The title of last night's episode, "Isolation," truly defined the essence of The Walking Dead this season. There are more people than ever in the prison, but the characters all seem more alone than they have ever been. The prison inhabitants are all having a pretty awful time: Glenn and Sasha are infected and aren't doing very well, Tyreese is mourning the death of Karen the old-fashioned way (fist fights and hammers), and Rick is still doing "Stuff" and "Things" in the prison. The true star of The Walking Dead this season is a character that spent all of season 1 being a victim of domestic abuse, season 2 crying, season 3 being locked in a crate for three episodes for safety, and has since come in to her own. In a shocking Godfather-esque character progression that still baffles and amazes me, the dish-towel turned MacGyver/New Shane, Carol, is the centerpiece of the show.
Carol is an amazingly complex character. She is arguably the best-defined and most ambiguous on the show, and her whole progression happened so quietly that I didn't even notice it. She has become the ultimate survivor. From rigging up a bicycle wheel as a zombie-distracting pendulum, to sending Lizzie into the sick room of the Prison, to casually admitting that she murdered two people, Carol really has it together.
Remember how shocked everyone was when Shane left Otis to die so that he could get away? Remember how that symbolized Shane's loss of humanity? Thinking about that, focus on the fact that Carol brutally killed and burned Karen and David (and she didn't even have the decency to shave her hair afterward and then grunt a whole bunch). Carol has taken her survival ques from the Book of Shane, and then upped the ante dramatically. She is thinking about survival on such a cold robotic level, that it makes HAL look empathetic. On the other hand, Carol still cares. More so than anyone, her breakdown after sending Lizzie/Sophia 2 into the sick room was devastating and touching. It made me feel sadness for a character whose name I had forgotten several times because Lizzie's plight made Carol miserable. Carol's emotions are all over the place and it serves to make Carol's transition from a background player to anti-hero seem natural. It is to the credit of Melissa McBride that Carol's admission of guilt didn't seem like a cheap M. Night Shyamalan-esque plot twist. Her actions make perfect sense for the psyche of the character and the decision to have Carol be the killer doesn't feel forced.
As much as 'Isolation' was Carol's episode, other things did happen. Glenn has been infected with the new mystery disease. In season 3, things went very poorly for Glenn and Maggie. From being tortured and forced to wrestle in a zombie cage-match to being sexually harassed by the Governor (that's Glenn's situation first, with Maggie being the one that was harassed) Glenn and Maggie had a very bad time at Woodbury. Since season 3, Glenn and Maggie have been relatively at ease for roughly two episodes, and — aside from some really ominous foreshadowing (Glenn taking a picture of Maggie in "Infected") — The Walking Dead's cutest couple has been living in safety. So, naturally, it is time for one of them to be in a life-threatening situation. With Glenn incapacitated, Hershel steps up to care for Glenn and the other infected. In his attempts to care for the ill, Hershel invites Rick to join the Counsel, puts himself at risk for infection, and goes for a hike with Carl. On the hike, Carl learns to make strong judgement calls — precisely when it is acceptable to kill people — and sees the Tree Walker. I call it the Tree Walker because it stuck out in a very dramatic way (much like the Bicycle Walker in "Days Gone By," and the Well Walker), I have a sneaking suspicion that it is going to come back in a later episode to serve as a lesson. What that lesson is, I have no idea.
The last major plot development that occurred in "Isolation" was the appearance of a radio voice during the expedition to the veterinary school (for much needed antibiotics). As the voice crackles in and out, the expedition team — Daryl, Bob, Michonne, and Tyreese — encounters a horde of Walkers. Have you ever got your tire stuck in a patch of mud or snow, and no matter how much you accelerate you just can't get your car out? Well, the same concept happened on the show, except with a stack of Walker bodies. As the expeditionary crew attempts to flee, Tyreese is seemingly overwhelmed by the Walkers. However, as any reader of the comic books will tell you, once Tyreese is angry and has a hammer, there are not enough Walkers in the world (or in a prison gymnasium) to take him down.
Overall: "Isolation" takes everything from "Infected" and escalates it dramatically. While there are no major human casualties this week, the show is building to a bloodbath and I'm worried about who is going to get the axe. The only sour notes of the night came with the scenes with Beth, which were fine but melodramatic (we get it: life is terrible and everyone dies) and killed the tension at times. "Isolation" did wonders for character development. It expanded the roles of Rick, Carol, Tyreese, Michonne, and Hershel dramatically. This has been the best episode of Season 4 yet ... I am aware that I said the same thing about "Infected." "Isolation" was just that good.
A Few More Things:
What the hell is Marilyn Manson trying to say on The Talking Dead? He is completely and utterly indecipherable. Still no Governor, this is getting worrisome. The irony of Tyreese asking Carol to look in on Sasha because "she cares." That long shot of Glenn and a pair of Ray-Bans in the distance. Coupling that with Glenn's retro camera, is Glenn the resident hipster of The Walking Dead? (he was killing Walkers before it was cool). Tyreese, losing his mind over the death of Karen, attempts to beat up Rick. Rick promptly kicks his ass. Most people say, "Put a bullet in them." Daryl says, "Put a bolt." How much money did Dodge give The Walking Dead to have Daryl say that the Dodge Charger was, "the fastest car we have?" Tyreese asks Rick to use his police skills to investigate Karen's murder. Rick's investigation consisted of just asking people if they killed Karen and David. Good work.
The Governor is still nowhere to be found. At this rate I wouldn't be surprised if they discovered an angry middle-aged white guy mask in Carol's room and discovered that she was The Governor the entire time.
Be sure to tune in to the next episode of The Walking Dead, "Indifference," next week. If you need a relief from the constant misery on the show, here's a video of Wes Anderson's Star Wars VII directorial audition.