How you feel about “Indifference,” the latest episode of The Walking Dead, likely depends on what you believe makes a good leader, coupled with your idea of what drives the prison crew to solider on: the hope of a return to some sort of civilized and thriving society, or a day-to-day struggle to stay one step ahead of a horrible demise that will eventually catch up. If you have no hope for the former, how do you muster the will to take on the latter?
At the heart of this tale are two leaders — one quietly but resolutely working her way to the top, one desperate to share the job — who no longer recognize the person they see in the other.
When we first met Carol Peletier, she was a fearful mother, a battered wife, a baleful washer of clothes and cooker of meals. Now she is almost literally a machine, tending the daily workings of the prison and trying to make sure that no one becomes complacent to the threats all around. Even when that means taking matters — and a knife and a gas can — into her own hands.
Up until this season, we have known Rick Grimes as a man who will do anything to keep the folks for whom he feels responsible safe and give them the best existence in this new world that he possibly can — until Season 3’s series of devastating missteps left him scrambling to determine what is worth fighting, and fighting for.
In the closing moments of last week’s episode, these two trajectories came to one hell of a crossroads, when Rick figured out Carol is a killer and Carol didn’t deny it. Or show one ounce of remorse.
We open Indifference with Rick applying a fresh bandage to his injured hand, clearly with more on his mind than his bloodied knuckles. Meanwhile, Carol visits Lizzie in isolation, telling the girl that she and Rick are going on a supply run — a suspicious pair of situations in any number of ways, since Carol could easily make the run and return without the child knowing, not to mention the odd pairing given hers and Rick’s last interaction.
Lizzie worries that their leaving means that Daryl didn’t survive the trip to the animal hospital. Carols reassures her that that’s not the case, and Lizzie tells her that no one else in isolation has died yet, either. But it’s inevitable. And she’s not troubled by that, because at least when you die, you get to come back as something other. Carol reminds her that that other is nothing good.
Carol is firmly in the “there’s no coming back, so don’t get there in the first place” camp in any number of ways. A gentler heart … horrific illness … all that stuff that renders you weak.
Lizzie, however, is not. She says that even if she survives to adulthood, she won’t be the person she would have been before all of this happened, so whatt’s the point. Where’s Beth and her Ramones song when you really need them?
Carol admonishes the girl that living is the most important thing, so when danger comes calling, Lizzie must grab her sister and run and not be afraid to kill in the name of survival. Lizzie says she’s not afraid to kill; she’s afraid of everything. And when you’re afraid of everything, what’s the motivation to survive? And how can that possibly be undone?
“You fight it and fight it and don’t give up,” Carol tells her. “And then one day you just … change. We all change.” It’s how you change that’s the quagmire, as she and Lizzie and we well know.
Lizzie says tells Carol she will try to be a fighter, accidentally calling her “Mom.” Carol firmly tells the poor kid that she is not her mother. Being a protector takes guts. Being a mother requires emotion.
In the meantime, Rick revisits the scene of Karen’s and David’s deaths and — with a clearer idea of their fatal wounds — envisions how it all went down, lending us that knowledge, too.
On the ride into town, Carol decides to feel Rick out about the real purpose of their trip, noting that a seasoned Maggie really would have been a better bet for a supply run. But then again, Rick probably doesn’t trust the survivors to Carol’s watch now that he knows she a murderer in water-hauler’s clothing. Ain’t that right, Rick?
Rick says nothing.
Clearly suspicious that she’s facing a jury of one, Carol makes her case. She ended Karen’s and David’s suffering, since they drowning in their own blood. But this wasn’t entirely a mercy killing.
“They were the only two that were sick — they were a threat,” she insists. “I had to try and stop it. Somebody had to.”
“Maybe,” says Rick, knowing in hindsight that violence will not stop the virus from spreading.
Meanwhile, Daryl, Michonne, Bob and Tyreese continue their journey to the veterinary hospital. Daryl happens upon a blue-green rock in the road and picks it up to take back to one of the Woodbury transplants. Michonne is amazed that he knows so much about everyone in the prison.
“You stay in one place for more than a couple of hours, you’d be surprised what you pick up,” he tells her with a pointed sideways glance. Message received.
The quartet comes upon a small town with a kudzu-covered gas station (its sign reading “hELL” courtesy of an upside down 4, 3 and pair of 7’s) and a car whose filthy windows boast the fingertip-created graffiti “pardon our dust.” Someone with an intact sense of humor has passed through since the last rainfall. There’s a minivan here, too.
