(CAUTION: spoilers ahead!)
As the illness takes hold and the crew tries to sort out who burned and killed two of their own, it’s become clear that their ability to work together as a well-oiled machine can become difficult in times of stress and turmoil. “Isolation” is not just referring to the separation of the sick to prevent infection; it’s about the decisions people have to make when there isn’t time for the luxury of a council meeting or a heartfelt conversation.
The Walking Dead, Episode Four, Season Four opens with Glen digging a grave; he glances over at Maggie who is doing the same. Then we see several others helping. We learn that twelve people have become sick and died since the attack on the cell block, and others are starting to show symptoms, including Glen and Sasha. The children are being quarantined, including Carl, who Rick allows to bring his gun to help keep the others safe.
Tyreese, who until now has been a big gentle bear of man, physically powerful and tough when it’s called for, but mostly being sweet and compassionate, shows another side. He grows violent towards Rick, after ordering him to find whoever did this to Karen and David, and insisting on justice. The two men fight and we wonder briefly if Rick is once more losing his hard won mental stability. Hershel doctors his sprained hand, says when he went off the wagon he just accepted it and moved on, and advises Rick to do the same.
Sasha makes her way to see Dr. S. and sees people huddled and shivering, some coughing up blood; it’s like a medieval sick ward full of people suffering from plague or consumption. Dr. S. tells her “We have to tell them; it’s starting.”
With Dr. S. out of commission, Hershel is under immense pressure to help heal the sick; the new army medic decides to go one a run with Daryl,, Michonne, and Tyreese (who needs convincing from Darryl, and is finally moved by the sight of 3 sick people to forgo his quest for justice for the time being). They’re going for antibiotics at the local veterinary college campus some 50 miles away. Hershel tells them, the illness doesn’t kill, the symptoms do, and they need medicine. Rule Number Two of the Zombie Apocalypse: Hoard Your Antibiotics. (You all know what Rule Number One is, right?)
We see Hershel poring over his books and charts, then fondling a mug that says “Java Saves.” Given his recent comments about falling off the wagon, we wonder if he is cracking from the pressure. On his way to the woods (for a secret stash? A bottle of Jamesons’s stuck in a hollow tree?), Carl insists on escorting him. After all, Hershel is one of the elderly folk who should also be under quarantine. When Maggie tells Beth about Glen, her little sister says “We’re not allowed to be upset; we’ve all got jobs to do, that’s what Daddy says.” Hershel picks elderberries and puts them in a sack, to make tea (okay, I thought maybe he was planning to make wine), mentioning they’re a natural flu remedy his wife used. I’d been wondering when we’d have a bit more of this kind of thing: the return to traditional ways of healing in the absence of the pills and electronic equipment of Western medicine.
Rule Number Three: Bone Up on Your Herbal Remedies.
They encounter two walkers in the woods at a campsite; disturbingly, one (a man) is sitting under a tree in a state of decay, covered with moss the other (a woman), staggers towards them with her leg caught in a trap (the kind people use to trap beavers and foxes for fur). This couple may have been trying to get away from it all, either before or after the epidemic; and the forest was their undoing. Like the elderberry tea, this is a reminder that modern humans have lost much of the knowledge our ancestors had for surviving in the outdoors, and that living in the woods is dangerous to us now (unless you have someone like Darryl around). It’s true that most Americans don’t know how to sharpen a knife in the wild, what are you going to do with that pocket knife that has become more dull than your mother in-law? Read a knife sharpening review guide for goodness sake.
One of the most powerful scenes in this week’s episode is the arrival of Darryl and his crew at the college campus; Distracted by a distant voice heard on the radio on the road leading in, they barely notice when a few walkers surround the car. Looking ahead, they see hundreds, possibly thousands, of slow-moving walkers headed their way. The entire campus is overrun and obviously impossible to get to. But the despair over inaccessible antibiotics is nothing to the immediate issue: walkers getting caught in the wheel wells (of Zach’s loaded luxury sedan) as Darryl tries to beat a hasty retreat.
They have to abandon the car and run to the woods, and Tyreese appears to be lost amid the throng of the walking dead. The other three leave him behind, but he catches up, covered in gore but able to keep fighting. It’s worrying that these four will be in the woods fifty miles from the prison; an earlier veiled conversation between Darryl and Michonne has them saying the “trail went cold” and now we must wonder if the Governor and his henchmen will find them…
Back at the prison, Rick helps Carol when she is nearly attacked by walkers while trying to fix the hoses to the well. He tells her going there alone was stupid. She agrees. Then he thanks her for all she does for them, asks if there was anything she wouldn’t do to help. She says no. He asks if she killed Karen and David, t help save the others. Her answer is a simple “yes.”
The implications are immense. Is mercenary killing, outside a consensus vote by the council, now the way forward? Will Tyreese try to exact revenge on Carol, to get justice for Karen’s death? Will others see this as carte blanche to kill in order to “protect” the survivors?
Rick made it clear, this was no longer a democracy, after he decided to kill Shane in cold blood. “Killing” the undead has become the first order of survival. Now, who’s to say the living won’t be dispatched along with them, if they pose a threat? And who decides?