In a world overrun by death and destruction, ambivalence is essentially the same thing as death. In order to survive, one needs willpower and wherewithal. If you have the skill-set to hack it out in a world where the dead have risen and your loved ones are in constant danger of a gruesome end, but you lack the drive to persevere, then you’re already dead. Likewise, just wanting to survive isn’t enough either, especially if you don’t have the tools or the dumb luck to keep on keeping on. It’s a delicate tightrope to walk, and one on which all of the characters on The Walking Dead find themselves, toeing the line and hoping to high heaven not to fall off.
There’s a decidedly “Serenity Now” quality to “Indifference,” in that each character is having difficulty grappling with circumstances they cannot control and trying to convince themselves that they’re doing the right thing. For Bob, it’s his alcoholism. For Michonne, it’s fruitlessly searching for the Governor. For Tyreese, it’s the tragic murder of Karen and David. For Carol, it’s feeling the need to take preemptive action against the invisible killer in their midst. For Rick, it’s coming to terms with what Carol did and how to address the homicidal elephant in the room. For Darryl, it’s… well, Darryl’s probably one of the better-adjusted people on the show at the moment. He seems to be one of the few people thinking with a clear head these days, a quality that cannot be overvalued.
Tyreese is quickly becoming a liability to the group. Obviously, he’s still dealing with quite a bit of emotional trauma, and his sister is sick with the plague, but he’s got a serious case of Rick Grimes Syndrome, and he needs to snap out of it before he costs someone – or himself – their life. Fortunately, it looks like he and Michonne are making a connection, and given that they are equally fucked up inside, hopefully they can help each other get through these difficult times.
I’ve got to hand it to Scott Gimple and his team, because all the cold opens so far have been exceptionally brutal. This week’s frank heart-to-heart talk between Carol and Lizzie through the quarantine glass was no exception, as they have an uncomfortably honest and honestly uncomfortable discussion over their current state of affairs. Following that up with the world’s most uncomfortable car ride? Well, that’s just icing on the awkward cake.
Parts of this episode resemble a Samuel Beckett play, with two characters talking in deeply existential terms as they relentlessly try to keep moving without ever really getting anywhere. This sort of treadmill conundrum is ingrained into the show itself because there isn’t any relief in sight from the zombie apocalypse, so it feels like that, no matter what the survivors do, they’re always stuck running in place. This sense of hopelessness is what can lead to the titular indifference, and the characters need to pick themselves up by their bootstraps, Horatio Alger-style, and realize that it may seem hopeless at times, but there is still utility in making an effort to survive.
The writers return to this theme again and again, particularly with Carol and Rick on their fateful supply run. Carol and Rick are clearly at odds over how to manage the group. Rick sees violence as a defensive measure and emphasizes risk management. Carol is more, shall we say, utilitarian in how she renders her verdicts. People in the prison were sick, they were in pain, so Carol took it upon herself to try and stave off the flu spreading by killing them and immolating their corpses.
Carol lays it all out on the table for Rick, letting him know that the status quo has changed. “You can be a farmer, Rick. You can’t just be a farmer,” she says. It’s hard for Rick to hear it spoken out loud, partly because he knows it’s true. We get some real insight into how Carol’s thought process works. She may seem cold and callous to some, but she has had to deal with so much trauma and loss that she has built up a callus around her heart, operating to serve what she perceives as the greater good.
The Walking Dead is at its best when it can balance the horror movie set pieces with focused, thoughtful moments of character development. The gold standard is last season’s “Clear,” a tremendous, affecting bottle episode of sorts that saw Rick, Michonne, and Carl finding themselves in a booby trap-laden town with Morgan, driven mad by grief. While “Indifference” doesn’t reach the same heights as “Clear,” it does have enough emotional peaks and valleys to make this one of the best episodes of the season and, perhaps, the series, thanks to its frank, honest character moments. Case in point, the final exchange between Rick and Carol before she rides off into the sunset:
RICK: “They might have lived. That wasn’t your decision to make.”
CAROL: “Rick, it’s me. No one else has to know. I thought you were done making decisions for everyone. I did something. I stepped up. I had to do something.”
RICK: “You’re gonna start over, find others – people who don’t know – and you’re gonna survive out here.”
Yikes, guys. It’s only been four episodes and we’ve had more emotional sucker punches than last season had in its entirety. It’s frustrating to see Carol go, but the whole point of this episode is about letting go, so while it hurts, it’s something that had to be done. Rick has the skill-set to survive, and now, for better or for worse, Rick has let go of Carol and hopefully regained his will to live. Because without it, he’s dead already.
Odds and Ends
– “We all change. We don’t get to stay the same way we started.” Lizzie has a surprisingly optimistic view of the horrible fate that awaits her.
– “Don’t call me Mom.” Carol, you are officially the scariest motherfucker on the show.
– I love the cutaway when Rick starts asking the house hippies his questions three. A nice little reference to the season opener.
– “Everybody makes it… ’til they don’t.” – Bob Stookey
– God, Bob Stookey is fucking heartbreaking. “I didn’t want to hurt nobody. It was just for when it gets quiet.” Addiction is a terrible thing, and having to cope with an overwhelming, inescapable urge in a world gone mad is unimaginable.
– Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of Carol.
– While it’s not an actual Governor sighting, it should be noted for hilarious posterity that David Morrissey will be narrating the audiobook of maudlin crooner Morrissey’s autobiography.
What did you think of this week’s episode of The Walking Dead? Let us know in the comments below.