“How can you die from a cold – in a day?”
Well, that period of idyllic calm didn’t last long. Thank goodness. Despite last week’s Walker mall attack, I had visions of the new, agrarian community at the prison becoming like the one seen in series 2 of the original Survivors, where all the drama seemed to revolve around farming dilemmas. Not unlike, in fact, season 2 of The Walking Dead, for that matter.
Thankfully, last week’s cliffhanger ending threw our plucky survivors into two new perils, just when it looked like we might have to spend ep after ep watching Farmer Rick refuse to strap on his six-gun until the last resort. This week’s script, by old hand Angela Kang, saw the prison community faced with an unexpected Walker incursion courtesy of the recently deceased Patrick, then realise that, like him, any of them could drop dead and reanimate at a moment’s notice. Because, as we suspected, it seems they’re facing an epidemic.
Recently, I’ve been re-reading John Wyndham’s seminal post-apocalypse novel The Day of the Triffids for the first time in years, and this week I was struck by how uncannily it’s mirrored in most zombie apocalypse scenarios. Replace triffids with Walkers, and the heaving hordes pushing against the prison fence could easily replace the carnivorous plants besieging the heroes in the novel’s closing chapters.
And now, in another (presumably unintentional) echo of Wyndham’s novel, the survivors of the apocalypse have a new threat on top of the problems they have already – a mysterious plague, which kills its victims so quickly that death follows the onset of symptoms within a day. There are few diseases I can think of capable of that – haemorrhagic fevers like Ebola or Marburg perhaps, but they’re hardly common in the US.
One theory postulated by academic and zombie expert Arnold Blumberg is that it might be something inadvertently released when the Atlanta Center for Disease Control exploded at the end of season 1. Another I’ve read wonders whether the plague is a new, more subtle attack from the still-missing Governor, who could have deliberately released an infected Walker he’d found into the vicinity of the prison, with the intention of infecting its inhabitants. Or, of course, it could all be a coincidence.
Be that as it may, the more immediate problem was waking up to a Walker attack from within. Director Guy Ferland efficiently milked the suspense in the ep’s cold open, as the reanimated Patrick shuffled hungrily on the trail of Tyreese’s new girlfriend Karen, before being distracted by a less major character with no dialogue, who got his throat ripped out before he could scream, while Patrick got on with chowing down on his guts. By morning, a fusillade of gunshots heralded a community in disarray as Walkers attacked seemingly from nowhere.
Gotta say, the Woodbury folk were predictably rubbish at dealing with Walkers in their midst – they really must have been used to soft living under the Governor. Faced with the hungry but slow-moving ghouls, they mostly seemed to stand still, scream, and wait to be chomped. Lucky for them that Rick and the gang are old hands at this kind of thing, and once they got into it the problem was dealt with fairly swiftly.
Leaving, as they discovered, the larger problem. I’d wondered how long it would take them to discover patient zero – it was actually improbably quickly, which at least saved the disease plot from being milked for too long. Discovering two unbitten Walkers – one being Patrick – led our heroes swiftly to the conclusion that they’d died from an illness, which was quickly confirmed by new medico Dr Subramanian (the attractive Sunkrish Bala bringing more welcome diversity to the previously homogeneous cast).
It was at this point that the containment strategies began, and either the characters are all pretty dumb (including the doctor) or the script was falling down a bit there. If you might drop dead unexpectedly in your sleep and reanimate, surely the sensible thing would be to institute a policy of locking your door at night. Keeps the Walkers out, or in if you become one – I doubt they’re up to using keys. And they’re in a prison, for heaven’s sake – no chance of a Walker pushing the way through those bars.
But now, much brow-furrowing ensued before it was decided to isolate the potentially infected – including Tyreese’s new girlfriend – in another cell block. Fair enough, I suppose. Then Rick went outside to see Carl, Maggie and Michonne, who’d had no contact with the infection, and wasn’t quick enough to stop Carl giving him a hug. And then made no attempt to stop him running back to the others, potentially infecting them. Way to go, Rick.
