We All Change: Reflections on The Walking Dead Season 4 Episode Four

Episode4“…the dead have more claims on you than what you might want to admit or even what you might know about and them claims can be very strong indeed. Very strong indeed.” – Cormac McCarthy, No Country For Old Men

It may be impossible for the characters of this show to describe just how much the dead have impacted their world. All the characters still alive have found themselves impacted by the dead around them. Whether they want to admit it or not, whether they are honest about it or not, the dead have changed them. Episode four of this season’s Walking Dead is all about change. The way the dead change you, however, depends upon what you hold on to.

*Spoiler Alert*

The most obvious evidence of transformation in this season has to be Carol. Each week she reveals just how cold and impassive she is. In previous seasons she was timid and docile. She recalls to Rick that despite being married to an abusive husband she actually convinced herself she was happy. “Which wasn’t hard to do then,” she says, “Considering my idea of happiness was not being alone.” She says she didn’t think she could be strong back then. But that world is gone, and her experiences in this world have transformed her. That fearful woman has been battered by life and in the process she has transformed into a new woman, a stronger woman. She tells Lizzy the way to overcome her fear is to fight. “You fight it,” she says. “You don’t give up. And then one day you just change. We all change.” She’s changed so significantly that at the end of the episode she doesn’t even contest Rick’s decision to exile her. She will survive. But she’s not the only one experiencing change.

All the characters are changing. Even Lizzy knows that transformation is just part of reality. “I am little now,” she explains to Carol. “If I don’t die, I’ll get big. I’ll be me, but I’ll be different. That how it is.” Transformation comes for everyone this season. They are all being forced to let something go, as Chris Jericho pointed out on The Talking Dead. Tyreese has to let go his anger, but he won’t. Bob has to let go of the bag, but he can’t. Daryl chooses to let Bob go. Carol is ready to let go of Sam and Ana. And Rick? He has to let Carol go. If they choose to let these things go they can change, some for the better and some for the worse.  But what they change into depends on what they hang onto as well.

Not every character is hanging onto something. Carol, for example has long ago abandoned her old life. She tells Rick that Sophia is part of someone else’s slideshow. Rick, in contrast, is still holding onto Sunday breakfasts with Lori and her awful pancakes. Those memories make him seem foolish and sentimental to Carol, but they keep him connected to his children too. He can’t have Carol around them, they are his family and his responsibility. His memories keep him glued to his present. Tyreese is still hanging onto something too, but his anger won’t keep him connected to reality. Michonne tells him “anger makes you stupid.” He is seemingly ready to die at any moment, or ready to get someone else killed. Michonne is not entirely sure what she’s holding onto. She tells Tyreese she doesn’t know why she keeps looking for the Governor. She is in between worlds right now. She has a desire to be like Daryl, but she hasn’t yet let go of her own anger – not completely. Bob too can’t let go of his alcohol. Daryl tells him he’s not alone anymore, but Bob chooses to be alone. What some of the characters hold onto keeps them in isolation, while for others it draws them into community.

What you hold onto makes a difference in your life. Memories are not just nostalgia, they are character-shaping. Who I am is partly a story of who I have been and who I have been with. When Carol rejects those memories she loses who she was. She tells herself that her transformation is all about preservation of the group, but it often seems more about self-preservation. And, indeed, she is alive, but now she’s also alone. Change comes for all of us; our own life experiences will see to it. But what you hold onto determines what you will change into. At the end Carol says, “Rick, it’s me.” But he knows it’s not.

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