That leads naturally enough to the discovery of a car submerged in a sea of kudzu, the vine that ate the South (an Asian transplant used for erosion control that forever altered the landscape).The vines have overgrown not just the car, but the shop walls as well. Darryl hacks enough away to get inside the car. It needs a new battery.

All four of them start cutting away at the vines on the shop. Tyreese hacks in the same obsessively insane manner he dug graves last week. He hooks some wire used to lock a door and pulls it free. The door behind opens. And just like that the kudzu is sprouting walkers; they literally emerge from the greenery like some kind of decaying fairy folk. It’s an inspired effect.

After tersely discussing Carol’s execution of Karen and Dave, a forlorn attempt to kept the flu from spreading, she and Rick go house hunting. After nailing an upstairs walker, they’re surprised by two living, breathing people. A young couple. They’re also the most upbeat, chipper folks you’re likely to see in a zombie holocaust. Almost manic.

The young guy has a separated shoulder. Carol plops him on the kitchen table and straightens it out right quick. They want to go back to the prison with Rick. Sadly, they also volunteer to go to a greenhouse and pick up some fruit first. If you’ve watched this show much, you know what I’m thinking. The word is fodder.

Meanwhile, Darryl has procured a battery and the fearless foursome is off to the veterinary college. Giving all the wild detours they’ve taken by foot along the way, that must have been one damn fine map Hershel drew. En route, Bob also confesses his penchant for alcoholism to Darryl. So he won’t just be picking up medicine at the college.

The obligatory walkers show up. They seem to congregate in buildings for some reason. Residual conditioning to indoor plumbing? Anyway, it leads to another intriguing visual set piece. Darryl and company find themselves in a room gone almost pitch black. There are nice swirls of shadow play from their flashlights. Walkers are beating in the door they came through. They reach the back exit and… it’s chained shut with walkers pushing in.

Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. As walkers pour through the front entrance, Darryl makes his choice. “We’ll trade for what’s behind Door Number 2.” What’s behind the back door is fortunately a smaller number of walkers, whom they race through while hacking away.

Busting through a window puts them out on a ledge. Bob bursts through so enthusiastically he swings his scavenging pack over the edge where walkers grab hold. Getting it away from them becomes a big scene. When he finally rips it free, his booze spills out, and man is Darryl pissed. Bob starts to go for his gun before halting; Darryl is so pissed we almost think he’s about to toss Bob below. Still, men with medical knowledge are few and far between, even if they are alcoholics. So Bob lives to screw up another day.

Some nice dialogue occurs between Carol and Rick. She did what she did to try and protect the group. Rick broods. After picking some tomatoes, they find a basket of spilled fruit, which leads to a severed leg wearing the same tattoo as the young lady they met. Walkers are munching on something in the distance. We expected nothing less from this show.

Carol says “We have to go.” I think that’s a weak attempt to play on the title, a show of indifference that prompts Rick’s final act. Only it’s a totally correct statement. In this world, you never know how many walkers might be lurking until they swarm. And since they gave the young man a gun to fire if he was in trouble, it’s highly likely he went down, too. So I can’t really fault Carol for saying the obvious.

Rick decides to cut Carol loose. He can’t accept her killing two very sick people because, well, you never know. They might have lived. It wasn’t her call to make. That’s a defensible reaction, but there’s a nice counterpoint at play here—this isn’t Rick’s call, either. He gave up being one of the people in charge. So there are layers to peel here, if the writers want to.

Rick gives Carol her knives, a gun, some gas and a car. He says she’ll survive and find other people who don’t know what she’s done. She leaves stoically. I hope we haven’t seen the last of her. Carol had an interesting character arc, from a nonentity abused spouse to a strong, dependable warrior woman.

Obligatory shots of Rick brooding as he drives away.

All in all, it’s an effective episode. My one qualm is a nascent fear that we’re witnessing characterizations of convenience. That is, characters arbitrarily shifting for a short term payoff at the expense of long term coherence. The killing of Karen and David was awfully abrupt. Almost clumsily so. If it’s being pinned on a long-term character just to show that anyone can leave the show at any time, that’s a writer force, not an organic story development.

Same concern with Tyreese. I understand he’s very pissed off about Karen. But the Tyreese we met last season was a pretty decent guy. Very much in control of himself, thoughtful and not prone to mindless aggression. Now he’s punching Rick in the face, threatening to kill people, and a suicidal rageaholic on the road trip. You’re supposed to write the Point A to Point B stuff, not just change people for faux tension.

Still, it might be nothing. I’ll be sensitive to it nonetheless. Characterization of convenience has been the death of many a promising show.

Will conservatives like these episodes: Yes. Good action, good visuals, and some meaty moral dilemmas. Makes for good drama.

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