There is nothing more terrifying than imagination in horror. Letting the audience fill in the gaps of what might have happened, rather than explicitly stating, is far more effective and ultimately more disturbing. The Walking Dead knows this – the baby carriage in “Too Far Gone” or the murder/suicide room in this week’s “Claimed” elicit a stronger emotion than any literal subject. The writers also know when to show their hand, and the reveal in “After” that baby Judith had in fact survived is a welcome one. But while “Inmates” included many reveals and hints at what to come, the intertwining storylines ultimately fell flat. In contrast, “Claimed” returns to the usual storytelling, and pulls back the scope to a smaller scale. The Walking Dead works best when it focuses on less, and these two episodes prove the shows strengths – and weaknesses.
“Inmates” splits its episode four ways, each running concurrent to the other, producing a series of vignettes. Picking up right where the midseason finale left off, it follows four separate groups as they reclaim their bearings. Beth and Daryl get the opening segment, fleeing from the prison. The sequence, while short and fairly inconsequential, is the most hopeless. Stumbling upon what they believe is the remains of the girls, they end up heading in the other direction. Both heartbreaking and frustrating, it helps to flesh out the world around them – instead of the usual everybody finding everybody by some weird television destiny, its great to see that these people won’t be finding each other anytime soon.
By far the most important sequence of the episode is the Carol/Tyrese/Girls/Judith one. Confirming the fate of Judith was welcome, but re-introducing Carol, and setting up a forward trajectory for the rest of the season was also surprising. Sanctuary comes to the forefront, and also presents an end goal for our band of heroes. Where this sequence became controversial was in its handling of Lizzie. In the shows attempts to build Lizzie as some form of psychopath, the character has seemed to found itself in a violent streak – killing rabbits and almost suffocating Judith. Look, I’m all for Lizzie to fulfill the role that was similarly brought forth in the comics, but infanticide – especially shown infanticide – is almost where I switched off. There are some lines in TV that I do not want crossed.
Regardless of content, “Inmates” doesn’t exactly impress with its storytelling. Glen’s segment starts strong with a lone survivor vibe, but when more survivors are introduced it feels like a retread of Maggie’s, which also feels weak. Beth and Daryl’s intro is marred by a melodramatic narration from Beth, and Carol’s segment would be incredibly dull without any of the reveals. “Inmates showcases that smaller and less dense stories aren’t the shows strong point.
“Claimed” returns to focusing on the 2-3 story-lines typical to the show. Rick finds himself under house invasion, with Michonne and Carl out bonding, while Glen and Tara, with newcomers Abraham, Eugene, and Rosita deciding on the next plan of attack. Bringing the focus back allows for the stories to breathe – the Michonne/Carl bonding would have felt rushed had it not had the time “Claimed” allowed it.
Abraham and Co. are given decent screen time for their debut, and they feel fully realised already. Abraham, while visually stereotyped as the macho, Rambo-esque character has a surprising amount of depth for the short time on screen, empathizing with Glen, and not even being the first punch in the subsequent fight. Eugene and Rosita aren’t given much more than a few moments screen time, but should they move on the same trajectory they could be a welcome addition to the cast.
Rick’s home invasion was the source of tension this episode, but it would have fared better had it not been interrupted constantly by the other stories. The tonal shift between Michonne/Carl’s game and the intrusion is odd, and the home invasion could have been better suited as its own standalone episode. That’s not to say the game wasn’t welcome – humanizing Michonne is some of the best moves made in the show this season – but another place and another time would have been better.
The countryside roaming wasn’t going to last forever, and as Rick finds the sign at the end of the episode, it becomes clear that all roads lead to Sanctuary. Lets just hope it doesn’t drag on like the prison.
A couple of observations
- What happened to the person feeding the rats at the start of the season? It sure seemed like it was going to go somewhere.
- The Eugene, Abraham and Rosita introduction was mighty silly at the end of “Inmates”. Looked like a group of power rangers.
- “Hitchhikers may be escaped inmates”. We got that the first time.