Welcome to our recap of The Walking Dead, season 4 episode 3, titled “Isolation”! Hat-tip to Twitter user @LaJoliePoeta for inspiring the title of this post. Also, please check out #NOCemdead, for archives of our Sunday evening live-tweeting of this episode by resident NOC, J.Lamb through our @TheNerdsofColor handle.
Only read on if you’ve already watched the episode, or if you don’t mind spoilers. Because, y’know, this is a recap.
When last we left our fearless heroes, Tyreese had just discovered the smoking corpses of Karen, his coy girlfriend who had been quarantined on death row along with some random guy after both exhibited signs of upper respiratory infection. My initial uncertainties over the scene were answered upon closer inspection of the scene over the weekend – the lack of gore and blackened blood splatter in the cells (both typical of a recently-turned Walker) and the clean drag marks suggest that both Karen and her wayward friend were killed cleanly – while still human – by a trusted friend and then dragged into the courtyard for disposal. The question was, of course, by whom?
Tyreese also found himself somewhat preoccupied by this question. Immediately, he confronts (for unclear reasons) Daryl and tries to choke him, then sucker-punches Rick when he and Carol try to stop him. Enraged, Rick launches himself at Tyreese and beats him into the ground, giving him a black eye that Tyreese sports for the remainder of the episode.
And so began what was, for me, one of the most problematic Walking Dead episodes we’ve seen to-date, an episode that Twitter user @LaJoliePoeta aptly titled “Diary of an Angry Black Man”.
It’s definitely problematic that Tyreese’s first spotlight episode of Season 4 involves Chad Coleman channeling his best interpretation of the Luke Cage stereotype for nearly an hour, trying to solve every emotional problem he has with his fists.
As if this stereotyping weren’t enough, the first five minutes involves Tyreese being subdued by “rageoholic” Rick, who can’t abide being punched by the resident Angry Black Man. That’s right — Rick with a little help from Daryl physically overpowers Tyreese (a man who must outweigh him by at least 50 pounds of pure muscle) and pummels him into a bloody pulp.
It’s like a delightful live-action reinterpretation of every time in a comic book that a White man explicitly and pointlessly exerted his dominance over a Black male character because viewers can’t handle the Black man being the most powerful person in the room:
Not that Tyreese of the comics isn’t basically a Black male brute stereotype, but it would’ve been nice for the show to have moved the character into a different direction, one who doesn’t have to Hulk out to his process his grief.
Against the backdrop of Tyreese’s grief are two problems. First, the community must face a new threat: the rapid outbreak of a pneumococcal infection that kills over-night leaving the victims to turn inside the Prison’s walls. And second, Rick must solve the lingering whodunit mysteries of the Prison community: who killed the first infected (Karen and the other guy)? And, who’s been feeding rats to the gate Walkers?
To address the first concern, Michonne and Daryl are sent out to a nearby, apparently unforaged, veterinary clinic to retrieve antibiotics and other medical supplies that Dr. S. (the resident doctor whom I first suspected were the killers of the infected) needs to stop the outbreak. This leads me to my second major problem with the episode: why the hell hadn’t this clinic already been foraged?!?
Early in the episode, Michonne is packing her horse to head out once more on a supply run, and jokingly asks Carl and Rick what they’d like for her to bring back. Comic books and stale M&M’s are on the list (the latter because apparently Michonne likes them). So, apparently, Michonne has spent the last several months bringing back food, farming equipment, everything needed to reinforce and mechanize the prison gates, and even such superfluous items as comic books, candy, and red plastic cups for Lil’ Asskicker to play with, and at no point did she think to make a trip to a nearby clinic and get medical supplies?!? Somehow, medicine ranked lower on the “to-do” list than Rick’s Walkman?!?
Clearly, the foresight in the Prison community needs a little work. Frankly, I don’t know whom to blame: Rick? The Council? Dr. S., for not demanding that Michonne bring back the supplies needed to create a functioning clinic? Or Michonne, herself, for prioritizing her sweet tooth over the community’s health?
And, before you say that the outbreak hadn’t happened yet, antibiotics are necessary to treat almost any ailment the survivors are likely to suffer, including every day cuts from farming, tending animals, reinforcing the Prison infrastructure, and fighting Walkers. Any doctor worth his or her salt should have insisted that medicine, along with sterile bandages and suture, been at the top of Michonne’s foraging list. Certainly before some freakin’ comic books.
But, since the Prison is apparently woefully ill-equipped to handle medical emergencies, Daryl and Michonne recruit Bob Stookey (mainly for his ability to read words) to go get those antibiotics and save the infected from this deadly swine flu that’s ravaging the Prison. That’s right, they need antibiotics. Even though swine flu is viral, and antibiotics (i.e. anti-bacterial agents) are likely to be as useful in treating the outbreak as Hershel’s elderberry tea solution. Maybe I really should be blaming Dr. S. on this one.