Still, in the midst of all this the script didn’t stint on the character development. It did seem a little implausible for Tyreese to have gotten so close to Karen so quickly, but I suppose in that situation it’s carpe diem. Better handled was a bit more insight into Michonne’s hidden depths, as she recoiled at the prospect of holding baby Judith while Beth mopped the carrot-puke off herself. As she relented unwillingly, she started to crumple and cry. Nice performance from Danai Gurira there – as I suspected, we still have much to learn about what made Michonne the terse, grim-faced figure she was when we met her.
As an aside, the ‘lullaby’ Beth was singing to baby Judith was ‘I Don’t Wanna Grow Up’, an old song by Tom Waits – cast your mind back to last year’s season opener, and you begin to wonder if she knows any other singers.
Carol too got a lot to do this week, which was welcome – Melissa McBride has become one of the fans’ favourites. She seems to have assumed the role of community mother, and a badass one at that. Most of her interaction this week was with the prison kids, starting with the increasingly sagelike Carl, who deal surprisingly maturely with the conflict between her and his father as she asked him to keep her Walker-killing tutorials a secret.
But she also had a lot to do with newcomers Lizzie and Mika, who were glimpsed last week naming Walkers like pets. This week, they faced the challenge of putting down their bitten father before he turned; a task the seemingly ballsy Lizzie turned out to be unable to cope with. In a nice twist, her seemingly more withdrawn sister turned out to be the only one who had the stomach to watch Carol do the deed.
Carol has now been charged with their care by their dying father, which obviously called to mind the horrific fate of her own daughter. But the Carol we’re seeing now has developed a lot since then, and she’s all about survival. I think she’ll do pretty well, especially if she can keep Lizzie from naming the Walkers. I’m betting it was her we saw at the beginning, feeding them rats at night; my first thought was that somebody actually wanted them to break in, but later it occurred to me that it was probably a little girl feeding her ‘pets’.
And break in they almost did, in a tensely done sequence as they clustered around the feeding area and started pushing the chainlink fence over. Your mileage may vary as to how much you enjoy the seemingly mandatory once a week sequence of Walker head impalement through diamond wire, but I haven’t tired of it yet.
In the end, though, the horde was drawn off by Rick’s actually quite smart plan of slaughtering his beloved piglets to lead them away from the wire. After all, the piglets’ mother died last week, presumably of the mysterious plague; who’d want bacon from the piggies that had been suckling there?
It was a good sequence that combined action with character development, as it was plainly the end of Farmer Rick. Andrew Lincoln was visibly distraught at killing the pigs, all his hard work undone. Yet it’s plainly no time to be a farmer, as new moral compass Hershel patiently pointed out. And there was an echo of the classic Western in a hero who’s turned away from violence accepting that it’s time to strap the guns on again, which literally happened this week. I almost expected to hear Ennio Morricone on the soundtrack.
Gore of the Week
Still plenty – the show’s maintaining the balance struck last year between action, horror and character. In another apparently mandatory weekly occurrence, we saw a boot squishing an implausibly squelchy head:
The fence incursion, with its crushing press of Walkers, led to an interesting moment as one of them had its face literally pushed through the diamondwire:
But probably the best moment was Patrick’s first victim rising from his bed and literally spilling his guts. On the floor. If you’ve seen Day of the Dead, you might recognise the homage…
The final bit of gore, however, was reserved for a bit of character development and a new mystery. Visiting the quarantined Karen,Tyreese was none too happy to discover that person or persons unknown had taken it upon themselves to kill her, along with the other quarantinee, then burn the corpses. Plainly that’s not the work of a little girl. So who in the group is so frightened of infection that they’re prepared to kill even those who may have nothing more than a bit of a cough?
While nothing here matched the action set piece of last week’s mall attack, or the grim character interaction of Rick’s encounter with the seriously broken Clara, this was still a pretty gripping ep. True, some of the actions the characters are taking to deal with the disease seem a little… dumb. Are they believably fallible, or am I just excusing the writing? But all told, this was a suspenseful stake-raiser with some decent character work, especially for Rick, Carol, Michonne and Carl. Things are looking grim. And we haven’t even seen the Governor yet…