Whoa WHOA WHOA! Did what I think happened just actually happen? Can Rick really do that? Does he have the authority to kick Carol out of the group just because she killed a couple people? That doesn't seem that fair. Decisions, decisions, decisions were at the center of "Indifference," the spiritual successor to Season 3's excellent "Clear." But whereas "Clear" ended with hope and togetherness (and, okay, crippling mental illness for Morgan), "Indifference" tore people apart and left everyone incredibly bummed. You know the drill, the worse things get for the survivors—a group that's changed quite a bit since the start of the zombie apocalypse—the better The Walking Dead is. And "Indifference" was the best character-driven episode of the refocused season, probably because everyone wanted to kill themselves by the time it ended.
But for as good as this episode was, not very much happened! Aside from Rick's big decision at the end and Bob's big battle with the bottle, "Indifference" mostly consisted of 1) a lot of talking and 2) people walking around in scary buildings. However, both of those elements counter-balanced one another, resulting in an impressive hour of drama. I don't think I have to tell you that walking around in scary buildings is one of the things The Walking Dead does best; if the series was just Daryl and Michonne clearing out run-down department stores, I'd still watch. But it might take a little more convincing for most people to get on board with the idea that talking is now one of the series' strong suits. Yes, I just said that, and yes, I actually believe that.
It's probably best to split this discussion up in two parts, so I'll start with Rick and Carol because I loved every part of it even though it shattered my heart into tiny pieces. As Rick is wont to do, he invited Carol to tag along for a supply run so that he could get to know her better, kind of like when The Bachelor's Bachelor invites the quiet chick out on a one-on-one date because she's not opening up to him (in every sense of the word). Rick did the same thing with Michonne back in "Clear," but I'm guessing it was for a difference reason. In that case, Rick wanted to confirm positives he'd seen in Michonne. With Carol, Rick was looking to confirm the negatives. I don't know at what point Rick decided the best idea was to kick Carol out of the group, but part of me wonders whether he considered doing something more... grave. Did you see the way he eyeballed that knapsack of knives when he was packing the Hyundai Tucson (with revolutionary new auto-cleaning feature)? I got the feeling that he knew from the start that shit was going to go down one way or the other.
Carol has been transformed into Season 4's Shane (without the head-rubbing or stomping tantrums)—the survivalist who's willing to do whatever it takes to keep people safe. If you've read my reviews of The Walking Dead in the past, then you know how much I loved Shane. Not necessarily for his way of thinking, but because his status as the "hard truth" guy made the show that much better. The same was true for Carol this week. She was right when she said the group needed person who would make the difficult decisions that Rick wasn't willing to make anymore. Everything Carol did—weapons training for kids, toasting infected Karen and David, splashing Lizzy over the head with an ice-cold bucket of reality—was for the benefit of the group. She just did it all in, let's say, "extreme" ways.
And though this was a very different Carol than the one we're used to from earlier seasons, her evolution was nicely punctuated in "Indifference." "You fight, and fight, you don't give up, and then one day... you change," she told that horrible little rat Lizzy. "We all change." For Carol, that change came when we weren't looking (between seasons?). I just loved how steadfast she was about what she did. She never apologized, and even though she didn't say so, if she was faced with the same situation all over again, she wouldn't do anything differently. Only next time, she'd probably do a better job of hiding the bodies. But what really sold me on this new, indifferent Carol was Melissa McBride's performance. She never broke that feeling of distance and removal that comes from switching gears from nurturer to Sergeant-at-Arms. "You don't have to like what I did, Rick," she said. "I don't. You just accept it." How great was her delivery on that line? This was the new Carol, and in her own words, the "strong" Carol.
At least Carol has a good idea of who she is now, and The Walking Dead put her line of thinking right on the table. Rick still does not who he is. He's had more flip-flops than the bottom of Lake Tahoe. He's the man of the people, then he's the Ricktator, then he's the guy haunted by his horrible wife's ghost, then he's a farmer. He trusts people, he doesn't trust people, then he trusts them again. "You can be a farmer, Rick," Carol told him. "But you can't just be a farmer." And she's right. Rick's stubborn 'tude about picking up a gun is detrimental to the group. Dude! You're a COP with FIREARMS training. Yes, you should have a gun, and yes, you should use it ALL THE TIME. Hershel is a farmer, let him tend the tomatoes. And if you're not going to step up and be the leader, then you can't get upset when others do.
Which begs the question, "Who was the dick here?" Well, everyone, really. That's to be expected when people are dealing with the stress of trying not to be eaten. The Walking Dead knows that its core theme is the lengths people will go to survive, and that's simplified in the question of how much humanity survivors should hang onto. Carol has reached the point where she's an extremist; Rick has been speeding off in the other direction. Neither side is ever the only right answer on this show, and what makes it great is that viewers can find themselves pulled equally in both directions. Do I agree with what Carol did to Karen and David? No, but as a big-picture dude, I get it. However, the dilemma is strong enough that I can also see Rick's side. Carol can't play doctor, judge, and executioner whenever someone sneezes.
