Season four of The Walking Dead, AMC’s television adaptation of the Eisner Award-winning Image Comics series launched by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore and now drawn by Charlie Adlard, is well into its second half, and the despair has been turned up to eleven. ComicsAlliance’s John Parker is back again to see who lives, who dies, and who gets an apocalyptic case of stomach flu that reduces them to a shuddering lump of meat for four days.

It's all about isolation this week, as our stomachs spasm and fluids leak out of everything while our bodies flash back-and-forth from hot to cold!

A major theme of the second half of Season 4 has been isolation -- whether they run towards it or away from it, how they handle it, and what kind of person they become in the cold silence of separation. When Michonne was forced to go solo after the prison fell, she quickly sank into a depression, unable to stay out of her own head, and protected from her trauma. When Carl had to go on being Carl while Rick took a nap, we saw that for all his strengths, he’s still a just a kid, and one who can’t survive on his own. When Glenn was abandoned and left without Maggie, he moped for approximately thirty seconds, then commenced to out-think and ass-kick his way back to her, because he’s Glenn, and secretly the strongest character in the show.

So it’s no surprise that “Alone” is called “Alone,” and it begins with somebody being alone. The good news is that it’s Bob, and in fits and starts, he’s become one of the most likeable characters on the show. Man, it’s gonna suck when he eventually dies, like everything else we love.

“Alone” begins with a flashback, to the periods where Bob was all on his lonesome, left to walk the Earth like Caine from Kung-Fu, just with less saloon owners, more thoughts of suicide, and the near-constant internal refrain of “Whose undead **** I gotta suck to get a drink around here?”

I’ve flipped on Bob a couple of times this season. Early on, I liked him for the mere fact he was played by Lawrence Gilliard, Jr., but in short time I started to dislike how simple he was, easily describable as Bob the Alcoholic. They gave a talented actor one note to hit, and unless you’re Neil Young, one note isn’t enough. Slowly, though, more meat has been added to Bob’s bones, and Gilliard has been chewing on it, switching from likeable to pitiful and fearful to strong with convincing naturalism.

Now, finally, we get to see what makes Bob the way he is. “Alone” begins with Gilliard shuffling dead-eyed through the wasteland, the lone survivor of two different groups, a shell of a man keeping up his fight with the inevitable through his apparent inner strength and a few bottles of NyQuil. The opening is a master class in Bob, a perfect explanation of his mixture of fortitude and vulnerability.

It’s that mixture that makes him a perfect foil for Sasha, who has done everything she can to deny the very existence of vulnerability. Since the prison fell, Sasha has inured herself to anything that could compromise her emotionally, convincing herself that she, Bob, and Maggie are the only survivors, that her brother Tyreese is dead, that there’s no point in going to Terminus, and that hope is just another four letter word. While she’s definitely a strong individual, and a real survivor, she gets by on fumes while Bob chugs on like a locomotive, powered by his belief that the others lived, fed with hope just because he’s not the last man standing this time. For Bob, just not being alone is enough to give him the steam he needs to keep looking for the others, to prop up Sasha when she’s weak, and to go looking for Maggie when that English girl with the somewhat-convincing Georgian accent who was also in Supernatural goes after Glenn on her own.

Which was never in question. Maggie was always going to go after Glenn, just as Glenn was always going to be looking for Maggie. It was so obvious, Bob and Sasha should have predicted it. They’ve been close to Glenn and Maggie’s love, and know that it burns with the pre-teen intensity of a thousand Tiger Beat covers. Like Glenn, Maggie continues to grow stronger and stronger, revealing the heights -- and depths -- to which she will go to be with the one she loves.