They also let Tyreese volunteer to come along, because what you need on a super-important mission is an emotionally unstable guy who just tried to kill you. But, after they pack the two Black men in the backseat, Daryl and Michonne head towards the clinic when Daryl overhears voices on the radio and crashes his car into a Walker (thus making him the second survivor, next to Lori, to get into a car accident while driving down a deserted post-apocalyptic road). The car gets stuck on a pile of zombie heads as the show’s first Walker megahorde descends upon them, and the survivors are forced to escape into the woods. Cue the fanboy wet-dream scene of Daryl and his crossbow and Michonne with her samurai sword cutting through lines of zombies. Even Stookey joins in on the fun, fumbling with his gun (could someone please get this guy some small-arms training?) before successfully shooting a couple of Walkers at close-range. Tyreese sits catatonic for a few minutes into the car before he goes all “Oldboy” on the Walkers surrounding the car.
This scene, while cool (and an homage to a similar scene in the books), only reinforces the absurdity of the first scene of the episode, wherein Rick beat Tyreese up. Because, just no; Tyreese can clearly handle himself in a fight. Anyways, the survivors are left at the end of the episode stranded and still needing to get those much-needed medical supplies.
Meanwhile, back in the cellblocks, Sasha, Dr. S and everyone else in the cell block that was attacked by Hipster Kid is coming down with flu symptoms, including Glenn, and is (rightfully) quarantined from the rest of the group. Hershel is personally shut away into the basement, as far away from the other survivors as possible, for fear that his age will make him particularly susceptible to the outbreak; this decision makes sense, but also somewhat strange given that Lil’ Asskicker (whose immune system is probably weaker than Hershel’s) is doing just fine while being paraded up and down the cellblock by Beth and her singing. Hershel eventually revolts against this set-up, and goes into the woods with Carl to gather the leaves for his aforementioned elderberry tea; there, they bump into several Walkers including one turning into a tree, as well as the Walker remains of the Crazy Irish Lady from the first episode.
Hershel then delivers the best monologue of the episode as he convinces Maggie and others that he must go treat the infected; that it’s not how we die but what we choose to do in life that defines us, and that he can’t hide in the basement while others need him. Incidentally, it is this monologue that convinced me that Hershel, not Carol or Rick or Daryl or anyone else, who should be leading the Prison community. He’s the only one willing to make the tough decisions while still keeping his soul intact.
Which leads me to the big reveal of the episode: Carol killed Karen and the other infected.
Although, actually, this should come as no surprise. Last episode and this episode, we saw Carol be willing to do anything to protect the Prison, and to also chastise Lizzy (one of the community’s young girls) for not being strong enough to stab her father in the head after he dies to prevent his turning. Her mantra has been that survivors must be willing to do anything they have to in order to survive; a mantra likely cultivated by the realization that Sophia was too weak to survive on her own in the wilderness resulting in her death, and later reinforced by Carol’s own time spent trapped in the closet after T-Dog’s sacrifice. At one point in this episode, Carol ventures out into the fields alone to try and fix the community’s water supply, and must be saved by Rick. Later, Tyreese praises Carol for her nurturing of the community, and after he leaves, Carol expresses some rage – perhaps a reflection of her frustration that her actions in killing the infected were unable to stop the outbreak, or perhaps grief over her lost humanity. Either way, Carol has lost her moral compass: at the end of the episode, Rick confronts Carol and asks her if she killed Karen. Without a trace of compassion, Carol answers in the affirmative and walks away.
Several online have praised the evolution of Carol’s character, and indeed, I do think the sheer distance that Carol’s character has covered over the last several episodes is astounding. However, at the end of last night’s episode, I felt the reveal that Carol was a murderer was a little too obvious, and therefore a little anti-climatic and disappointing. There had just been so much foreshadowing that Carol had reached these amoral depths that I felt almost certain that the writers were going to go in a different direction with her character, thus I was underwhelmed by the reveal. The discovery that Carol killed Karen is also likely to hinder any potential romance between Carol and Tyreese, a relationship that features somewhat prominently in the books; that being said, it’s clear that Carol’s character has deviated sharply from the books, and may instead be adopting some of the territory explored by the Andrea character.
In summary, this episode was a bit of a let-down to me, mainly due to the disappointing characterization of Tyreese coupled with the plot-holes large enough to drive a Walker-filled pick-up truck through. Here’s hoping that next week’s episode is better.
Lingering Questions: What will happen when the other survivors (particularly Tyreese) finds out that it was Carol who killed the infected? Will Daryl, Michonne, Stookey and Tyreese make it to the clinic in time? Will Sasha and Glenn survive the outbreak? What (or who) was the voice on the radio?
And, who is feeding the fence Walkers? On this last point, J.Lamb and I are putting our money on Lizzy, who will be found out by Carl. You heard it here first, folks!
Update: An earlier version of this post contained references to events that actually happened in episode 2 of this season. I apologize for the error!