With the writers seemingly placing character development first, ‘Inmates’ continues the artful slow-burn that worked so well in ‘Alive,’ but this time they have four disparate storylines to play around with. Despite multiple arcs not working so well in previous seasons, ‘Inmates’ handles the situation quite nicely, patching each tale together with not-so-subtle easter eggs, leaving it up to the viewer to piece together the timeline as these storylines aren’t shown in a linear fashion.
We start with the episode counterpointing Beth and Daryl on the run – vultures soaring over their heads – with Beth’s hopeful diary entry from her prison days. Daryl has fallen into a despondent and gloomy state – similar to Michonne in ‘Alive’ – no longer part of a functioning group of survivors and trying to accept the very real possibility that no one else made it. Beth clinging to optimism here is a bit jarring to her character at the start of season 4: numb and detached with a bleak outlook on forming new relationships. Despite this, Hershel’s youngest daughter now has room to be developed into a more interesting survivor, in a way similar way to what they are doing with Carl.
The pair stumble upon berries and pass dead rabbits, unaware that they are signs Tyreese and the kids unwittingly left behind. So then the episode loops back to show Ty, Mika, Lizzie, and Judith all wandering through the forest with no clear direction. The casual revelation that Tyreese is holding Judith was done well, despite it not being much of a surprise.
What really stood out here was the amp up of Lizzie’s sociopathic obsession with power; her slitting the poor rabbits and then almost suffocating helpless Judith, with everything else around her being blocked out to show her complete immersion in cruelty. Comic fans may have already guessed where this is heading, and if that is so, then viewers are in store for something much more shocking than Season three’s ‘The Killer Within.’ And The Walking Dead needs something controversial and brutal (not just heartbreaking, like Hershel’s death) – like this potential turn of events – too spice things up, especially if the writers are going to prove their commitment to the overwhelmingly bleak world these survivors now live in.
Carol was written back into the story much too soon, they should have kept her away for one or two more episodes. Though, I’m glad that out of all the groups to join, she found Ty and the kids. Tyreese not knowing what Carol did is going to make for some nice tension.
This group being the first potentially on track to a safe-zone is also a nice touch, seeing as Tyreese and Carol caring for Judith, Lizzie, and Mika on the road will get frustrating, very quickly.
The playful use of the “Hitchhikers May Be Escaping Inmates” sign on the road was a nice way to loop through the temporal distortion of this episode, overlooking Maggie’s group and then later Glenn and Tara to portray the grim fact that these groups are so close to each other, yet so far.
Maggie, Bob, and Sasha had one of the episode’s best moments with trying to filter the walkers of the bus; Maggie sifting through to make sure none of them were Glenn. I loved when we were given that small possibility of Glenn being one of the walkers – recalling Sophia’s off-screen death with that brilliant barn scene in season 2. Alas, those who watched last week’s preview of this episode knew that the faceless, black-haired walker was not Glenn.
We get the not-so-shocking reveal that Glenn is back in the prison, lying unconscious on the walkway and dangling above a dozen hungry walkers. His confusion took some time to subside, making us wait until he has a sappy look at Maggie’s photo to see him finally step up into ‘I’m-actually-doing-something-this-season’ mode. The awesome POV sequence with him quarterbacking through the herd in his trusty riot gear was great, as was his way of giving the guilt-ridden Tara a purpose.
The scene where Glenn finds out about Hershel’s death could have been done better, especially without Tara making the revelation completely about herself and how she is a “piece of shit.” Alanna Masterson doesn’t really sell Tara’s guilt too well either.
The episode ended with the revealing of three new characters – Abraham, Eugene, and Rosita – who make a huge impact in the comics and have arrived at just the right time in the season. While it wasn’t the most interesting way to introduce these three, the little we saw of their nuances – especially Eugene’s – instantly tells us that these characters will be far more interesting than anyone the show has introduced recently; probably even more so than The Governor.
I’m loving where this second half is going; the story is being told in a thoughtful way and keeping the group split up is surprisingly working very well. Back in season 2 when everyone ran scattered off the farm, we were only left with Andrea not instantly re-joining the party; now we get to focus on the very real desperation and disappointment of these characters as they begin to accept that they may very well never be able to settle down again.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Walking Dead screens on FX in Australia.