The midseason finale of the Walking Dead Season 4 smashed the prison and scattered the survivors to the four winds. For the rest of the season, they struggle separately, and we have to ask what it was worse for them to lose: the walls of the prison, or each other? This half of the season is all about that need for community, and what the survivors have to do to get it back.
Most of the cast are capable of surviving on their own at this point. Some of them suspect that they’re the only survivors, and some of them find places where they could hold up safely, but they all choose to keep looking for the rest of the group. The reason is clearest as we watch Michonne go back to her old trick of blending in with the zombies—she can live that way, but it’s hardly different from being an actual zombie. To be human, you have to be with other people. Or to look at it a different way, consider Bob, the season’s new guy. Bob has been the sole survivor of two groups before the prison; when he escapes with Sasha and Maggie, he’s almost happy about it. Disaster he can deal with, dying he can take or leave—the thing that really scares him is being alone.
There is safety in numbers, and sanity too if you surround yourself with the right people. But Daryl gets a look at what happens when you fall in with the wrong people instead. Joe and the “Claimers” don’t think much of the ties that bind a group together. “People don’t have to be nice,” Joe says. “They don’t have to be friendly, don’t have to be brothers in arms. You just have to follow the rules.” They Claimers bad dudes, and though they might have seemed like Daryl’s type once he never seriously considers staying with them (never mind that Joe decides to kill him). When Rick welcomes Daryl back, it’s the opposite of the Claimers’ outlook: “You being back with us here, now—that’s everything. You’re my brother.”
But what if the group doesn’t want you back? What does it take to heal that rift? The first break in the prison community came before the Governor’s tank rolled up, when Carol—of all people—murdered Tyreese’s girlfriend and her brother in hopes of keeping the red-eye plague contained. Rick banishes Carol for the crime, but she meets up with an unwitting Tyreese after the prison collapses. Since Tyreese happens to be the most physically dangerous person in the prison, it’s little wonder Carol keeps her guilt a secret. But that can’t last.
Carol and Tyreese have three little girls in tow: Rick’s daughter Judith, and Lizzie and Mika, who Carol adopted. Lizzie’s got a secret, too: she likes to make friends with zombies, who she thinks are just misunderstood. After Lizzie kills her sister to make a point, it’s clear she’s pioneering new and exciting kinds of crazy. She wants to make the others “understand” that zombies are people too, but what Carol understands is that Lizzie “can’t be with other people.”
Well, the lives of little blonde girls on The Walking Dead are like those of mayflies. It’s best to take a Zen-like perspective. The problem for Carol (besides her complete failure as a guardian) is that her reasoning for killing Lizzie sounds a lot like Rick’s reasons for banishing her. The only way she can live with that is to come clean to Tyreese and submit herself to his judgment.
The episode where all this happens is one of the bleakest the show has given us, but it has its moment of hope. Tyreese—who’s proven himself capable of frightening rage before—chooses to forgive Carol. That’s the first step toward bringing her back to the group, and it’s hard to overstate how important that turns out to be. But we’ll get to Season 5 next time.
When everyone meets up in Terminus, they’re in a pretty bad situation, but there’s still reason to be hopeful. The search for safe haven didn’t pan out, but they found each other. And it turns out survival isn’t about getting to the right place—it’s about getting with the right people.