Which brings us to Rick's decision to give Carol the boot. So many mixed emotions about this. I'm angry! I'm sad! I'm understanding! I'm feeling helpless! That's why I like this development, even though I love Carol. Again, the best part of this new Carol is what she adds to the show, so I don't want to see her leave. But what would've happened if she stayed? Rick would've been forced to tell Tyreese what Carol did, and Tyreese would've uppercutted Carol to the moon or slammed her on the ground back and forth like Bam-Bam. In that sense, Rick did Carol a favor by sending her packing. I still think Rick jumped the gun, though. There's still time for Carol to redeem herself, and she's thinking very clearly, unlike Shane was. And my oh my, kicking someone out on their own is almost worse than shooting them in the head. I wouldn't be surprised if we never saw Carol again—The Walking Dead has no problem ditching characters—but at least we can hope that we'll see her again. Maybe Rick runs into her new group, maybe she bangs at the prison gates begging for forgiveness, maybe she'll be proven right. This is the sad, painful reality of survival. I WILL ALWAYS MISS YOU CAROL AND I WILL THINK ABOUT YOU FOREVER! I WILL FIND YOU AND BRING YOU CLEAN BLANKETS THAT SMELL LIKE DARYL!
Change was staring in the faces of the other carload of people, too. Tyreese was literally having problems letting go (what was the point of holding onto that zombie?), Michonne was coming to terms with the fact that her revenge quest is fizzling out, and Bob really, really, really wanted some cognac. Daryl was just Daryl, though. That guy is solid like a rock and always should be. Honestly, I thought I had more to say about this half of the episode than I actually do.
I will say that Bob's potential "I'm an alcoholic!" story is not something I'm looking forward to if The Walking Dead chooses to move forward with it. While I'm fully aware that alcoholism is a real thing that's terrible, it's been done to death on television, and it's the 527th most interesting story I'd like to see during a zombie apocalypse. Booze troubles on a show like Parenthood? Sure, go for it. But on The Walking Dead? No thanks.
However, while we're here, I hope Michonne was serious about easing up on the Governor. This season has been great without him, and even though I know he's coming back (David Morrissey wasn't sitting across a table from me at Comic-Con because he had nothing else to do), I'm enjoying the time away from him. Oh God I just had a scary thought. What if he returned to the prison while Rick, Tyreese, Bob, Michonne, Daryl, and Carol were all gone? Who weas left to defend the prison? Stumpy Hershel? Sick Glenn? It'd be just Maggie, Beth, and Carl, and in that situation, I like the Governor's chances.
"Indifference" was a smartly timed road-trip episode that gave us a break from the virus storyline and put the focus on characters in transition. The virus plot is a tricky one to pull off, and the last thing we needed was a fourth straight episode full of people coughing and sweating. If I wanted to see that, I'd just look in a mirror on a Saturday morning! Instead, the episode pushed forward with the series' refocus on character, while still giving us the tough decisions and zombie killing we thirst for. And the more I think about it, the more I think this may've been the best episode of the season so far. It gave me feelings, man! CAROL I'M COMING FOR YOU!!!!!!!!!!!
– Haha zombie who fell down the stairs. You made my day.
– Add "skineaters" to the list of The Walking Dead's pseudonyms for zombies. And put it right at the bottom as the stupidest.
– For the record, if I were Rick, I probably would have let Carol stay and kept the secret between the two of us, with the assurance that she'd consult me before killing anybody else. I think she's been with the group long enough to earn that second chance. Don't forget, Carol lost both a husband (who abused her) and a daughter in this mess; she's gone through more than Rick. Yet she's never hallucinated and answered phone calls from ghosts.
– Maybe I'm an alcoholic, but I have no problem with someone wanting to get drunk during a zombie apocalypse, as long as it's within the confines of a secure camp. I'm still sad that all that beer and wine went to waste in the season premiere. R.I.P. crappy $4.99 bottle of wine and cases of a fake TV brewery's IPA. I would have run my tongue over every inch of you, just like a hobo.
– Those dumpy squatters who Carol and Rick ran into are another example of the little side stories that Season 4 is adding, and I really like them. These small self-contained tales give the series the comic-book feel that was missing in Season 3's heavily serialized, single-story run. The filthy Irish woman who Rick encountered in the premiere was another example of this. They may not be part of a story that links to the rest of the season, but they help build the universe in convincing ways, and to touch on relevant themes and philosophy. Besides, don't we want as many disposable side characters as we can get? Introduce them, sic some zombies on them, and move on to the next story.
– Of course Lori fucked up pancakes and never bothered trying to fix the recipe. What else would you expect? She probably flipped her car 20 times on the way to get maple syrup. (But I still liked this anecdote a lot.)
– And here's something to think about: Carol said she had to lie about falling down the stairs to explain her injuries to ER, nurses instead of telling them the truth about her abusive husband. And then BAM! A female zombie fell down the stairs right at her feet and she stabbed it in the head, killing it... metaphorically killing THE OLD CAROL! Transformation complete!
– As someone who has dislocated his shoulders several times, the most uncomfortable scene I've ever seen on The Walking Dead was Carol resetting Sam's shoulder. Ugh.
– In case you didn't hear, AMC has renewed The Walking Dead for a fifth season, with Scott Gimple staying on as showrunner. Hooray!