This week’s episode of The Walking Dead spoke quite powerfully to me, as I am currently suffering from the Sinus Infection of Doom. When I had what was basically Captain Trips in 2012, I narrowly avoided watching Contagion during my worst symptoms – thank Jesus. I’m always under the vague assumption that I might die of some stupid thing like the common cold. Sunday’s Walking Dead clarified for the audience just how fragile we are, how vulnerable to even the simplest bugs in a world without real medicine. (I, on the other hand, am dosing myself with real medicine as I type.)
Last week, Patrick died suddenly in the shower and reawakened as a walker, which rendered the whole prison open to attack from within its own walls. In the opening scenes of this week’s episode, Patrick goes about his zombie business, unfortunately silently – which leads to a rash of deaths and near-misses in the snoozing cell block. Luckily (and conveniently), none of those killed were our core group of folks.
Michonne leaves the prison to go on another Lone Wolf expedition, telling Rick and Carl she’ll bring them back the things they like – but returns in a panic when she hears a gunshot. She chastises herself for returning; it was indeed very stupid, and she’s letting her feelings get the better of her. But Michonne with feelings is better than the hardass we met last season. Unfortunately, she nearly gets herself killed coming back through the gate to help her friends; Carl and Maggie come to her rescue. In one of the season’s best scenes (Danai Gurira is truly a force to be reckoned with), Michonne outright refuses to take baby Judith from Beth after Judith spits up carrots all over Beth (babies are gross). Finally, Michonne takes the baby, at first holding her away, listening stone-faced to her imploring cries – and then she holds her close while tears spill from her eyes. Sometimes we forget that Michonne has a past, and that even she can’t turn it all off forever. She’s softening, and it scares her…but it sure is exciting for us. As Beth says (suddenly she’s full of wisdom), “When you care about people, hurt kind of comes with the package.”
Carol, who strides into the fray with the rest of the warriors, discovers a bitten man and tries to amputate his arm. In the process she discovers he’s also bitten on the neck. She tries to convince his two young daughters, who have been avid pupils in her storytime survival lessons, that they can end it for him. When they can’t, Carol doles out some necessary tough love: “You’re weak, you lost your nerve. You have to be strong to survive.” While true, it’s also disturbing to think of children shoving a knife into the throat of the thing that used to be their father.
The prison’s new doctor addition confirms the culprit behind Patrick’s death: pleurisy. He choked to death on his own blood; it’s “like shaking a soda can only your eyes, nose, and mouth are the pop top.” Thanks for the image, writers! Further, it’s probably an aggressive strain of influenza. Since the series is ostensibly set in the early 2000s, it’s entirely likely the swine flu that ravaged the elderly and young a few years ago. After all, the prison does keep swine, and they got sick first. Not that it particularly matters – what matters is that what might have laid us low before the walkers, now places us in utmost danger. Bob remarks, “Haven’t seen anybody be lucky in a long time.” Amen.
Meanwhile, outside the prison’s walls, someone has been feeding rats to the walkers in the dead of night. He or she is surreptitiously drawing them to one place from within the fence so they build up and weaken it from outside. It’s five of our posse against a horde of walkers when the chain link begins to collapse. The more fragile and decayed the walkers get, the more likely they are to fall to pieces, literally. I’ll probably never entirely un-see the imagery of walker bits pressed through chain link like Play-Doh spaghetti.
In a moment of genius that reassures us Rick’s supposed to be the leader here, Rick uses the pigs as bait to draw the walkers away from the fence. It’s just a stopgap measure, but it allows enough time to prop up the fence. As Rick slices into each new piglet, their squeals fill the soundtrack and their blood splatters his face. It’s suddenly clear to him that the new normal isn’t normal, that nothing will ever be normal again.
Carol outright begs Carl not to tell Rick about the survival lessons, but Carl can’t lie to his dad – even by omission. Rick and Carol are on exactly opposite tracks as concerns the next generation, and frankly, Carol’s survivalist methods make more sense. After the pig debacle, Rick’s willing to admit the same. Kids can’t be kids anymore; everyone is responsible for his or her own destiny, and weakness can’t be tolerated. He gives Carl his gun back, then dons his own holster and pistol. It was foolish to ever think they could be farmers and live a peaceful life. He’s just the last one to realize it.
The next step is to quarantine the sick – among them Karen, Tyreese’s lady friend and a survivor of the Governor’s massacre. The Council insists that anyone who was exposed be separated from the rest – which, while it seems like the only options, leaves everyone vulnerable. In the final scenes, Tyreese sweetly brings flower to his sick girlfriend only to discover someone has murdered her and burned her body.
Alrighty. So, who the hell is the nighttime rat-dangler? Who on earth is burning the sick? What’s up next? Is Daryl immune to the flu? Questions, questions, and more questions. I’m intrigued. How about you?