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In “Isolation.” The Walking Dead gave the show two things it has not had in quite some time: characters making decisions true to themselves and an actual threat of some zombie danger. “Isolation” is the mark of a show that is improving in nearly every facet (there’s only so much you can do with the actors you’ve been dealt), making smart decisions and either changing or bringing up new plot points. While Season 4 has not reached the pinnacle of Season 1, it is slowly crawling from the pit of the brainless plot arcs the previous two seasons displayed. If there was a way to reverse the zombification of Seasons 2 and 3 Season 4 is sure trying.
“Isolation” was a very exciting episode of The Walking Dead – and not just because Tyreese goes on a video game-style killing spree. This episode showed that The Walking Dead was still interested in, at the very least, exploring some of the more interesting conversational points that made the first season so interesting. What made the first season so great were the questions of how society would change, how to live in this post apocalyptic landscape, how to hang onto a person’s humanity. “Isolation” and Season 3’s “Clear” are the two closest episodes to the spirit of Season 1.
What made “Isolation” so exciting for the series was the smart and justifiable character development displayed. Sure, Rick’s kind of descent into madness last year made sense with the context of his wife dying but this story line was handled so poorly that it became uninteresting and unintelligible. “Isolation,” however, felt like a natural progression of the characters’ development – especially in the case of Hershel and Carol.
Hershel’s stand only made sense for his character. Here he was crippled and quarantined, basically be regarded as more of a liability than anything in the grand scheme of things. This had been how Hershel’s character was viewed for a while. Instead of continuing that thinking by the rest of prison he decided to finally take a stand and show he still had some use for this society. And even though Hershel’s tea may not actually save any lives it was his refusal to be a spectator that invigorated the episode. His speech to Rick and Maggie felt organic and authentic, which is an accomplishment for a show that has become more ham-fisted over the years. It made sense for his character to make that stand and it was exciting to see a character so drastically change his course.
And even though Hershel’s speech was the most gripping part of the episode, the reveal that Carol was the one who killed and burned the first two infected was just as important. It was an interesting choice for the show to not make a bigger deal out of Rick’s investigation. It would have mad sense to have an episode or two devoted to rooting out who burned those two people but instead “Isolation” almost made it unimportant compared to what else was happening. And the best part about Carol committing the act was that it made sense for her character. Carol’s transformation is now complete and while it seemed strange that she was so gung ho about teaching the kids how to use weapons that is who she is now. Her goal is to protect everyone as best she can and if that means killing some of her “friends” (who the heck was David?!) to do it, she can now accomplish that. And having the reveal of Carol doing this not be melodramatic in the least showed how the show has changed between Seasons 3 and 4. To have both Hershel and Carol not stand idly by and take matters into their own hands in ways that further develop their characters make “Isolation” so exciting. And last but not least, it seems Rick still has to reconcile his violent side and his new calm side – his beating of Tyreese showed just how little control Rick has over himself still.
A more important reveal was the impending doom of the zombie horde that stopped Daryl, Michonne, Bob and Tyreese on their way to the veterinary hospital. And while this offered up the zombie killing “fun” that everyone desires, it is clear that the prison is doomed. For as far as the eye could see walkers were slowly walking towards Daryl and the gang’s car, seemingly on a path to the prison. The horde was definitely the largest grouping of zombies in the history of the show and actually provided some sense of danger. Even with Tyreese’s seemingly impossible, and not shown, escape from an onslaught of zombies the sense of danger from the walkers finally returned just by the sheer numbers of zombies making their way toward the prison – not that Daryl’s group was in danger but that the unsuspecting prison could be in the near future.
Putting Daryl and his crew on the run from zombies also showed that they aren’t in as much control of the situation as they pretend to be. It is about time a supplies run could actually have some serious repercussions. This could also inject some excitement into the show as the group tries to survive without being able to fall back on outside help.
“Isolation” also put together some character pairings that are not often seen. Hershel and Carl going to pick berries showed just how much Carl had grown since his cold-blooded killing from last season and allowed both characters to share equal importance. Daryl, Michonne, Bob and Tyreese were another group pairing that was interesting to see. Daryl and Michonne clearly have respect for one another and it seems like it could be an interesting relationship to discover. Likewise, Daryl taking on a leadership role and inviting the mad-as-hell Tyreese to be a part of the supply run showed two different sides of the characters that have not been explored yet.
The direction that “Isolation” could take The Walking Dead in is very exciting. Clearly, it remains to be seen whether the bulk of Season 4 will build off of “Isolation” or not but it shows that The Walking Dead is capable of smarter storytelling.