It occurred to me, as it will have occurred to many fans of the comics, that title ‘The Walking Dead’ refers not to the zombies but the survivors: their time is limited as their attempts to survive, the zombies and each other whittle down their resources and any ability to further the species. At least in America, where guns are prevalent, you get the impression that everything is spiraling inwards, that those we follow are as dead as the shambling corpses they end.
This theme, which has been lain on thick by this season, continues in episode 3, Isolation. We start immediately with the aftermath of Tyreese finding that the two redshirts have been killed, murdered. Tyreese is distraught, furious, and demands justice. In his rage, he attacks both Darryl and Rick, with the latter unleashing a catast-Rick-phy (heh, get it?) in response. Tempers are fraying as the superflu worms its way through the prison.
Twelve redshirts in total have died in the space of a day – including the two who were murdered – and more people are getting sick. This requires the Council of Interesting People to enact a full quarantine, with the vulnerable such as children being separated away and the sick being locked into one block. Under siege as they are by zombies, again this disease has them pinned back too.
Rick and Tyreese make amends after their scuffle, particularly when Ty has finished digging the graves of the murdered two. But the latter is still fuming and demanding justice. Even though the entire prison is creaking, coughing and spluttering, he heads out determined to protect Sasha, guard her if he must. Particularly with her also coming down with megaflu.
The Council determines also that there is one place nearby which may have some drugs left to save people, and a posse must roll out to retrieve them. With so many people already down, only Daryl and Michonne initially are available. Daryl tries to recruit Tyresse but he’s having none of it: watching over the sick is more important than saving them. For some reason.
There’s quite a bit of what I’m now dubbing Unnecessary Talking. Two scenes involving Beth, who is protecting Judith from any infection, talking to Maggie can mostly be ignored. There’s also a weird scene where Hershel goes to pick elderberries, with Carl in tow because the young murderer feels that he has to be in charge, being the son of the former Ricktator. The interaction only serves to let the plot limp on, whilst showing that Carl has matured a little between seasons.
One bit of talking which seemed unnecessary at the time was with Carol, who is worrying heavily about the water supply: their pump from the river is filled with mud and needs to be cleaned. They have just enough for one day. Even when scraping their barrels, they have little left. Carol is then confronted by Tyreese, who asks her to look after Sasha whilst he’s out on a run (oh yeah, he decides to go to find the medicine, because not going would’ve been stupid). Their exchange affects her deeply, so much so that she lashes out and knocks over the nearest water barrel, spilling more of their precious resource.
Anyway, Hershel, having picked berries, informs us that elderberries are a natural flu remedy and they may be able to stem the tide of death whilst the gang are out on a run. There’s a vaguely okay scene where he argues with Maggie and Rick about going in, but he was obviously always going to, so in he goes. He administers the tea to Dr S, who coughs blood in his face (nice ‘thank you’ there, Doc), and to Glen, who is sick too.
Rick isn’t just shouting at old men, though. He’s also investigating who killed the redshirts. He does a little CSI: Apocalype and finds a bloody handprint on a door, which he seems to think gives him a lead…
On the run, Michonne, Tyreese, Bob and Daryl are racing along at a good speed, talking about how much they hate the Governor, when their radio begins to pick up a human voice. So enthralled are they by this possibility that they drive smack into the largest herd we may have seen in the series. Surrounded, they try to flee. But Tyreese, not seeming to want to live, stays behind too long and seems to go down under the sheer throng of corpses.
Back at the prison, Carol decides to go out to fix the pump problem herself, despite Rick telling her to do it tomorrow with his help. She is calmly trying to fix it as the Walkers approach, mostly absorbed by the strange distractors that they employ. Rick comes out and saves her at the last minute, scolds her for risking her life. She glibly responds. It’s not brilliant.
I have lost a lot of the tension in The Walking Dead because you know that the main characters are almost certainly going to survive. However, I regained some when Tyreese was surrounded by slavering corpses. I thought that they were going to kill him off, that great bear of a man. And how wrong I was: later, in the woods, Daryl, Michonne and Bob are approached by his rustling form, at which point they rescue someone who would have knackered himself out with all the killing. But they are without transport now, in the wilderness, and at the border of an enormous herd…
Finally, Rick confronts Carol about the murders. He asks whether there was anything she wouldn’t do for the prison and its inhabitants and she calmly says there isn’t. That seals his suspicions – in a move which surprised me – and he accuses her of killing the redshirts in order to protect the prison. Carol freely admits it and walks off, holding the water from the pump she just cleared and leaving Rick with some choices to make…
Unnecessary Talking plagues this episode. I can’t help but think that a half-hour format would serve the plot better, where they don’t feel the need to fill the space with character development which the writers just don’t seem to succeed with. But there is still a creeping and interesting sense of despair in the Season, enough to keep me interested. It is a different challenge, a plague during a zombie apocalypse, and this exploration is the ketchup on bland, bland fries.
The walking dead are still at risk, desperately needing medicine and transport, with a great internal rift potentially about to open. There is still the mystery of the rats fed to the zombies to unfold, and the questions over both Carl and Rick’s sanity. Their journey, their struggle to survive, continues.