Recap video and review of The Walking Dead – Season 4 Episode 3 – Isolation:
While the pragmatics of survival in a zombie apocalypse might not make for appealing television to some, The Walking Dead has found a really nice niche in its fourth season. By creating a threat more persistent and virulent than the walkers, the show adds a new layer of terror. Because, really, how do you fight a virus in a world in which medicine is scarce? “Isolation” seeks to answer how paranoia affects the thought processes of otherwise reasonable people, as instincts toward survival and preservation of the community can do serious injury to a person’s morality.
Aside from the huge reveal that Carol is the one who murdered Karen and David and lit their corpses on fire last week (and oh yeah, we’ll definitely be getting to that), there’s plenty to like about the episode. What’s interesting about “Isolation” is the two-pronged approach to paranoia, in that the survivors have two reasons to distrust one another. Firstly, the outbreak is spreading, leading many to be hyper-vigilant about potential carriers. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) even tells Carl (Chandler Riggs) to report to him the names of anyone who’s sick. But the virus isn’t the only reason the survivors have to be on their toes, since we still have a killer on the loose. We don’t know exactly who killed Karen and David, but Rick assumes it was to contain the virus and keep it from spreading. However, Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) doesn’t care why it was done. He just wants blood, here and now. In trying to contain Tyreese, Rick ends up brawling with him, knocking him to the ground with a barrage of fists while Carol (Melissa McBride) pleads with him to stop. It’s a deeply unsettling moment (thanks to the raw-nerve performance from Coleman, who really brings the emotion of the scene home), and is effective in further illustrating the division in camp, as the people who aren’t terrified of the plague are worried about the killer who is still at large.
And to make matters worse, the virus is starting to infect people we actually know and care about. After Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) comes down with the illness at the start of the episode, we eventually discover that Glenn (Steven Yeun) is in the early stages of infection himself. For his part, Hershel (Scott Wilson) does all he can to keep his son-in-law’s spirits up, but it’s exceedingly difficult for the old man to convince him that things will somehow be different. This really is a watershed episode for Wilson, who turns in an outstanding performance here, not only in his motivational scene with Steve Yeun, but in a terrific, key scene in which Maggie (Lauren Cohan) pleads with Hershel to remain within the quarantined area, since he’s shown signs of infection. Hershel, however, refuses to be set aside. He makes an argument for life, and for fighting on despite the likelihood of failure. It’s a tremendous moment for the character, showing his resiliency in the wake of all that’s been lost. In many ways, it’s the apex of his gradual progression throughout the episode, as he goes on a walk with Carl into the woods, and the two appreciate the peacefulness of the woods, even with the presence of walkers in the surrounding area. Hershel is getting back to nature, to being the farmer he was before Rick and his gang intruded on the peaceful existence he’d been able to eke out with his family on their farm. It’s far from ideal, but Hershel still views this as a world worth appreciating first-hand. So it would naturally be devastating for Hershel to be put into a cell block, shut off from nature, forced to give up in the name of holding on. It simply makes sense why he would lash out at Maggie, just as it makes sense why Maggie ultimately relents.
Less sensible is Hershel’s suggestion to send a team on a 50 mile journey to a veterinary hospital for antibiotics, since I don’t think those would be all that effective against a viral infection. Of course, I’m no doctor, so I’ll just trust that Hershel knows what he’s talking about. Daryl (Norman Reedus), Michonne (Danai Gurira), Bob (Larry Gilliard, Jr.), and Tyreese head out in the car to make the long trek to recover the medicine, hoping against hope that the place hasn’t already been raided for supplies. Of course, with this being The Walking Dead and all, things go spectacularly wrong, as their car is overrun by walkers, prompting the group to fight past the persistent horde of undead to get to the woods. Tyreese, who’s still dealing with his tormented feelings over his inability to protect Karen, lays into the batch of walkers with a machete, and ends up cutting his way through them, well after he’s already been ditched and given up for dead by the rest of the party. The gang will live to see another day, but I’m not sure any of this bodes well for their “fetch quest”. But this was a pretty intense arc. The resilient throng of zombies was more than enough to stir anxiety, while the kills (from Daryl’s crossbow arrows to Michonne’s nonchalant beheadings with her katana, right down to Tyreese’s cathartic hack-fest) were enough to get the blood pumping. The episode, with its more deliberate pacing, needed a setpiece like this.
Of course, the episode was building up to something huge, and it doesn’t become apparent just what that is until the closing moments of “Isolation”. Carol had nearly gotten herself killed while attempting to retrieve water just outside the prison gate, ignoring Rick’s pleas for her to come back inside the gate. While it’d be easy enough to just brand her as reckless, the episode makes a point of showing just how put-upon Carol is in her duties. It isn’t just that she cares about these people who are dying off one-by-one. It’s not even just that the living frequently look to her for moral support. It’s that those who are near death, like Lizzie and Mika’s dad last week, look to her to keep watch over their loved ones after their gone. It’s an enormous responsibility for Karen, to be the curator of memories and emotional well-being. To reassure everyone that while the world is bad right now, it’s still possible to carve out a comfortable pocket of safety somewhere. However, Carol can’t really give reassurances anymore. Not with this plague out there. But she can take action.
Rick puts it together, and the audience is right there with him (or were you? I certainly wasn’t, but I talked to a lot of people who figured out the revelation long before Rick put it together) — Carol admits to killing Karen and David. She doesn’t detail how, although one would assume all the knife tutorials were foreshadowing here, and it would be easy to imagine her simply taking them unawares and putting their lights out. But it’s gruesome to think of how she dragged them outside and lit them on fire, and even Rick seems to have trouble coming to terms with Carol’s admission, which amounted to little more than a plaintive “Yes” when asked, point blank, if she’d committed the murders. It’s a startling shift in character for Carol, but not altogether unexpected. When Rick asks her if she would do anything for the people in this camp, and she answers that she would, that’s all the explanation we really need. She endeavors to keep these people safe, no matter the cost. Now, naturally, the question is whether or not she’d have killed any of the other remaining sick: which include Hershel, Glenn, Dr. S, Lizzie, and Sasha. I suppose we won’t know now, since Carol isn’t likely to kill anyone now that Rick knows her secret. But it’s still interesting to ponder what Rick will do with the information, if he’ll actually deliver on his promise of justice to Tyreese, or if he’ll simply keep the secret and allow the prison to become a place “where murder is okay,” an accusation which Tyreese throws in his face. Even with the killer’s identity revealed, paranoia isn’t likely to become any less potent.
“Isolation” is a strong episode, dealing with the continued issues faced with survival in a post-apocalyptic world, along with the social dynamics at play within a community of survivors, each of whom house their own fears and paranoia. The show is carrying the creative renaissance of season 3 into season 4, and it’s incredibly encouraging.
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