11/3/2013, 9PM, AMC
It doesn’t feel all that long ago that The Walking Dead wore well a penchant for stretching its leads and inevitable confrontations far beyond their elasticity. Admittedly, I didn’t have much faith in the show when Tyreese discovered the charcoaled remains of his love, Karen, and David. Yet the subsequent two episodes respectively dealt with the immediate pair of questions: who, and what would happen to that person. Well, Carol didn’t lie to Rick when he asked her, firmness of suspicion toning his voice, and she didn’t fight him much when he banished her. Never mind that the real psychopath is still in the camp’s midst. But the rats are a secondary order. People are sick. Where there are sick people, there will soon be dead people.
But then they won’t be! At least according to the tragically misguided Lizzy. “Indifference” opens with a sequence cross-cut between Carol talking to the older of the two girls she’s taken as surrogate daughters and Rick preparing for his and Carol’s run. There’s gravitas in the execution, as we jump from Carol stumbling with the appropriate notes of reassurance to Rick’s forlorn loading. Carol has Lizzy recite step-by-step the survival protocol. The young girl must’ve missed a class. She shares with Carol her notion of the walkers, finding comfort in the fact that people get to come back—really, that there doesn’t have to be such a thing as complete death anymore.
This season has taken some time here and there to address or at least complicate the presumed theory of what it is to be a zombie. The considerations have stayed much closer to earth than you’re likely to find in a grad student bar, and Lizzy’s misconception of the walker experience marks the most affective foray. To her, walkers cheat death. She’s a kid. Her dad just died. Everywhere around her for the last year-plus there’s been little but brutality, peril, and carnage. Anything that is not very clearly death will seem favorable when yearned for in such a simplistic fashion.
Where someone asks ‘what is a zombie,’ his dickhead friend glibs ‘what is it to be human.’ “Indifference” introduces some grace into the question, though, in large part thanks to Melissa McBride. In a series where reliability hasn’t been its livelihood, McBride’s ability to add complexity to her character with the subtleties of her performance stood out even when her character didn’t. She goes through a series of emotions—remorse, horror, annoyance—as she cycles through all of Carol’s rationales for the two murders and, by the end of it, Carol seems more confident in having acted than the gorier specifics. Or at least more justified.
You won’t see many The Walking Dead faithful argue that the show can stagnate. It’s tough to maintain momentum when the drama’s chief opposition is the notably unmovable dynamic of living and dying. Everyone does each. Those on The Walking Dead are understandably a little more fine-tuned to the instinct. In back to back episodes, characters of overtly voiced objection to Rick’s passivity. To them, it’s just another form of decay, against which they’re determined to fight. As Rick’s levying her banishment at the episode’s close, she can’t help but finally retort, “I stepped up.” What she fails to see is that there was no opportunity here for her to do so. What would happen? Her actions come to light? Tyreese kills her. Done. It’s kept a secret? Then Rick, and possibly the governing committee, has to withhold the truth about in-house murders. Carol becomes their KGB, doing the dirty jobs when everyone’s washed up. That’s not what she intended to be, but she misjudged. She made what might’ve been the right call but mistook the onus of action to be her own. There’s reason that governing committee of which she was a part exists. Society cannot function on the arbitrary whims of an individual. As Rick says, it was not her call to make.
But why not? If it’s the decision, for the sake of the community, what does it matter if the decisions made by one person or seven? It matters because it indicates what type of person that individual is. Roguishness runs throughout the episode. As the medicine party continues to search for antibiotics, Bob opens up to Daryl about being on the road, surviving two other groups “like a curse” and being left alone with the quiet. This unsteady relationship with silence and all its implications apparently drove Bob to his alcoholism, which nearly compels him to draw on Daryl when he’s caught with booze in his sack instead of meds. Bob’s alienated himself, but hasn’t proven a hazard. Tyreese is getting there, but grief dwindles too. (Except for the insane. So we’ll see.) Numbers matter in The Walking Dead but more important is the absence or swift removal of cancer.
Carol has a different story than addiction or rage, and the writers use a deceptively clever device to punch up the theme with some finality. When Rick and Carol find a young couple stowed away in a house, the show cuts when Rick asks, “How many walkers have you killed.” We know what follows. The couple passes, but thanks to Carol undermining Rick’s authority (not for the first time this season), they die. This provides a rather blunt vote of favor for Rick, but what congeals Carol’s fate is the recall of Rick’s three questions*. He poses these to strangers in order to see if they’re fit for the prison community. Really, he’s gauging the integrity of their humanhood: In what ways has the resolve of your humanity been tested? How did you cope? How has it changed you? Carol, asked today, would fail this test. The writers have achieved small doses of beauty with these questions, this instance the more subtextual and elegant. Rick sends her off, confident she’ll fare well because she’s cut for this world. The conflict is that Rick’s not willing to similarly cut his family or the people he still feels a sense of duty toward. If everyone back at the prison was dead from this sickness, and it was only him, his kids, and Carol left, he tells her he’d have nothing to do with her. And, despite the questionable manner in which it came to, Carol’s fate, Rick’s condemnation—it’s a rare thing for The Walking Dead: it’s fair.
- *As a reminder, they are: 1) How many walkers have you killed? 2) How many people? 3) Why?
- And now we all know how to hotwire a car. Saved me that YouTube search.
- The opening to this episode will play excellently when binging it back to back with last week’s.
- Though this episode deals with things less abstractly, like “Infection” it dials in on very specific characters or character dynamics. As always, The Walking Dead benefits, even when it’s more about the pieces on the board than the people in the story.
[notification type=star]75/100 ~ GOOD. The writers have achieved small doses of beauty with Rick’s three questions, “Indifference” the more subtextual and elegant of them.[/notification]