Welcome to our recap of The Walking Dead, Season 4, episode 4! Please also check out archives of our live-tweeting coverage of the episode as it happened (#NOCemdead) from the official @TheNerdsofColor Twitter account, with bonus contribution by me through my @Reappropriate Twitter handle.
And now, on with the recap!
Spoiler alert! This is a recap. You know the drill.
When last we left our fearless heroes, Carol had just nonchalantly confessed to Rick that she had murdered Karen and the other Infected and burnt their bodies in the courtyard. Meanwhile, in the woods, Daryl, Michonne, Stookey and Tyreese were forced to abandon their car after driving headlong into a Walker megahorde, and were now striking out towards the veterinary college on foot.
Tyreese is still dealing with his grief from the death of Karen, and is again expressing that grief through his ongoing Luke Cage impersonation. In fact, the adjective “angrily” could be used to describe pretty much everything Chad Coleman did in last night’s episode: Tyreese angrily hacked through some overgrown ivy; Tyreese angrily tried to throttle a Walker; Tyreese angrily foraged through the veterinary college cabinets for medicine; Tyreese angrily washed his shirt in the creek.
Tyreese’s anger is a recurring source of tension for the rest of the survivor away mission crew, one that rises to the level of full-blown concern when Tyreese’s need to solve his emotional issues by breaking things with his hands endangers both himself and the other survivors. When the survivors encounter an overgrown shed and vehicle, Tyreese violently hacks at the branches with his machete like the trees had killed his girlfriend; when they are beset by Walkers lurking within the brush (because Tyreese’s violent hacking was too violent), Tyreese tries to choke the Walker that launches itself upon him, and won’t let go even as the other survivors are screaming for him to stop so they can kill the Walker. Some wonder if Tyreese has a deathwish; I rather think that Tyreese believes the only emotion he has left is his rage at the death of his girlfriend, which leaves him stomping around every scene like the Black Hulk and is wonderfully stereotypical.
Speaking of The Walking Dead‘s Black Man Problem, we were also treated to a delightful scene between Daryl and Stookey last night, one that perpetuates the questionable relationship the show is developing with Black masculinity. As the survivors travel to the veterinary college, Stookey confesses to Daryl his struggle with alcoholism, made worse by the stresses of the post-zombie apocalyptic world. Daryl dismisses Stookey’s addiction, basically telling him to “get over it.”
Upon arriving at the veterinary college, the survivors forage for medical supplies until they are again attacked by Walkers.
(At one point, Stookey discourages the survivors from engaging Walkers that were killed by the Infection — the first time that anyone has suggested that perhaps the Walkers can serve as vectors for the disease. Whether this is the transmission pathway for the virus remains to be further explained.)
The survivors attempt to escape through a second-story window and three feet down onto a roof, which Stookey inexplicably messes up; instead, he trips over his own feet and falls, and nearly loses his tote bag to Walkers beneath. The other survivors urge Stookey to leave the bag, but Stookey won’t let it go. Daryl runs over and helps Stookey salvage the bag from the Walkers, but then confronts Stookey about the contents of the bag. Predictably, the bag contains no meds at all; instead, Stookey had foraged a half-drunk bottle of liquor from somewhere, and was trying to smuggle it back to camp. Daryl is furious at Stookey, admonishes and chastises him, again tells him to “get over” his alcoholism, and threatens him if he drinks any of the scotch before any of the Infected get better. Stookey, for his part, does nothing but sputter weakly.
This was, perhaps, the weakest moment of last night’s episode: the decision to introduce Stookey’s alcoholism in the episode the way it was introduced is strong, but Daryl’s treatment of Stookey’s ailment is bizarre, unrealistic, and somewhat uncharacteristic considering Daryl’s own personal history. The fact that Daryl would be so unsympathetic to Stookey (who both confessed to Daryl about his alcoholism in a moment of vulnerability and later apologized for his actions at the vet college, explaining them as an expression of his addiction, rather than a deliberately malicious act) is out-of-place, unnecessary, and disturbing. Daryl’s attitude doesn’t even reflect modern perceptions of alcoholism, let alone the roughneck compassion that has come to define the character.
Not to mention that, again, we now have two episodes in a row where a White male protagonist graphically subdues one of the show’s only two Black men, as if it is necessary to repeatedly reassert the dominance of the White male protagonist over Black masculinity. (Remember, last week’s opening scene wherein Rick gave Tyreese the black eye he sported for the rest of the episode.)
I really think The Walking Dead writers dropped the ball on this one.
(That being said, we were given some possible hints in this episode that Stookey might also be more than he seems. I speculated on Twitter that Stookey might be a Governor mole; we’ll have to see if I’m right on this prediction. If so, maybe Stookey will get the last laugh, after all.)
Anyways, speaking of Rick, he and Carol anchor the other major story arc. At the start of the episode, Rick and Carol set out to forage some local houses for any over-the-counter cough and cold medications. Seated quietly in a car with the weight of Carol’s confession hanging heavily between them, we are almost certain that something tragic is going to happen to Carol this episode. Frankly, the entire scene reminded me of the final moments between Walter White and Mike Ehrmantraut, when so much needs to be said yet so much goes unsaid; all the while, we are haunted by the inevitable consequences of all that has gone on between the two.
Rick and Carol discover a house with a lone Walker in it; there they meet two incompetent hippies. One of them looks like young Eminem, y’know from the Marshall Mathers LP days, the other offers Rick and Carol apricots. They aren’t sure what to make of Baby Eminem and Apricot Girl, but it’s almost immediately clear that these two hippies won’t last long on the road by themselves; they admit to having lived in the house for two days without even realizing there is a live Walker in the same building. Further, they look aghast at the notion of stabbing a Walker through the head; clearly someone needs to enroll in Carol’s remedial Knives 101 class during Story Time.