Meanwhile, back in last episode, Daryl and Beth are superpals now. Even though episode 12, “Still,” was all Beth and Daryl, all the time, we get even more of that in “Alone,” and see that the two continue to make a good pair. Having been through the trauma and heartache of a college drinking game, they share an almost symbiotic relationship -- Daryl providing Beth with the knowledge and protection she needs to make it, and Beth providing Daryl with someone to care about, someone to keep him from being alone and reverting back to old Daryl quicker than you can say I hope that’s just best-friends-hand-holding. Even though Emily Kinney is closer to thirty than seventeen, and Beth’s character is of age anyway, you have to admit there’s still something about idea of her kissing Daryl that incites queasiness. I bet he tastes like a hot spittoon.

When the two discover a funeral home sans an apparent survivor, they’re so chummy they practically try on dresses to upbeat music in a jaunty fashion montage. They’re so happy, so perfectly matched for one another at this point, and so obviously flirting with the “yeah, they totally might do it and that’s too bad for you and Carol” thing, that it’s of course inevitable that they get separated in strange, almost creepy circumstances.

After a gaggle of walkers interrupt their pig feet dinner in their happy funeral home (which they were really only in because they had the bright idea to go all Mickey and Mallory on their old shelter), Beth is taken away by somebody with good taste in 1980s luxury automobiles, and Daryl is left to chase after her. Odds are this is the same somebody who was living in the funeral home and dressing up corpses, that he owns the lovable one-eyed dog, and that he herded the walkergaggle into the home to flush Beth out into the open. Daryl chases after her for as long as he can, before running out of energy and collapsing, just in front of the railroad tracks, leaving Daryl with the most dangerous person for him to be around, himself.

While Bob tries to convince Sasha that they need to go after Maggie, a romantic relationship strikes up between the two, and it feels like it makes perfect sense, a nice feat for The Walking Dead’s creative staff. Many times when minority characters end up romantically involved, it feels pretty cheap and meaningless (see Michonne and Tyreese’s liason in The Walking Dead the comic), but in this instance you could feel a real bond growing between the characters throughout Season 4. Emotionally, Sasha needs Bob and his no-nonsense positivity, or she won’t survive.

After spending most of the episode trying and failing to convince Sasha that a) Tyreese and others are still alive, and b) no, seriously, we have to go after Maggie, Bob finally leaves her on the train tracks. In the span of forty-five seconds Sasha has a breakdown and nearly gets killed. Lucky for us all -- because who cares about a thing like suspense -- she actually finds Maggie, and everything turns out okay right after the commercial break. After passing up the opportunity of a lifetime -- an abandoned ice cream truck? In a zombie apocalypse? Wouldn’t that be the greatest survival machine of all time? -- Sasha and Maggie meet Bob on the tracks to Terminus, the same place that pretty much everybody else is already headed.




And then there’s Daryl, and we get to know why he was being such a milquetoast in the first half of the season; we see where his journey had been taking him all along. Sitting practically comatose, in the middle of a forked road by the tracks (impress your dumb friends by pointing out stuff like the symbolism of Daryl sitting on a forked road, they really get a kick out of that), Daryl is surrounded by the same six men who interrupted Rick’s slumber. Immediately, Daryl makes it clear that they should consider him a member rather than a victim, and Daryl is in the worst place he could possibly be: surrounded by people like him. The leader of the group, Joe, played by Jeff Kober, makes a good argument -- “Why hurt yourself when you can hurt other people?” -- and Daryl joins the group willingly, setting up his story in Season 5.

The question is: what story is that? Is the road to Terminus the road to Sanctuary, and the introduction of Negan? It makes sense, but it feels like a lot more has to happen before the comics’ current Big Bad makes his first appearance -- it wasn’t that long ago that he first appeared in the comics, anyway. It’s not clear that Joe’s crew are headed towards Terminus like everybody else -- even Glenn shows up at the last second to see a sign -- but Daryl is obviously going to be given some hard choices to make, and the path he goes on will probably lead him into conflict with his old family. After being declawed for the first half of the season and questioning whether or not a man like him can really change, Daryl is now going to be tested like never before, and it will be interesting to see how far The Walking Dead is willing to push its most popular character.

And now I have to throw up again. Nothing to do with the episode, I just have to.