Last week we ended the episode on a point of brilliant suspense, with 4 of the characters going back to the city to rescue Merle only to discover a bloodied handcuff by which laid a hacksaw and a severed hand. Merle is free. In this the 4th episode of The Walking Dead, the stakes are raised a little higher and the desperation becomes worse. If you thought the first three were hardcore wait till you get to this, in the start of the concluding 3 episodes of this brilliant series the darkness really starts to fall.
In the pre-titles sequence we open with a serene, almost idyllic setting as sisters Andrea (played by a brilliant Laurie Holden) and Amy go fishing and reminisce about their father, an oddly sweet scene where we see a deep sibling connection between these two characters. Suddenly we are taken from the melodrama to the realism of the situation, four of their friends are lost in the city and one of the other campers, Jim, has already begun digging what I assume is graves. A nice juxtaposition done by the team and a perfect warning to the audience of the darkness about to besiege them.
Then we’re back up to the roof top, where Daryl Dixon takes the last remaining part of his brother – the hand – and continues to hunt him down. It’s an odd, Saw kind of moment, the images of deep, red blood contrasting with the white concrete and rusting metals. But its so much more than just grisly ‘torture porn’ gore, this is about survival, the fact that we don’t see the act itself makes it all the more grim. We later find out he has cauterized the stump of his hand, manually with a burning hot iron, there is a thirst for this man to survive.
The tension between the group of 4 is high, with Grimes and company having to struggle to control Daryl’s urges to go out to find his brother, when they all know danger is around. First they decide to go tracking down the guns Grimes dropped in the first episode, which means one thing, coming in to contact with Walkers.
But there is also another threat to them, not in the form of Walkers, but others. While Glenn plots a very well constructed plan he doesn’t take into consideration other threats besides zombies. He manages to grab the bag but gets dragged away by a latino gang, but Daryl manages to grab one of them as the rest run away. With the young kid in tow, the group go out to find Glenn with Rick still the self proclaimed leader of the rescue party.
The acting in this section of the episode isn’t particularly strong, Andrew Lincoln is disappointing this week, his whole routine as the squeaky clean guy trying to lead a moral search party is becoming slightly tiresome. All he seems to do is push Daryl up against walls when he gets angry. Ultimately the failing of the writing in this area is surprising considering the writer for the episode is the creator of the graphic novel, Robert Kirkman.
Back in camp the girls return with a surprising catch: a lot of fish. But this momentary moment of triumph is shortened by Dale (older, wiser man of the camp) who brings everyone to the attention of the lone Jim digging the graves. Tensions begin to rile the camp after a minor skuffle where we learn about Jim and his past, the fact his family were eaten by the Walkers and he got away. All of this to the casual viewer may just be melodramatic detail but it’s all about creating an atmosphere which is more personal so we get involved with the characters and their slow descent into darkness.
From there, creepy Jim tries to reassure the children he upset, and not admitting as to why he was digging, but we later found out it wasn’t what we thought. He has clearly been affected by his ordeal, instructing Lori to remain close to her boy. More foreshadowing for things getting worse, for darker events to come.
The rescue team go to face off against the latino gang where there is a standoff, the gang leader given the moniker of ‘G’ refuses the hand over without getting the guns as well. Grimes agrees to go back and get him, beset by his responsibility for Glenn who saved his life when inside the tank. They are going to get him and by force. Some nice tension is built up until…. one of the gang member’s grandma comes to check the commotion. She takes the men away to find Glenn where they make a shocking discovery, behind the abandoned warehouse lies an old people’s home where the older generation are being taken care of.
Turning the tables on the racial prejudice of the audience, who are ready to accuse the latinos of being simple thugs. Their job was to protect the only food, water and medicine they have left, helping the old people after the staff left them to die. It’s a nice moment if a touch on the saccharine, it’s a microcosm of hope for the others struggle against the zombies.
Of course any glimmering of hope is then covered in a shroud of darkness. On their way back the group discover their van missing, deducing that Merle must have taken it and is making his way back to camp. Meanwhile back at the camp, things have cooled down, and the rest of the campers prepare for a fish supper, Andrea also wanting to find a present for Amy. Jeffrey DeMunn’s character Dale attempting to raise morale, DeMunn is a terrific character actor and Darabont always gives him the right parts for him.
But things take a turn for the worst, as they get some uninvited visitors to the camp, leaving two of the characters dead. We now begin a descent into darkness, this is a good and nicely tense episode with a few minor flaws in the acting department. AMC are raising the bar for drama, TV is all the better for them.