Nonetheless, Rick asks Baby Eminem and Apricot Girl his Three Questions, and they dubiously pass. Although Rick and Carol try half-heartedly to send them on their merry way, Baby Eminem and Apricot Girl are persistently doe-eyed and eager to join the group; eventually Rick and Carol relent and agree to bring them back to the Prison. In exchange, the two will help forage the houses for food (and more apricots); Rick gives up his watch as a guarantee that he and Carol will return to retrieve the Hippie Duo.
Privately, Rick and Carol discuss the humanity of inviting Baby Eminem and Apricot Girl back with them, both certain that the two will be more liabilities than assets. Carol argues strongly that saving them was the humane thing to do — a bizarre outlook considering Carol also thought that the ruthless murder of Karen and the other Infected was also humane. But, the problem is solved when Rick and Carol go outside to discover Apricot Girl’s corpse being eaten by a couple of Walkers whereas Baby Eminem has disappeared entirely. Non-plussed, Carol indicates that it’s time to go.
At the car, Carol finally asks Rick why they haven’t talked about Carol’s confession. Rick explodes on Carol, and after explaining that his decision is based exclusively on protecting Carl from Carol’s influence, Rick makes the unilateral decision to expel Carol from the group. Carol’s reaction confirms that both she and Rick knew that this was the true purpose of the trip (because really, hoping to find some Vicks was a dumb reason to go forage). Carol is concerned about Lizzie and Mika, the girls that were placed in her trust a couple episodes back, but Rick insists that Carol cannot take the girls with her. Carol relents, and the two pack the station wagon they find abandoned at the beginning of the episode and which they had earlier remarked on (it all makes sense now!).
At the end of the episode, Carol gives Rick her ex-husband’s watch (to replace the one he gave to Baby Eminem) and drives off without a backward glance, leaving Rick to reflect upon the consequences of what has just happened.
Carol’s departure prompted quite some heated reactions over on Twitter. Some felt it hypocritical for Rick to expel Carol from the group.
Others thought it a harsh (if appropriate) response.
Personally, I felt Rick’s response was completely correct: Carol’s vigilante decision to go behind the backs of the rest of the Prison community and kill Karen and the other guy should not be tolerated for several reasons.
First of all, unlike every other human person murdered by someone on the show (Rick murdering Shane, Carl murdering the hostage, etc), the Infected had not deliberately threatened the group with violent intent to kill the members of the group. Karen and the other guy were infected with the disease, but it was not proven if (and it’s still unknown if) treatment is going to be ineffective in curing the disease; meanwhile, the immediate threat they posed to the survivors was neutralized by the quarantine based on the simple understanding that viruses don’t magically travel through walls. Killing individuals after they’re quarantined by before they die of the disease is just plain unnecessary, particularly since bitten survivors get the dignity of turning before they are stabbed in the ear.
Second and more importantly, Carol’s actions undermine the social contract of the Prison community. In an anarchistic post-apocalyptic world, a community depends upon implicit and explicit social structure and laws: this was true both in Woodbury and in Rick’s group, where martial law maintained a semblance of order. One of the most fundamental aspects of the social contract of the Prison community is the trust that your fellow survivors won’t murder you in your sleep over real or perceived threats. The crime Carol committed was not just the murder of two innocents, it was the violation of that social contract in killing a fellow member of the community. If Carol’s actions go unpunished, that trust in one’s own personal safety from fellow survivors would be broken.
Furthermore, Carol murdered the Infected without knowledge or consent of the community’s only ruling party: the Council. This isn’t without precedent: earlier, she tried to conscript Carl to lie to Rick about her Knife 101 class. Taken together, these actions indicate that Carol is no longer trustworthy: she is completely willing to lie to the other community members so she can act as a vigilante on her own. Allowing a member of the Prison community, no matter who she is, to take the law into her own hands and, in this case, kill someone she perceives as a threat to the safety of the community cannot be allowed because it undermines the “civil rights” of Prison community members in the name of group safety. Both Carol and the Governor committed these sorts of acts, and their characters’ mindsets seem highly relevant to today’s civil rights vs domestic safety national debate.
That being said, Rick’s actions were also problematic: his decision to expel Carol was also unilateral and without consultation with the Council. In fact, we’re seeing the (perhaps reluctant) return of Sheriff Rick, whom we’ve already seen is willing to assert unchallenged leadership over the survivor group and yet makes arguably bad decisions with that power. With Sheriff Rick back, it’s possible that the greatest loss of last night’s episode wasn’t Carol, but the loss of the informal plebiscite of the Prison; it’s unclear whether Rick will assume additional (and unilateral) leadership of the Prison when he returns, which ultimately renders him no more moral than Carol.
Either way, we can only wait and see what’s in store next for our survivors.
Lingering Questions: Will Daryl, Michonne, Tyreese and Stookey make it back to the Prison in time to save Glenn and the others from the Infection? Can the Infected Walkers really transmit the disease? Will Stookey found an Alcoholics Anonymous group at the Prison? Will Tyreese ever calm down? Will Rick tell the truth about why Carol left to the survivors, and if so, how will Tyreese react?
And, above all, will Carol find and join the Governor in taking down the Prison, perhaps in an effort to reunite with Lizzy and Mika?
- NOC-ap: The Walking Dead, Diary of an Angry Black Man (thenerdsofcolor.org)