And, in what's becoming the pattern for this season, THE WALKING DEAD bounces back from yet another lackluster episode last week to offer up a much more solid entry tonight. "Inmates" picks up the pace and the trail of most of TWD's other major characters in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the prison.
The ep kicks off with Daryl
and Beth running for their lives through a forest filled with zombies. A
voiceover accompanies the events, Beth reading an entry from her diary
from the time the group first moved into the prison. Through this
juxtaposition, the hope for a new life once represented by the prison is
contrasted with the present horror of being once again forced out into
the zombified world. TWD has a bad habit of killing off a redshirt then
having the other characters rhapsodize, after the fact, over what a
great guy the deceased had been and how much he'd meant to everyone, and
I've certainly criticized this for the lazy hackwork it is; if, while
those characters were still alive, the writers had spent a few minutes
making them interesting and making us care about them, there would be no
need to come in, after the fact, and try to convince us in this way.
Beth's voiceover about the prison could be seen as another variation on
this phenomenon; the prison, throughout season 3 (the timeframe when
Beth would have been writing those words) had been presented as a dark,
filthy, claustrophobic shit-hole, not--as should have been the
case--something that would engender a sense of hope. Still, even if it
contradicts what we were shown (yet another example of showrunner Scott
Gimple trying to overwrite his unfortunate predecessor), the voiceover
isn't a bad idea. Far from perfect in its execution, admittedly; it
isn't particularly well-written, and, worse, there's no
follow-through--it's entirely abandoned after the ep moves away from
Beth and Daryl and on to the other characters. It's worth a half-credit, in my book, though. Beth is shown, at one point, using the pages of that diary for kindling for a camp fire, which I thought was a nice touch.
In the midseason finale, it was established that the
characters had a rendezvous point in the event of an emergency that
forced them from the prison. It was a relatively minor factoid, but it
was such a fundamental break with Mazzara-era TWD's refusal to deal with
any reasonable survival matters that I highlighted it in my review of the ep, and gave it a minor thumbs up. Unfortunately, everyone
in the last two episodes seems to have forgotten all about it. No one
heads toward any rendezvous point, no one mentions it, no one has any
idea where anyone else might be; they all just sort of wander around
looking for one another, trying to pick up one another's respective
trails. A pretty serious--and disappointing--continuity error.
Not the only one featured in tonight's ep. When, in the battle
over the prison, Mika and her creepy sister Lizzie saved Tyreese and
fled, they were toting firearms and ammo. Tonight, for the sake of plot
convenience, these were made to disappear, downgraded merely to knives.
Something else that pretty much falls into this category is what
happened with Glenn. In the midseason finale, most of the prison
population was evacuated on a bus. Glenn, still recovering from a
serious illness and barely even able to stand, was on it. When Maggie went to look for her sister, he wanted to get off the bus and follow her but was too weak.
Moments later, the bus pulled away. Tonight, he inexplicably wakes up
deep inside the ruins of the now-zombie-overrun prison. Not necessarily
impossible and so perhaps not technically a continuity error, but a big
enough leap that it isn't unfairly tagged as such.
It's a bit of a crime that the "next week on the Walking Dead"
preview at the end of the previous ep gave away the fact that Glenn had
survived. Tonight, Maggie, dragging Sasha and Bob along, went off in a
desperate search for him. With the established rendezvous point having
apparently departed their minds entirely, they merely follow the
direction the bus left the prison, and very shortly come across it,
stopped in the middle of the road. It didn't get very far, and somehow,
in a very short drive, everyone in it--it's still sealed--ended up
either zombified or zombie-chow. Setting aside the obvious impossibility
of this (it was done solely to get rid of the peripheral characters in
as quick a way as possible), the sequence wherein Maggie and co. clean
out the bus in an effort to discover if Glenn is among the dead is one
of the best directed and best edited sequences in the entire history of
TWD. It's as taut as a zip-line right to the last second, and it ends in
a commercial break without resolving the question for the viewer! Only
when the break ends do we see that Glenn is alive and back at the
prison. Without the knowledge that Glenn had survived, it would have
been an even more powerful sequence, but it works remarkably well in any
In a welcome development, Carol is back in the picture tonight,
coming to the rescue of Lizzie and Mika while Tyreese was away helping
another band of survivors fight off a zombie attack. Tyreese, who
doesn't yet know it was Carol who killed Karen, is delighted to see
her. She's less than forthcoming about where she's been and how she came
to be on their trail. The last dying member of the group Tyreese had
tried to save gives them a tip--a promised safe-haven to be found along a
railroad line. Following it a short distance, they find a makeshift
sign promising the same, and, with no more apparent memory of any
rendezvous point than anyone else, they begin to follow the line.
Glenn, having awakened in the prison, grabs a big bag worth of
supplies, dons his riot gear and, in the process of fighting his way
through the zombie hordes outside, runs across Tara, sitting alone in a
fenced-in area, sick with regret over having helped destroy the
place. She reluctantly teams up with him and they make their way out
of the compound and to the open road. They have a bit of a brawl with
some zombies, which proves too much of an exertion for Glenn--he
collapses while Tara fusses over him, repeatedly calling him by name,
even though they were total strangers and he hadn't told her what it
was. The ep ends with the arrival of a character who will be very
familiar to fans of the TWD comic.
When it comes to my seemingly endless criticism of TWD, I'm often
wrongly accused by its apologists of "nitpicking," of unfairly focusing
on its shortcomings. Looking over what I've written here, I've spent a
lot of time on this ep's problems. That doesn't really do it a
disservice; the problems are present and they shouldn't
be. The ep isn't bad, though. Not a classic, by any means (though that
sequence with the bus earns that label), but by TWD's usual standards,
it's quite good. Unlike all those other eps, the ones that so
persistently drew the charge of "nitpicking" but were, in reality,
little more than the sum of their errors and idiocies, this ep's merits
definitely outweigh its shortcomings. I'd like a lot better from TWD,
but after the property has been so terribly abused, it's hard not to
laud any measurable improvement, and "Inmates" definitely qualifies. If
the series follows the pattern of this season, the next ep will probably
be another godawful Mazzara-esque waste of space. Oh well. I guess we'll see.
 The series has dropped several heavy-handed hints that
twisted little Lizzie, rather than Carol, committed those murders, and
that Carol merely took the rap for it, but that seems almost as
implausible as Carol committing them.
 Baby Judith is, unsurprisingly, still alive and in Tyreese's
care. On tv TWD, no one is dead unless you see the body, and babies
aren't eaten by zombies. They aren't smothered by psychos looking to save themselves, either, and crazy Lizzie's devilish efforts in this vein were cut short.
 Tara is the sister of Lilly, who was GINO's love interest.