Hacking away at the overgrowth that covers the station to see if keys to the vehicles might be inside, they discover an additional impediment to their mission — walkers trapped in the gnarled vines.
Meanwhile, Rick and Carol have arrived in this town or maybe another and enter a house to look for medicine and food. Hearing noises on the second floor, they encounter a pajama-clad walker and two survivors — a young hippie-dippy couple named Sam and Ana cowering in the bathroom. Well, cowering isn’t exactly the word. Even though they were left behind by their individual survivor groups and his shoulder is dislocated and her right leg is hobbled, they’re thrilled to pieces to have found each other, and a greenhouse full of produce, to boot. Food and love, what more do you really need, zombies in the hallway or otherwise? Still, they’d be tickled to come back to the prison, and are even willing to go gather the rest of the greenhouse harvest to bring with.
I think we may have found our gas station pranksters.
Rick warns them that there is a virus at the prison in addition to the danger or the walkers, and that more than a dozen have died, including kids. Sam asks Carol about her own kids and she only mentions Lizzie and Mika. Not a word about Sophia.
After Carol deftly pops Sam’s dislocated shoulder back into place, Rick asks the pair his infamous three questions, then arms them and tells them to gather what they need and meet back at the house in two hours.
Meanwhile, Tyreese — hesitant about continuing the march onward in the first place — is still having trouble killing strangers, dead or otherwise. While the others take out their kudzu zombies, he holds his at arm’s length until they topple backward together. Michonne kills the walker and tells Tyreese that his will to live is up to him, but she won’t be a witness to a foolish death. Then she asks him if he even knows what he’s going anymore.
Tyreese retorts that she still keeps heading out on hunts for the Governor, so surely she must understand the effects of his unbearable grief.
“If he was here, I’d cut him in two,” Michonne says. “because that’s the way it should be. But I’m not angry anymore.”
“Then why are you still looking?” Ty demands.
“I don’t know,” she says softly.
Inside the gas station, the group discovers that the vehicles’ owners likely did themselves in with antifreeze. Daryl calls them douche bags for their cowardice. Bob says that people have every right to determine the circumstances of their own demise. While the others forge ahead, he comes upon the walker-fied station owner and stops to consider his personal effects. When Michonne notices he is lagging behind, he scrambles to catch up.
Outside, Daryl and Bob have a little heart-to-heart, in which Bob reveals that he was the sole survivor of two different groups till Daryl found him by the roadside and he took up drinking to handle the mental horrors that could catch up with him in the quiet of the night. He feels specially cursed to having to witness all that death and destruction.
Daryl tries to ease his mind and tells him he’s been useful to the group — coming along on the last supply run, for example. Bob looks him in the eye and confesses that he really came along to restock his alcohol supply, which is why he was in that section when the shelves came toppling down, trapping him and resulting poor Zack’s death.
Daryl looks at him hard, but tells him he had no way of knowing what would happen and that he’s still a valued part of their group.
Back in town, Rick and Carol are rummaging for supplies, when Rick asks Carol if she agrees with his decision to let Ana and Sam come back to the prison. She punts a little and says it’s the humane thing to do. But is it right, he presses.
Carol’s done with the beating around the bush. She asks Rick why he has yet to say a word about her confession.
“What do you want me to say?” he says.
“It’s not about what you say,” she responds. “It’s about facing reality.”
Then she gives him a lecture about no longer being the leader he once was and letting his emotions turn him soft. “You can be a farmer, Rick,” she warns. “But you can’t just be a farmer.”
Harvesting tomatoes in a yard, still-farmer-Rick asks Carol if Hershel taught her to mend shoulders like that and she says no. The internet did. It beat having to deal with suspicious ER nurses after another beating from Ed. Then she muses about the days when she feared being alone more than being her husband’s punching bag, saying she didn’t know she could be strong, when she really already was.
Then she reminds Rick that he, too, was once willing to kill the living to protect the group as a whole. But only one of their own, he protests. And that’s because Shane was trying to kill him first. Then he asks Carol why she can’t even say Sophia’s name. Nice try, Rick, but there are no waterworks to be had here. Carol tells him Sophia is dead and fuzzy, happy memories are someone else’s slideshow, not hers.
