For a show that’s always been rather heavy and dark, this season is wearing a lead suit during a solar eclipse. What seemed like a sunny new reality for the Prisonville settlers has quickly dissolved into a different sort of nightmare: a killer flu, twelve bodies to bury, Tyreese and Rick beating the snot out of each other, and the Mysterious Case of the Crispy Critters, which seems like a crime but could also be a really extreme approach to compassionate care in the zombie apocalypse. And as always, blood-thirsty walkers are only half the problem. After Rick nearly breaks his hand on Tyreese’s face, Hershel offers one of his homespun observations on the shit they’re facing: “Everything we’ve been working so hard to keep out, it found its way in.” Rick disagrees. “No,” he says. “It’s always there.” Rick glances over at his sidearm, just in case we missed the point — the monsters are us!
The episode begins on a grim note — graves, many of them, must be dug — and sinks lower from there. Things were bad when the superbug was killing randos, but once it starts to infect folks whose names we actually know, well, it’s serious. Some lady named Jeanette says she has “allergies”? Sure, honey. Off to the quarantine death chamber you go. But Sasha? And sweet mercy, Glenn? The man is in love with the second-baddest babe on earth and is also the preeminent portrait photographer of his time. The doc doesn’t do the group any favors, either; after telling Hershel to save himself and abandon the sick bay, he coughs blood all over the poor guy. Not cool. They’re obviously going to get those meds from the vet college up the road. Right?
Cue this week’s dose of delicious gore as Daryl leads a supply-run road trip with the most intense carload of people you could assemble — Michonne, who’s been told “the trail went cold,” presumably in the search for the Guv; a battered and out-of-his-right-mind Tyreese; and poor bundle-o’-nerves D’Angelo Barksdale, the thing that’s not like the others in this crew. While one major riddle is solved — we’ll get to that in a moment — another emerges as Michonne looks to play some tunes on the old-school car stereo. 97.1 is apparently the greater Atlanta area’s home for distress signals and signs of life on the FM dial, as they hear what sounds like the word alive breaking through the static. No time to ponder that, though, as Daryl gets stuck in a zombie traffic jam. His burn-out over a pile of walkers doesn’t help them escape, but it gives us a great view of wheels spinning and brains and blood flying.
Everyone escapes rather swiftly, as Michonne and Daryl prove once again that they rule — she with the leaping zombie lid reduction, and he with the car-slide knife-skewer. Even Barksdale makes it to the treeline. Then there’s Tyreese. Like Rick last season, Tyreese lost it when his woman died in a horrible fashion, so you’d think the cop would have some sympathy when the big guy lost his temper. But with Farmer Rick gone, his savage instincts took over, leaving Tyreese looking like he just went the distance with Floyd Mayweather (despite his distinct advantage over Rick in size, reach, toughness, and, at that moment, crazy). And because Daryl has to be the coolest dude around at all times, when Tyreese rushes him, he waves off help from Rick. “We’re on the same side, man,” Daryl says, just before Rick goes MMA. If I’m in that camp, I’m looking to Team Crossbow for leadership. Perhaps that’s a power shift on the horizon.
But back to Tyreese. I’m not caught up on The Walking Dead comic books, but I remember a scene early on when Tyreese survives a massive zombie onslaught all by himself, much like he does when he finally emerges from the car, in full Hulk mode. Somehow, you figure these four will make it to the vet hospital, but my money’s on Barksdale as a casualty. Meanwhile, back at the prison, you figure at least one of the sick folks won’t survive. It can’t be Glenn, lest they declare all hope for love is lost. Lizzie’s death could help put Carol back in touch with her softer side. But if you’re placing bets, I’d say the prognosis for Sasha doesn’t look good.
And then there’s Carol. Thanks to Rick’s fine police work and keen observational skills, he realizes what we can plainly see before the episode’s halfway over: Carol killed Karen and David from Decatur. Tyreese clearly doesn’t have a clue, as he asks her to watch over Sasha while he’s gone. When did Carol become Mother Teresa? Notice how, when Lizzie gets sick, Carol gives her a quick hug and then locks her ass up with the quickness. This is the child she promised to protect like her own. (Perhaps someone should remind the group of Carol’s track record as a parent.) When she tells Tyreese she’s “sorry” about Karen and then throws a tantrum, we know she’s guilty. Rick connects the dots — she runs a secret survival class for kids and doesn’t think twice about fetching water alone. Carol is all about the greater good, no matter the cost. It’s a cold mind-set, but it could be the best one, if survival is the goal above all else. But that ain’t Rick’s philosophy, and her down-low decisions won’t sit well with the Council. Or Tyreese, who will point out, calmly and reasonably, that she set two people on fire.
Like water and quality health care, hope is in short supply. Daryl’s crew needs to find those meds and Hershel’s elderberry plan needs to buy the sick folks time. Perhaps the most encouraging sign is that Little Ass Kicker has apparently been eating well (that scene with Beth holding her as Maggie talks through the door — Judy’s a chubster!). But as if to hammer home the point that this cruel world can get crueler, Rick has a real-talk moment in the yard.
“Carol,” he says. “Did you kill Karen and David?”
“Yes,” she says. And with that, she carries her hard-earned water buckets away, as if it’s just another dirty job that someone’s got to do.