Culture

“The Walking Dead” review: “Inmates”

inmates

Last night, The Walking Dead continued to follow what happened to the rest of the survivors from the prison, in “Inmates.” The episode was divided into four distinct sections, each following a different group of characters.

The teaser and opening act was devoted to Daryl and Beth. We begin with voice-over from Beth’s diary, specifically from when they first arrived at the prison. She muses about being hopeful they can stay there, while in the present, the two of them walk away from the devastation. As their segment continues, Beth remains hopeful, while Daryl is not. Eventually she breaks down. Basically, your standard, run-of-the-mill Walking Dead bleakness.

A much more compelling segment, the second act focused on Lizzie and Mika, Tyreese, and in a not-so-surprising turn of events, baby Judith, who as it turns out is alive and well. Seeing Tyreese try to look after two little girls and a baby, none of whom are his, was pretty interesting. Even more interesting was the delineation the episode made in how Lizzie and Mika chose to deal with the recent tragedy. The younger and more sensitive of the two, Mika can’t help but be scared at every turn. Lizzie, however, practically seemed ready to go rogue last night. Mika is the one who mentions as they’re wandering around that she misses Carol, but it is Lizzie who seems be imitating Carol’s “do whatever needs to be done” attitude.

What was probably the highest point of tension in the episode came when Tyreese has to leave the girls for a minute to investigate some suspicious noises, and Lizzie and Mika are left alone with a crying Judith. When walkers appear, Mika is too rattled to shoot them. But even before that, Lizzie seems to be considering a different way to solve the problem; afraid Judith’s cries will attract unwanted guests (which, in Lizzie’s defense, they did,) she puts her hand over the child’s mouth. Its unclear in this moment whether she was simply trying to stifle Judith’s cries momentarily, or if she actually intended to go full Alan Alda. Either way though, it was a great moment, and Lizzie is a character to watch.

The act ends when Carol, the show’s true consummate survivor, appears to Tyreese (who has just kicked some zombie butt, but who couldn’t save the men said zombies were attacking) with the girls by her side like a mother lion who just rescued her cubs. It’s not surprising that Carol is back, since among the current lineup, she’s one of the better drawn members of The Walking Dead’s ensemble, and to keep her off the roster for too long would be a shame. Moreover, Tyreese still doesn’t know that Carol is the one who killed his love interest, Karen, earlier in the season, so if they keep this group together, there’s a chance for some pretty intense friction there.

Before going to commercial, one of the men Tyreese was trying to save from the walkers pipes up. He’s close to death, but he tells them he was following the train tracks to a safe place. Personally, I think this advice would have been more helpful if he had told them which way on the tracks he was walking, but luckily, there’s a map on the side of the road reading, “Sanctuary for all. Community for all. Those who arrive, survive,” which I’m going to assume pointed them in the right direction. The map also indicates that the name of this mystery place is Terminus.

The third act shifted to Sascha, Maggie, and Bob. They eventually find the bus that got away from the prison, only to discover it’s crawling with walkers. This struck me as a little odd, since I would think the group of survivors likely to do the best would be the one protected by a giant moving vehicle, rather than the ones wandering the forest/open road, but apparently not. Bob has a little moment of reflection as he says, “They were all good people. All of them.”

I also found this problematic, for a couple of reasons. First of all, we have no idea who these people were, and they clearly only existed in the show at that moment to be extra dead bodies for the lead cast members to fight off. A friend of mine compared all the new additions in the prison to Star Trek-style redshirts. Personally, they reminded me of all the other passengers of Flight 815 on Lost; “What? Another person on the island died! Oh, it was just Jared, who hasn’t really been in any of the main action and pretty much showed up right now just so he could get killed off? No big deal then.” It was also hard to take the loss of all these never-before-seen members of the prison community seriously, since the very next thing our little group did was let them off one by one so they stab them in the head.

The reason they did this, of course, was so that Maggie could see whether Glenn was one of these unfortunate souls. Now, if you’re like me, you were probably thinking at this point, “I’m not sure this is a good plan. What if they overpower you guys and all come out at once?” Well, guess what, that’s exactly what they did. (Yay for us being so smart!) But even so, they managed to take down all the walkers in sight, leaving Maggie to inspect the bus for her better half. Towards the front of the bus, she finds one zombie that’s hidden under another. He has black hair, like Glenn, but his face is obscured for our view. She stabs him and begins to sob. But what at first look like tears of grief give way to tears of uncontrollable laughter. It appears Glenn is safe.

And guess what, he is! This wasn’t exactly a shock; not only were the show’s fourth and fifth acts about him, but he showed up in last week’s preview too (I know I shouldn’t watch them, but oh well). Left behind at the prison and forced to reckon with the horde of walkers pervading the premises, Glenn decides to become a total bad ass, and puts on a bunch of riot gear so he can fight his way out. Again, you wouldn’t think this would work, but somehow Glenn manages to pull it off, and against my better judgment, I have to admit he looked pretty cool doing it. However, before he can make it to the prison gates, he spots Tara, hiding amidst the chaos that she was technically a part of causing. She tells Glenn as much, but he takes pity on her, and tells her he needs her help. Amongst the things Glenn managed to collect before attempting to leave was a liquor bottle (most likely left behind by Bob). He manages to craft a molotov cocktail out of this, and the fire it causes serves as an adequate enough distraction for he and Tara to escape. Once out on the open road, Tara reveals that the Governor killed an old man. Glenn knows this was Hershel, yet he still allows Tara to come with him and help him find Maggie, telling her, “She got out, so you’re going to help me find her.” The episode ends with Glenn collapsing from exhaustion, then three people in ridiculous-looking camouflage outfits pulling up out of nowhere.

I have to say, I’m glad Tara is sticking around for at least a little bit longer. Beside being The Walking Dead’s first major LGBT character, she injects some much needed personality into a show where everyone else is usually so incredibly somber (albeit with good reason).

There were definitely things to like about last night’s episode. If nothing else, “Inmates” gave some decent screen time to Wire alums Chad L. Coleman and Lawrence Gillard Jr. (Tyreese and Bob). However, now that we’ve caught up with everyone, I’d like to see the rest of the season do something else other than having the characters just wander around, as I talked about last week. I’ve been hoping and assuming that our heroes would eventually run into some sort of military or paramilitary group, a la 28 Days Later. They sort of did a similar story line with Woodbury, but it wouldn’t make sense for there not to be other kinds of camps out there, with different rules and different problems. Perhaps that’s where Terminus and the three mystery characters at the end of the episode come in.

The single most notable shot from last night’s “Inmates” was of a highway sign that read, “Hitchhikers may be escaping inmates.” The obvious theme to infer is that everyone in the universe of The Walking Dead is an inmate. Whether they’re stuck in an actual prison or not, they’re all trapped in a cell, except that cell isn’t enclosed, it’s the entire world. Whether that was there in the episode’s conception or whether I’m simply reading into it doesn’t really matter, though. When it comes to these things, The Walking Dead is about a subtle as a hammer. “Inmates” wasn’t a particularly bad episode, nor was it a particularly good one, but it was relentless in the show’s continued effort to yell at us about how “THIS IS REALLY FREAKING SAD.” That’s not always a bad thing; we need to be sad every once in a while. But I personally grow weary of The Walking Dead‘s brand of heavy-handed darkness. The show is so serious, so humorless, I wish just once they would trade in their sulky silence for a bit of witty dialog.