Sunday, February 23, 2014

THE WALKING DEAD Catches Up With the "Inmates"

Article first written for Seat42F.

While the mid-season premiere of THE WALKING DEAD last week catches us up with three of the survivors, who eventually find one another, this week’s “Inmates” shows us what happens to everyone else in four separate vignettes. It doesn’t feel like everyone is shown tonight, but the hour really does get around to the entire remaining cast (save the ones that appeared last week), the holes being those who are dead and won’t be seen again.

First up is Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Beth (Emily Kinney). The opening narration is an entry from Beth’s journal, one of hope that the prison will be a permanent safe haven where the group can rebuild their lives. It’s heartbreaking to hear it now, Beth being apart from her sister, her father executed, and little protection to be found from the walkers and the elements. It’s a jarring juxtaposition, but one that reminds us of how great the loss they just suffered is.

Beth somehow hangs onto a little bit of hope, despite her grief, wanting to immediately go find the others. Daryl is less eager, having been hurt enough, likely still smarting from Carol’s (Melissa McBride) banishment. It’s up to Beth to spur Daryl on, though he seems more determined to protect her than eager to find anyone else as they trace what is very clearly a trail left by other humans.

Daryl and Beth’s differing attitudes, as well as those of the other players as the hour unfolds, show just how strong the character development is on THE WALKING DEAD. While in other stories most people would react in a similar manner to such a huge tragedy, and it’s hard for writers to always imagine those varying personalities, no two people in this show take the events the same. “Inmates” highlights this quality.

The second segment shows us those Daryl and Beth are following, backing up as they leave the clues the first two will find. Tyrese (Chad L. Coleman) has Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) and Kyla (Mika Samuels) with him, as well as baby Judith, whose cries are a magnet to walkers. It’s no wonder, with the challenge of keeping these young ones alive, that Tyreese misses how psychopathic Lizzie has become.

From the casual stabbing of rabbits to the nearly smothering Judith to death to quiet her, it seems pretty clear that THE WALKING DEAD has unmasked the secret of the dead rats this week. Lizzie may be able to handle herself around walkers, but she is a serious threat to the group if she can’t keep her heartless impulses under control. One has to wonder if Lizzie and Mika’s tale will echo those of twin boys in the comics, which gets really dark and tragic quite quickly after the prison story.

At one point in “Inmates,” Tyreese leaves the three girls alone because he hears screams nearby and, after some quick words of advice, runs off to help those in trouble. Is this forgivable? Abandoning the trio, even temporarily, is extremely dangerous. They’re too little to really fight off walkers. Yes, Tyreese could be concerned his sister, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), is one of those in trouble, or he could just realize he needs help and hopes those screams will lead to other compatriots. But is it really excusable to leave the kids on their own, and just how bad would he feel if something happened to them? In this instance, shouldn’t his duty to protect them outweigh anything else?

Luckily, before Judith is smothered and the others are eaten, Carol, who watched the prison fall from afar, likely trying to decide how she could get back into the group before it was attacked, finds them. She doesn’t scold Tyreese, probably nervous that Tyreese knows why Rick (Andrew Lincoln) banished her, which it turns out he doesn’t. But while the dread of what will happen when Tyreese learns the truth hangs over this group, it’s just so damn good to have Carol back, and heartening that no one else we care about dies.

At the end of this vignette, Carol and Tyreese learn about a settlement that is offering protection and decide to take the girls there. Shouldn’t they have learned their lesson after Woodbury and the prison that any safety is temporary? But I guess in a super dangerous world like this, any promise of peace, no matter how short-lived, is better than life on the run.

Is this place connected to the three new characters we meet at the very end of the episode? Abraham (Michael Cudlitz, Southland), Eugene (Josh McDermitt, Retired at 35), and Rosita (Christian Serratos, Twilight) are good guys in the comics who lead our heroes to a bunch of settlements near Washington D.C. However, the city Tyreese and Carol are hearing towards is much closer, near Atlanta. Will the show go a different direction, or will this promise of a home be an empty one, freeing the characters up to begin their journey north?

But I’m getting ahead of myself because those three don’t show up until the final moments.

The third section finds Maggie (Lauren Cohan) single-mindedly determined to find Glenn (Steven Yeun), a reckless mission that soon endangers her traveling companions, Sasha and Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.), when she insists on boarding a bus full of walkers to see if Glenn is among them. It’s as much luck as skill that lets these three dispatch the contingent, confirming that Glenn is not on the bus, leading to a terrific acting moment for Cohan.

Having everyone on the bus die provides a convenient way to get rid of the unnamed extras, though it’s horrible that the first evacuated, who should have been the safest, have all perished. THE WALKING DEAD has had to, and will continue to, struggle with how to balance the core group of players with a larger number of extras. Not everyone can be featured, and with the cast currently in a growing phase, likely soon to get even larger, it’s challenging to keep these actors all straight. The bus massacre, while maybe not necessary, is a way to contain the population shown.

Finally, we see that Glenn made it off the bus and is now trapped in the prison. While his plight seems scary for a bit, Glenn does know how to handle himself, and has the riot gear to help him escape. What he doesn’t count on, though, is finding Tara (Alanna Masterson) amid the chaos, and after a bit of hesitation, decides to rescue her on his way out.

It seems certain that Glenn would not have been so generous had Tara not been crying and scared in a cage. And it helps Tara’s case that her gun was completely full, showing that she didn’t fire at Glenn’s friends when her group did. This should make everyone else accept her easily enough, as they did others of The Governor’s former followers before her. None of what happened is Tara’s fault, and her obvious regret works in her favor.

It’s a little disappointing, though convenient, to learn that Tara’s sister, Lilly (Audrey Marie Anderson), is among those who perished at the prison. I guess everyone can’t be saved, but I don’t feel like her story was through, and I wanted to see the sisters adjust to the group. Now, Tara has no one, really, and will have quite the difficult time as an outsider.

Glenn is just as obsessed with finding Maggie as she is him, which is touching, a couple truly in love. He might be sidetracked a little, as Glenn and Tara are the ones who happen upon Abraham and company. But we’ll see.

“Inmates” is a great way to reintroduce all the characters, giving each time to show a bit of who they are, and setting up the next part of the story, which will certainly be concerned with trying to get everyone back together. I kind of hope it takes all of this run to do so, as it wouldn’t be realistic for everyone to find each other quickly. But it’s also likely, for ease of storytelling if nothing else, that our heroes will begin to reassemble as early as next week, which will be gratifying, too, as they miss each other and we root for them to reunite.

THE WALKING DEAD airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

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