I have a confession to make: I’m not really a fan of zombie movies or the horror genre in general. So why, you may ask, do I love The Walking Dead? Well, it’s because sometimes, in the middle of all the gruesome special effects, the peeling skin and exposed intestines and general chaos and decay, this show tells a truly powerful and meaningful story. About how human beings cope with the worst things that could possibly happen to them. And how the things they do to survive wear away at what they once were, sometimes for the better (as in the cases of Daryl and Carol). And sometimes they change you for the worse, as in the case of whoever slaughtered the two sick people and burned their corpses at the end of the most recent episode.
When The Walking Dead gets that balance right, between the gruesome zombie action and the equally bloody battles between conscience and the will to survive, it can be superb TV (like the standout episode of last season, “Clear”) and like Sunday night’s episode, “Infected.”
The episode opened with a myserious denizen of the prison feeding rats to the zombies at the fence. My money is on the little girl who named the tears-of-blood zombie Nick, because, for some reason, she clearly doesn’t understand that Nick wants to eat her. (Also, if she really needs a pet, couldn’t she just tame one of the rats she’s feeding her undead friends?)
Meanwhile, Tyreese and Karen are making out in the library, because I guess it’s a room with doors instead of a cell with open bars. Tyreese tells Karen that there are no casual acquaintances in the apocalypse, because there are so humans left; he’s still shaken up by the death of Zach in the last episode. Tyreese tries to get Karen to come back to his cell with him, but she doesn’t want to move so fast. Aww, poor Tyreese doesn’t get any end of the world nookie tonight.
Instead, Karen takes a flashlight to the shower area where she splashes some of the water Patrick coughed into on her face. Something rustles behind her and she checks momentarily before continuing to her own cell, where she falls asleep in about 25 seconds. I’m jealous! (Also, why isn’t anyone locking their cell door at night? Seriously, guys, people have aneurysms, heart attacks, flu, whatever ...)
Zombie Patrick is following just behind her, and she narrowly escapes being his first meal when a neighbor of hers starts coughing in his sleep. Zombie Patrick is easily distracted and lumbers into that poor man’s cell (Lock. The. Door!!!!) where he bites out the guy’s throat; this is actually pretty clever for a zombie, since now the poor dude can’t scream. And he pretty much got to die in his sleep, so I guess that’s something. Patrick feasts undisturbed all night, until he hears someone else coughing and goes to investigate. (Don’t zombies ever get full? Is it just eat, eat, eat until the food supply runs out?) Patrick’s victim has also been turned and gets up for some tasty flesh too, as the remainder of his intestines fall out of his stomach. Lovely! (Also, I really need to recap this show on an empty stomach.)
Up in one of the guard towers, Maggie sleeps while Glenn watches her and takes a picture of her sleeping with the digital camera he managed to snag at Walker Walmart last week. (It’s a sweet moment, but I still wonder about the electricity needed to charge things like this and Rick’s iPod.
Over in the other prison block, Rick finishes feeding Judith and wakes Carl up as his alarm clock rings at six. Man, I’d think the poor kid could sleep in, since there are no more tardy slips from school to worry about, but Rick has a fun day of farmwork planned for himself and Carl, while Judith gets to hang out with Beth all day.
Carl and Rick run into Michonne, who is preparing to ride out and promises to bring back some more stuff the Grimes boys like. Carl and Rick start feeding the piglets which look like they’ve grown five sizes overnight. Carl asks Rick if he can join the zombie clearing crew at the fences, and Rick tells him their plans for the day involve dirt and cucumbers. Mmmm, cucumbers!! Carl asks if he can have his gun back but before Rick can answer, they hear shotgun blasts coming from inside the prison.
The sisters Lizzie and Mika run outside, letting everyone know there are Walkers in D-block. Rick tells Carl to run to the tower with Maggie, but he spots Michonne riding back to the prison and stops to open the gate for her. Because gate-opening and closing is a two-person job, Carl is just slow enough shutting the gate that a couple of Walkers come in behind Michonne. Michonne dismounts, but is weirdly slow (for Michonne. I would have been eaten instantly. Probably on the first day of teh apocalypse) and is in really deep trouble before Maggie and Carl help her out, with Carl doing a superb zombie headshot with his rifle. Michonne’s ankle is badly injured and Maggie races out to help her get back inside the prison. Because of all the noise from the gunshots, Walkers begin to mass at the site of the night-time feedings.
Inside D-block, Walkers eat nameless (and now faceless) characters, including a small child, while Rick, Sasha and Daryl move through killing them. Carol helps get people to safety, along with Karen, who has now survived two potential threats to her existence. I’m start to breathe a little easier about her. (Oh how wrong I am!) Carol notices that Ryan, one of the men she helped, has a bite on his arm and tells him she’ll have to amputate to stop the infection from spreading. He agrees without question, but when Carol checks, the guy has a bite on the back of his neck too. Awww! Also, Carol is totally badass and calm here, and I’m so delighted that this show now seems to have multiple awesome lady characters. (Don’t kill them, show!)
Ryan realizes he’s a goner and begs Carol to take care of his daughters as though they were her own. Poor Carol!! I wonder if Ryan knows she had a daughter of her own, and that’s one of the reasons she’s so adamant the children know how to kill zombies. If only Sophia had had the benefit of some training! Carol fetches Lizzie and Mika to say goodbye to their father; Carol is about to put her knife in Ryan’s brain to keep him from turning, but Lizzie says she needs to do it. When it comes to it, she is unable to stick a knife in her father’s head (which, in other circumstances, would be praiseworthy), so Carol orders her to turn away and does it herself.
