Warning! This piece contains spoilers. But let’s be honest, nothing spoils The Walking Dead quite like watching The Walking Dead. Boring is one thing – and, boy, the show’s been tedious at times – but cheap nihilism is another. We might be able to collectively suspend our disbelief and accept that the sloth-like undead can nullify society, but believing conscious humans can be this dumb and immoral is a bit more difficult to swallow.
Though hardly an original premise, the show’s first season’s set-up — Rick Grimes waking up from a coma to find himself in an apocalyptic zombie-infested Georgia — was a fantastic way to kick off long-form television. The promise of the first few episodes, though, was never realized. I watched anyway … because zombies. Yes, the show would periodically find its footing, which is why I was willing to sit through a season’s worth of watching the group doing cheerless farm work while searching for a teen who’d wandered off into the infested hinterlands. (Natural selection demanded that she be turned. She was, offering the show a season’s limp payoff.). I was willing to stick it out when the farm — and all the monotony — moved to the prison. I was even willing to stick it out after the writers began knocked off compelling characters; The Governor, Lori, Andrea…
The second half of the fourth season has been a collection of disconnected tales that follow various survivors of Rick’s scattered clan as they trudge towards a utopian compound called Terminus –which means “the end or final point” in Latin, but sounds perilously close to “terminate.” Fingers crossed! It’s an unfocused and nearly unwatchable series of episodes. There are three possibilities for why I can’t keep track of what’s happening anymore: 1- It takes a month to get back to various plotlines. 2 – Most often, the story moves forward at a pace that would make Downton Abbey feel like a Transformers movie. 3 – It’s difficult to worry about people who suck this badly at the apocalypse. (Examples: none of them bothered to come up with a rendezvous point in case of an emergency? They can dig up a bunch of ammo and high-powered military rifles, but only have one compass?)
Well, one of the more sluggish storylines follows Carol and Tyreese, two young sisters, Lizzie and Mika, and Rick’s infant daughter Judith. In this week’s episode, The Grove, the group stumbles onto a little back-woods cabin area that has a lot of useful stuff, including gas, running water, a useful fence and other amenities. Aesthetically, the episode is beautiful with a the usual doomy foreshadowing. To make a very long story short, Carol and Tyreese deal with the mercurial personalities of these young sisters, both of whom exhibit the expected moral confusion about the strange world around. Well, that is, until Lizzie, who has a soft spot for Walkers, decides she wants to play tag with one of them (Carol saves her). We then realize, rather abruptly, that she’s completely insane.
Though armed with this knowledge, let’s just say that Carol and Tyreese aren’t exactly helicopter parents. They’ve decide to take a leisurely stroll and engage in some banal philosophical chat while leaving the kids –including a baby and a girl who thinks zombies are just like us –by themselves back at the ranch. When they return, Lizzie is pointing a gun at them and her hands are covered in blood. She’s killed her sister Mika – “don’t worry she’ll come back” because “I didn’t hurt her brain.” Lizzie is also about to kill the baby. This girl, incapable of shooting a Walker mere hours earlier, is now comfortable offing her own sister and a baby? Cheap and implausible, even within the framework of the show. We soon learn that Lizzie was the one feeding rats to the zombies in the prison. And we once again feel like the writers are cobbling together the show week to week.
If it ended there, it would still be cheapest kill of the series – maybe one of the cheapest kills in television history. But Carol and Tyreese go on to discuss the insanity of Lizzie. (Oh, and Carol also admits to Tyreese that she had taken it upon herself to murder his girlfriend Karen in the prison because she had gotten sick. He forgives her. I do hope Tyreese doesn’t cough around Carol, because this once-meek and abused mom and housewife will surely put a bullet in his head just to be safe.) The two decide that Lizzie is way too nuts to keep around. Some perfunctory tears. Sad faces. Then Carol takes Lizzie on a walk to smell the flowers. Lizzie, a confused psychopath(?), is not sorry for murdering her sister, only for pointing a gun at her elders. Carol is sorry but shoots the pre-teen in the head, anyway. Carol is now a serial killer. At least the Walkers have a mission. They’re hungry. The characters on The Walking are often nothing more than walking flesh themselves. Is life worth living if there’s no decency, no moral order, no hope, no fun and no semblance of purpose? Also, most importantly, no entertainment value.
I’m no squish. I can enjoy film violence. I can get into the darkness. I would even be able to live with fictional child-on-child murder if it made any sense. But it didn’t. I never cared much if Carol survived anyway, but now I look forward to the day that some disheveled corpse with peeling flesh takes a bite out of her leg. I hope they finish off Daryl, the most appealing person left, so I can wash my hands of the entire thing. The Walking Dead’s ensemble were always staggeringly stupid and un-resourceful, but now they’re also increasingly depraved. What’s worth saving? As for the thrills, the few that existed, they hit a dead end with this week’s episode. It felt revolting and forced. But I’ve figured out a way to make the show work for me. Root for Walkers. I’m now all in. Team Undead for me.
David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist and author of the The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy. Follow him on Twitter.