Although it’s only become an explicit theme in season four, The Walking Dead‘s always been a show about infections. Infections of the brain, infections of the body – and when it’s at its most interesting, the infection of a soul, something “Isolation” puts dead in its sights, using Carol and Tyreese as devices to explore moral degradation in a post-apocalyptic world. As always, the zombies and flu-ridden humans of TWD will be a threat, but the real ones to worry about (the real ‘sick’ people, by many definitions of the word) are the ones still alive, because they’re the ones with something to lose. While Rick contemplates how much of a zombie he’s become himself (given his disregard for human well-being, stumbling around mindlessly while looking for sustenance), Carol and Tyreese are learning the other fun ways for one’s moral compass and sense of humanity to rot away, like having to make tough, regrettable decisions that are bound to haunt you, or watching everyone you care wither away in front of your eyes. In that sense, “Isolation” is one of the most thematically-unified episodes of The Walking Dead: too bad it takes a really boring episode to get us there.
It’s not that I don’t like Tyreese or Carol: but they’ve only stepped into the foreground for the last three episodes, and “Isolation” plays on some very easy, broad character notes (the only ones establish-able in three episodes’ time). Carol’s become a decisive, homicidal type (with a heart, though; she sobs a little after thinking of what she did, because women always cry when they feel bad about anything on TV), learning that someone has to make the tough decisions when nobody wants to do them: and of course, learning the hard lesson that “having a plan” only leads to chaos blind-siding you from the angle you’d least expect it. Life is a bitch, and Carol’s embracing it, even if it means burning two sick people alive (to no effect, unfortunately) which causes a huge fist fight between Rick and Tyreese, eventually leading to Carol crying and spilling all the leftover water in a laughably lame fit of anger at herself for being so murderous.
Looking at the larger picture, Carol’s actions (and Tyreese’s growing instability, shown as he breaks out his hammer for a round of Zombie Smash in the woods) speak to the other, invisible infections on The Walking Dead, mental viruses that wipe out any sense of hope and purpose in life (something Herschel actively fights against in this episode, being the enlightened character he is): when the word is filled with the mindless dead, how else can a predator ensure the safety of himself and others? Carol thinks she has the answer (be a tough, unforgiving adult figure), but everything has its setbacks: killing Karen and David only causes more in-fighting while the Bloody Cough Plague of Death spreads, and her lessons on stabbing for the children are most certainly going to reach an undesirable, graphic conclusion (even if the crazy little sister is sick right now… I don’t trust that little girl for one damn minute).
But this is the way of the world in The Walking Dead: even the best-laid plans fall apart in this show, whether it’s Woodsbury, safe prison life, a trip to Atlanta, or a farm in the middle of nowhere. There’s no such thing as ‘safe’ or ‘happy’ in this world, just people clinging onto their last shreds of humanity while the biological terrors rage around them. Wash, rinse, repeat.
If anything, “Isolation” nails home the idea of the slow mental degradation of a cruel world – but again, it’s a point this show’s made many, many times over, it’s only new wrinkles those found on Carol’s pained, scrunched face. Is there really anything new to say here? “Isolation” never really suggests an answer, content to spend its time focused on Daryl being friendly with women, and Tyreese walking around with Angry Face and one eye swollen shut. One thing is clear: shit is getting ugly at the camp, and The Walking Dead doesn’t seem too sure where it wants to head next.
– Glenn’s sick, and Herschel takes a spraying mouthful of blood to the face. Not looking so hot, fellas.
– Carol’s “I’m mad at being a murderer” hissy fit is one of the lamest displays of anger I’ve ever seen on film.
– why are they planning a 12-hour trip to drive 50 miles in a fast-ass Dodge? Don’t understand the timeline there.
– I suppose the conclusion to the Zombie Horde sub-plot will happen next week. Will all four of them make it out alive?
– Daryl hears a voice on the radio… who might that be?
– The Governor waits in the shadows: Michonne still insists on hunting him down, even after Daryl’s re-iterated that his trail’s “gone cold”.
– Carl, translated: “Stop being a fucking idiot, Dad – I’m going to shoot somebody and you know it.”
– This week’s flashy one-off zombies: Moss Body Zombie and Bear Trap Leg Zombie (oh, and don’t forget Died In My Prison Cell Zombie, something we saw previously in early season three episodes).