'The Walking Dead': The hands do the talking in 'Indifference'

Welcome to the second of what I'm informally calling “Raw Story’s don’t-call-it-a-recap of popular television shows.” Because you can find recaps anywhere, but only here will you be able to find the proprietor of the AV Club’s Internet Film School breaking down your favorite television shows on a weekly basis. A complete collection of my visual rhetoric pieces can be found here.

Last week's episode of The Walking Dead, "Isolation," focused on who was with whom and the tightness of the quarters they shared, i.e. how isolated every single person in this episode wasn't.

The title of this week's episode, "Indifference," is equally ironic, because the entire episode is about inappropriately caring too much -- whether it be Rick caring about Carol enough to banish her, or Daryl caring more about Bob the Alcoholic than he should've.

But that's not what I want to discuss this week. Not because it's insignificant, as it clearly isn't, but because in visual terms, this episode is much more about what people do than who they are or what they feel.

The episode announces as much in the opening shots:


That's Rick bandaging his hand, and hands are important. Hands do things. And the director of "Indifference," Tricia Brock, is not about to let the audience forget this:


The jump-cut from the medium shot of Rick bandaging his hand to the close-up of his hand while he's bandaging it is Brock's way of gesticulating wildly at this episode's theme, which I'll call "The Terrible Things We've Done With Our Hands."

Before you object that every episode of The Walking Dead features many hand-oriented shots, since characters are constantly thwacking walkers through the head, let me assure you that I already know that.

Brock's shot selection in "Indifference" isn't different in kind from other episodes, but in degree. Consider the second sequence with Rick before the introduction rolls:


This is what's called "a table-setting scene," because it alerts the audience to the kind of metaphorical meal it's about to consume. In this case, Brock's insistence on showing Rick's hands -- and also significantly, his watch -- should alert us to the fact that this episode's going to be about what the characters do or have done with their hands. The pan up to Rick's pained face staring at his hands-that-have-done-terrible-things indicates that despite being concerned with the things hands have done, this episode is more likely to be reflective:


Rick's thinking about his hands, and as he walks into the part of the prison in which Carol murdered two plague victims with her hands, he starts imagining things. What does he imagine?


Carol's hands cutting into the throats of her victim. So occupied is this episode with the things that hands have done that even when a character's imagining the awful actions of a friend, he doesn't see her, only her hands. It's almost as if Brock wants us to consider these characters' actions independently of the minds that told their hands to act. Because what choice did they have?

As Daryl says later, everyone in the prison could've "took themselves out, holding hands, 'Kumbayah'-style" like the walkers who ended up in the vines. But that's not what Rick's people -- and they are, increasingly, Rick's people again -- do with their hands. The visual and narrative emphasis on Rick's farming, or on Lori's insistence on making "god-awful pancakes" because she wanted to have the kind of family that ate pancakes together on Sunday, point to importance of activity in creating identity.

"You are what you do," this episode insists. And what do these characters do? They fiddle with rocks:


They nervously tap their wedding bands against their handguns:


They hand people watches:


And they briefly, so briefly, hold hands:


Then they send those people away. As you can guess, the theme of this episode really isn't "The Terrible Things We've Done With Our Hands" -- it's more like "The Futility Of Doing All These Things With Our Hands." As Bob the Alcoholic says, "Everybody makes it, 'til they don't."

And all that stands between those who make it and those who don't is what they can do with their hands.

[All images are copyright AMC Film Holding LLC]