Rick kills one final Walker, who was locked into his cell, apparently because the guy was worried about sleepwalking. See, if EVERYONE locked their cell doors when they slept (and why wouldn’t they?) the damage wouldn’t have been nearly as great. Apparently, one of the new denizens of the prison is an actual doctor for humans, rather than a veterinarian, which brings the count of medical personnel up to three (Herschel, Dr. S., and Bob, the army medic). Will they be able to handle an epidemic? They determine from the lack of bites and Rick’s mention of the bloody-eyed Walker at the gates and two dead pigs, plus Daryl’s observation about Patrick, that this is some kind of swine flu. Herschel points out that everyone has been exposed to the germ, and Bob helpfully mentions how diseases spread like wildfire through crowded places like... prisons. (Maybe NOW they’ll lock their doors?)
The Council—Carol, Daryl, Sasha, Glenn and Herschel—meets in the library to discuss procedures to quarantine D block residents and put the visibly sick into Cellblock A. They are interrupted by the sound of coughing outside; when they investigate it’s Tyreese taking Karen back to C block. Herschel intervenes, pointing out that there’s a baby in C block, and Karen is bundled off to the infectious diseases ward in the former Death Row. (ha! I appreciate the gruesome pun.)
Lizzie and Mika are at the inner fence, watching the zombies on the other side. Carol tells Lizzie she was weak for not being able to follow through with stabbing her father in the eye before he turned; you can tell just from Melissa McBride’s face that Carol is still thinking about Sophia, and that her anger about Lizzie’s weakness is also anger at herself for not saving her own daughter. She’s determined not to make the same mistake with these girls. It turns out that Lizzie is upset not about her father but about her pet Walker Nick. (I’m now 100% sure that she is the one feeding rats to the zombies.) Mika tells Carol that Lizzie isn’t weak, just messed up. (But then again, who isn’t in this situation?)
Daryl buries the dead and has a philosophical chat with Rick about how he has to stop being Cincinnatus and start being the Ricktator again, because he’s had his break for severe trauma, and now they need him to start making decisions again. Poor Rick points to his many mistakes and his fear of making more, and Daryl is all “pshaw, what mistakes!” (Daryl is nothing if not loyal, isn’t he? Though I do agree with his point that even if Rick made mistakes, he also made plans and the survivors need some kind of plans to keep living.)
Maggie, who’s brought the limping Michonne to C Block, turns up screaming that the Walkers at the outer fence are building up to untenable levels. Maggie, Rick, Daryl, Glenn, Sasha and Tyreese start poking holes in Walker heads (I feel like they should have had every able-bodied person in the prison out there doing that, but hey, what do I know?) The fence is creaking and swaying under the pressure of all those Walkers when Sasha finds the tell-tale sign of a bunch of little rat corpses. I guess their feeder couldn’t get the whole rat through the fence, so they just ate the heads. (And now I need to bleach my brain out from thinking about that.)
The Walkers keep coming, pushing and pushing at the fence, which looks set to give way at any moment, and doom the humans on the other side. Rick comes up with a cunning plan; he and Daryl get the truck and load it with the piglets in a box, intending to give the Walkers an incentive to leave the fence. The noise of the truck attracts the Walkers, and Rick seals the deal by cutting into each piglet’s thigh to create that enticing odor of fresh blood Walkers like so much. Unlike many of Rick’s plans, this one works perfectly—though Rick is sprayed constantly by the blood of the poor squealing little piglets. Kudos to the porcine actors, who conveyed utter terror and misery with their screams!
Sasha and Glenn reinforce the fence, and later Rick burns the now-useless pigsty to get rid of any contamination, throwing his blood-soaked shirt onto the flames. Carl finds him and tells him that he had to fire his rifle at the gates to save Michonne, and then tells him about Carol’s self-defense lessons for the children (even though she asked him not to say anything to his father). Rick thanks Carl for his honesty, and perhaps recognizing that the peaceable kingdom is just an unworkable dream at this point, he hands back Carl’s gun, and straps his own revolver back on. No matter how hard he tries to get away, those Walkers always pull him back in.
My favorite scene in this episode didn’t involve zombies or advance the storyline of the plague at all, which is why I saved it for last. But it did address that more important question about humanity, who has it, and what it means: Beth bandages Michonne’s ankle, while Michonne berates herself for being stupid, saying that Maggie and Carl should have let her die, rather than risking their lives. Beth talks about the casualties, including the little kid in Cell Block D, and asks what one calls parents whose children die before them. Later, Beth asks Michonne to hold Judith for a moment after Judith burps carrots all over Beth’s shirt; at first Michonne holds the baby at arms’ length like toxic waste, but then Judith starts to cry and Michonne holds her close in her arms, her face crumpling into tears, and it’s clear that she lost a child in the apocalypse. It’s an achingly sad but beautiful moment, superbly acted by Danai Guirira.
Tyreese gathers some flowers for poor sick Karen, and brings them to her sell. Aww, he’s such a sweetie! Unfortunately, Karen is no longer in her cell, and Tyreese follows a trail of blood out into the courtyard where he comes across the charred corpses of Karen and the other guy who was coughing and had been banished to Death Row. Someone has apparently been ruthless enough to murder two fellow humans in order to stop the spread of the infection. We close on Tyreese’s justifiable expression of utter horror.
Regina Thorne is an avid reader of just about everything, an aspiring writer, a lover of old movies and current TV shows, and a hopeless romantic.