It is comforting to know that with Scott M. Gimple working behind the scenes, we are going to get a consistent attention to detail and a trimming back of expository dialogue in favor of letting the actors do the heavy lifting with looks, body language, and minimal conversation. By cutting back on the exposition it allows dramatic moments to really pop. This season, when someone delivers a longer speech, it's there with good reason and we need to pay attention.
This week's script, by series creator Robert Kirkman himself, fits perfectly into the style that Gimple's showrunning has championed, making it probably the best piece of work Kirkman has done for the TV series since having the idea and getting it sold. Pair that up with a director, Daniel Sackheim, who has nearly twenty-five years in the business and we have, for the third week in a row, a way-above-average episode of The Walking Dead.
"Isolation" ups the ante almost immediately with shots of Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) digging graves and Dr. S (Sunkrish Bala) pronouncing judgment on another infected victim, balanced by a violent confrontation between Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) and Rick (Andrew Lincoln). The best part about the scene between Tyreese and Rick, though isn't that both actors are given the opportunity to physically express their psychological states — Tyreese's grief and Rick's knife-edge grip on sanity — but it allows Daryl (Norman Reedus) to play the voice of reason and experience.
This week also allows Hershel (Scott Wilson) and Carl (Chandler Riggs) a moment of bonding during a journey outside the fence and a moment of understanding between Rick and Carol (Melissa McBride) during a journey outside the fence. Why, it's almost as though the fence is also serving as a metaphor or something! Both scenes involve what could be called reckless behavior and the attraction of walkers, but where Carl learns restraint, Carol demonstrates a willingness to shoulder responsibilities others (Rick) aren't quite up to.
And by that, yeah, I mean killing people and burning corpses in an ultimately futile attempt to stop the spread of infection.
If there hadn't been a defining moment for the fourth season yet, Carol's matter-of-fact admission of guilt followed by a calm and silent turning away and continuing her work bringing water to the sick, may be it. You don't understand how impressed I am that this isn't a mystery that is going to be teased out over a number of episodes. Instead, we suddenly have a monumental ratcheting up of tension for Rick, who has promised Tyreese that whoever killed Karen and David would be punished.
I think the hardest part about reviewing The Walking Dead this season is trying to include commentary on everything that happens. With the new streamlined approach to scripting, we are getting a lot of narrative beats this year and everybody's getting moments to shine. Beth (Emily Kinney), in particular is becoming a fully-rounded character despite getting very little dialogue, thanks to the strength of Kinney's performance. Her moments shared with Maggie this week were simply heartbreaking. And Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) has suddenly become someone I actually care about thanks to Martin-Green's desperate graspings for hope in the supply run's success. Michonne's (Danai Gurira) development also grew a little this week simply through nearly-wordless interactions with Daryl.
Everyone is bringing their A-Game to The Walking Dead so far this season and I couldn't be happier. Not only because I've supported this show through the highs and the lows, but because it's become the most-watched show in the country — a show about the zombie apocalypse — and I never would have predicted that. It's turned into one of those exceedingly rare moments in television history where the popularity of a show is actually proportional to the quality of the show.
This isn't something people are watching ironically. And that, in itself, is amazing.
I suppose I should mention the staticy voice on the radio saying "keep alive," "sanctuary," and "Terminus" (what!?!) and then the GIGANTIC HERD OF WALKERS our heroes encountered this week, too. That moment as the camera pulled back and we see literally thousands of zombies milling about before beginning to surge toward the car of our supply-seekers made my heart sink. And the car getting hung up in the muck of rotting corpses was this week's gore-hound highlight. There's nothing good coming from this — although it did allow us to revisit one of the best moments in the comics in a new form, as Tyreese fights his way through a throng of walkers armed only with a hammer.
Bad things are on the horizon. And that fence isn't going to be enough to keep them out.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & < a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Coffee-Sex-Creation-ebook/dp/B007B57L5O/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1377005988&sr=8-6&keywords=paul+brian+mccoy">UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.