The past few weeks have not been kind to our friends in the world of The Walking Dead. Beset by undead, plagues, doubts, suspicion, and fear, they are finding that sometimes the dangers within are just as terrible as those outside. This week’s episode, ‘Indifference’, took an interesting turn in the way it played with those elements. Instead of continuing the scattershot approach of focusing on every minute group and their interactions, the episode moved the action away from the prison, and instead concentrated on the two different groups and their efforts to find some way of helping those suffering back at the prison.
‘Indifference’ was a story about strength and weakness, about what lengths we all would go to. It was one of those remarkable episodes that showed great insight into the characters, treating them respectfully while also exposing their darkest secrets and weaknesses. And while many were likely dissatisfied with the show’s ending, it also felt like the beginning of the next step forward, something that we needed to see. The flu storyline has been a captivating one, but it’s also been one that’s left us feeling somewhat fixed in place, immobile, and lacking momentum.
The first story revolved around the efforts of Daryl, Michonne, Tyreese, and and Bob. My vague frustration with Tyreese’s storyline continues, as his unfocused rage seems to be his new defining characteristic. While I understand the idea that his grief has become a force both driving and blinding, to reduce a seemingly complex character to such a cliched, pseudo-suicidal brute seems entirely too simplistic. Michonne, on the other hand, continues to be an engaging and fascinating character, perhaps even more so than her depiction in the comic books (and don’t lie — you’re ‘shipping her and Daryl, aren’t you. Yeah you are). Her discussion with Tyreese about his motivations and the self-destructive path was one of the most ruthless, painful pep talks I’ve ever witnessed, but that wasn’t what made her turn here so effective. Instead, it was the unique dichotomy between her words of wisdom, and her own professed self-doubts. Michonne is driven by forces that not even she understands, and she has tried to shroud her hunger for revenge beneath a facade of it being something that just needs doing, but finally realizes that it’s something more than that, something that, she finally grasps, is ultimately untenable.
Surprisingly, it’s Bob Stookie’s story that’s the most intriguing, as tragic and infuriating as it is. Larry Gilliard, Jr.’s performances have been, until now, steady to the point of bland. And even here, there’s little histrionics, little by way of emotional manipulation. Yet Bob is a man with some vicious demons lurking within him, and they are quietly and insidiously threatening everyone around him. He’s someone who is exhausted by life, tired even of his own self-loathing, tired of being, as he put it, “the last man standing.” He’s not the last man standing because he’s the strongest, or the fastest. If anything, perhaps he’s the last man standing because he’s the unluckiest, the one remaining to live with the memory of the horrors suffered by those around him. And one can almost forgive his addictions, his desire for some small comfort “when it gets quiet,” except that, as Daryl knows, there can be no truly quiet moments anymore. There can be no real thoughts of self anymore, and to indulge those demons threatens everyone. That realization — despite his sad tale, despite being granted absolution from Daryl earlier when he confessed to his culpability in Zack’s death — that he once again jeopardized them for his unquenchable thirst, resulted in a cold fury from Daryl that an absolutely breathtaking scene.
So we learn about their strengths and their weaknesses, and their fears and their demons and doubts. Those pieces would play an even stronger role in the second part of this week’s journey, as Rick and Carol head out to find more supplies. This was a complex, multilayered vignette, a story that I found absolutely fascinating, even as I found its conclusion disappointing. Throughout the first act, it almost seemed like Carol was trying to justify her actions — killing Karen and David — to both Rick and herself. Much like Michonne’s talk about the Governor, to her it was simply something that needed doing. Something to protect them all. Yet there’s a harshness, a hardness to her that seems to color that sentiment. There’s also a sense of resignation with Carol that’s both saddening and frightening. She’s drifted so far away from what she was that her sense of empathy, of love and understanding, has turned brittle and broken into pieces. Instead she’s driven by an inscrutable pragmatism, a hardened, razor-sharp focus that can’t contemplate any outcome other than the one that nets the most gain, regardless of the human cost.
And so she killed Karen and David, and she teaches the children to fight, to never feel fear, to never look back. And when she and Rick encounter the two newcomers — a charming and innocent pair of simpletons if there ever were any — she encourages them to search for supplies on their own. It was that moment that felt like the turning point, where her indifference sealed her fate. Because I think that Rick had a plan formulating all along, and couldn’t decide whether or not to follow through with it. His decision to invite Carol was the beginnings of it, and the entire trip was her trial, a chance to take her out of their natural environment and see what makes her tick. When faced with that almost soulless practicality, Rick had to make his decision.
Thus that moment was the straw. Because regardless of everything else, that moment showed that Carol truly would do anything to protect the ones she loved. Including murdering and immolating two sick people. Including sending two injured, crippled strangers — two people so eager for help and human kindness that they’d volunteer for anything — to search for supplies because that would create an additional distraction and allow her and Rick to continue unhindered. Is that what she did? Is Carol truly that brutal? I can’t say for sure, but the facts are there — they were safe in that house, and they died when they left.
Which brings us to the farewell, which was done beautifully, even if it was disappointing. I hope this isn’t truly the end of Melissa McBride’s excellent run as Carol, because the show needs her. And it’s frustrating that they finally put her on a strong, independent path, only to have her cast out like that. Sure, there’s an element of truth to Rick’s words — her actions are unforgivable, and even if Tyreese doesn’t kill her out of sheer rage, the damage is done, the doubt is there, and the mistrust will always shadow her. Yet for Rick to simply pass that judgment was ironic, of course, for he did exactly what she did — condemned someone without even discussing it with anyone else, changing someone’s life because that’s the direction that his moral compass pointed to, regardless of how it affects others. It was arrogant and self-righteous and even a little heartbreaking. Some will say that it was also noble and the only way to do it where nobody wins, but at least nobody loses, either. I don’t know for sure. It won’t satisfy Tyreese, it won’t help the children back at the prison, and it damn sure won’t help Daryl. It changes the power dynamics yet again, and once again, we don’t know where it will take them.