Rick tries to reach Carol’s formerly compassionate heart a final time, telling her he still expects to wake up find Lori there, and regaling her with a story about how his wife used to make the family pancakes every Sunday even though she was terrible at it.
Here’s Rick’s message: Lori badly wanted a cozy family that ate Sunday breakfast together.
Here’s what Carol hears: Lori kept on making pancakes, even though she sucked at it, because she figured she’d master it sometime.
On their way back to the meeting place, they see a dropped basket of produce and a bloody trail leading to a fence. On the other side of the gate is Ana’s bum leg. And that’s it. Across the street is the rest of her, serving as a buffet for a pair of walkers.
Back at the house, Sam is nowhere to be found. Rick wants to wait a little longer. Carol wants to go. A deal’s a deal and Sam broke it. The prison needs them. No sense wasting time and feelings on someone they just met. And Carol’s had enough of peacenik tomato pickers, thank you very much.
The supply run to the animal hospital is success, until Bob stumbles on a second story ledge on the way back to the van and ends up in a mighty tug of war for his bag with a crowd of walkers. The others yell for him to let it go and run, but he fights mightily.
Gotta bring the drugs back to the suffering, right? Wrong. When Bob manages to heave the bag back onto the roof, we all discover that he was really fighting for. A bottle of booze. A bottle of booze for which Bob momentarily considers drawing his gun on his allies. And that ain’t alright with Mr. Dixon.
Going to forehead to forehead with the army medic in the alpha-Daryl manner we haven’t see ages (and I’ll admit I kinda miss), Daryl tells Bob that he will come back to the prison to help tend to the ill, but if Daryl catches him using the hooch for anything other than to sedate the suffering, Daryl will kill him himself.
“It was just for when it gets quiet,” poor Bob says.
Speaking of quiet, it’s looking like a quiet ride home for Rick and Carol, because Sam is still a no-show. Carol says oh well. Rick says hopefully he’ll be fine on his own. And speaking of that …
…hopefully Carol will be fine on her own, too, because he’s not allowing her to return to the prison. The knives and supplies we saw him loading into the car before the run are actually for her — and she did nothing on their field trip to change his mind about his decision.
Killing Karen and David wasn’t her choice to make, he tells her. The two might have survived to take the medicine the others are bringing back. And because of that rogue and reckless decision-making, it is she who is now the threat — if she even survives Tyreese’s rage when he learns the truth.
Rick has his children — his best hope for returning to a life of Pancake Sundays — to protect. And all Carol is doing is turning children into killers like herself.
Carol calmly says that no one else ever needs to know the truth and reiterates that all she is really guilty of is trying to stanch a threat, rather than stand by and pretend that everything will be fine with a few brown bottles arrive. But she recognizes that she isn’t going to change his mind and doesn’t seem terribly bothered by it. She gets into the car Rick has packed for her, circles slowly past him, and drives away. Leaving Rick with a hell of a lot of explaining to consider on his own solo drive home.
So much for us to consider, too, before next week’s episode, which is tellingly called Internment. Starting with whether or not Rick really believes that Carol is an indiscriminate killer, or if it’s her world view and burgeoning leadership style — so inconsistent with his own — that is more threat than a few dead sick folks here and there. After all, he could have very well gone to the counsel, told them of her confession and let them participate in the doling out of justice and how to best manage the fallout from Tyreese.
And what will happen once he returns to the prison with no Carol in tow? She got a jump start, so maybe she will even be there when he returns — forcing him to deal with the others’ opinions before he could banish her again and driving home her point about his impotence as a leader. If she’s not there, how will the others react? Sides are sure to be drawn based on folks’ interpretation of Carol’s actions, further dividing an already fractured prison.
If Carol does stay out of the road, will Daryl go a’lookin’ for his girl, knowing what she did? Will she join up with Sam? The Governor? A new group entirely? Or is she the new Michonne, going it alone and doing so much the better without others to consider?
And speaking of loners — what about Bob? Since his scariest demons are clearly his own thoughts, will his Daryl enforced prohibition be the end of him or will he step up and help Hershel now that Dr. S is bleeding from the eyes?
Tell us what you think — do you agree with Carol that survival is the ultimate goal, or with Rick that survival without humanity — humaneness — isn’t really surviving at all? How will the others at the prison react? And will the fruits of the medicine run turn things around for the ailing? Sound off in the comments section below.
New episodes of The Walking Dead premiere Sunday nights at 9/8CT on AMC.