THE WALKING DEAD 4.2: “Infected”

TWD40203Not even a week after I expressed my disdain for “contagion” storylines (while discussing SLEEPY HOLLOW) what does THE WALKING DEAD do? It plays the contagion card. And worse, it looks like this will be a major plot thread for the foreseeable future.

I just don’t buy into the inevitable course of infections in these storylines — the path of the disease is clearly dictated by storytelling needs. Somebody once said that we are much more forgiving of amazing coincidences in real life than we are in fiction, so it’s best to not put any coincidences in your story, but if you must, keep it to just one. And it’s always the most dramatically interesting people who get infected in these stories. It happens too often to be coincidence.

Night. At the prison fence a flashlight is seen, and an unknown person feeds a live rat to a walker. Inside, on the way back to her cell after a rendezvous with Tyreese (Chad Coleman), Karen (Melissa Ponzio) passes through the shower area, attracting the attention of the now-undead Patrick (Vincent Martella), who follows her to her cell. But instead of eating her, Patrick’s attention is attracted by coughing from another cell and he attacks that guy (very quietly). When dawn breaks, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) takes Carl (Chandler Riggs) down to slop the pigs. Michonne (Danai Gurira) passes by on her way out when suddenly shotgun blasts are heard from the prison. Rick rushes toward the cells while ordering Carl to go to the tower with Glenn (Steven Yuen) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan). Michonne turns her horse around and gallops back to the gate, which Carl opens. She is followed by two walkers who attack when she dismounts. She holds them off but cannot get to her katana. Carl grabs a rifle and shoots one, giving Michonne time to kick off the other and impale it on the pickets. Maggie arrives and shoots it. Michonne suffers a sprained ankle.

TWD40202Rick and Daryl (Norman Reedus) arrive on cell block D, where Daryl tosses Rick the shotgun. Rick considers using it, but then passes it off to a fleeing man. It’s chaos in the cell block as former Woodbury residents scream and flee. But the new walkers created by Patrick are spawning even more new walkers.  It takes a while, but our heroes eventually restore order. Carol (Melissa McBride) has pulled the injured Ryan (Victor McCay) to safety but realizes he will die from his wounds. Ryan asks her to take care of his daughters. She gathers his girls, Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) and Mika (Kyla Kenedy White) to say goodbye. He dies, and Lizzie initially wants to be the one to keep him from turning, but she has a panic attack, so Carol ends up stabbing him in the ear. Lizzie saw that and freaks out. Later, Hershel (Scott Wilson),  Dr. Subramanian (Sunkrish Bala) and medic Bob (Larry Gilliard Jr.) confer and agree that several walkers died from an unknown disease, and it should be considered contagious. The council — Hershel, Daryl, Glenn, Carol and Sasha (Sonequa Martin) decide to quarantine the cell block D survivors (including Karen) in cell block A — which happens to have been Death Row.

Out by the fence, Carol scolds Lizzie for being weak and tells her to man up toughen up, but the girl flees. Mika tells Carol that Lizzie isn’t weak, she’s just messed up. While Rick is helping Daryl dig graves, Daryl says he still considers Rick one of the leaders, but Rick insists he made too many mistakes to ever lead again. Suddenly Maggie alerts them that walkers are in danger of pushing over the outer fence. Sasha and Tyreese also rush to help save the fence, but they’re losing. Rick conceives a plan and sends Daryl for the truck. Just as it seems the fence will collapse, the pickup truck appears outside the fence, beyond the walkers, pulling a trailer with Rick and big box. Rick reaches inside and pulls out a piglet, slashes its hind leg and tosses it overboard to attract walkers. Doing this over and over, Rick lures most the walkers away from the vulnerable fence.

TWD40204Inside, Michonne is exercising and listening to Beth (Emily Kinney) singing to Judith, who pukes on Beth’s shirt. Beth tries to give the baby to Michonne, who flips out and yells at Beth. Embarrassed, Michonne takes the baby anyway. While Beth is gone, Michonne hugs Judith and starts to cry. Then she starts really sobbing and Beth realizes Michonne has… issues.  Later, as Rick breaks down the pigsty, Carl tells his father about Carol teaching the children how to fight with knives. Rick says he won’t interfere. He lights the sty wood on fire and gives Carl his gun back and straps on his own gun belt. Back at the fence, Carol puts a flower in Lizzie’s hair, and the teen takes Carol’s knife — the one that destroyed her father — and tucks it in her pants.

Tyreese brings a bunch of flowers to cell block A for Karen, but finds her cell empty, with a trail of blood leading outside. There, he finds her and David (Brandon Carroll) — their bodies still smoking after being torched with gasoline!

Tyreese needs to be careful. Just because those bodies are burned doesn’t mean their brains where destroyed — remember how the walkers at the weather station survived being burned in that pit last season? Dead ain’t dead on this show. Karen might jump up and bite Tyreese!

So, does this mean Rick has his groove back? Torching the pigsty (to sterilize it) seems to be the fiery end of his Farmer Rick phase. Solemnly strapping on his gun belt felt heavy with symbolism; clearly he has renounced his renouncement of using firearms. But is he ready to shoulder a leadership role again? Is this the birth of the second Ricktatorship? I don’t think so. I believe Rick will submit himself to the council as their fixer, and obey their orders rather than give his own.

Carl and Lizzie are now both armed and dangerous. And teen Patrick was the one who caused so much devastation, so what is the show trying to say about the next generation? I think it means the kids have accepted the new world order more readily than their parents, and are preparing to become the leaders of tomorrow. Also, Carl and Lizzie can play “Show me yours, and I’ll show you mine.” Their weapons, people, their weapons! (Pervs.)

Speaking of the prison’s kids, we got a big hint about Michonne’s backstory thanks to her crying jag with Judith. Seems clear to me that she lost a baby of her own, and that’s probably what made her so cold and hard. From the gaps in what Michonne said last year, her “pets” — the walkers she led around on leashes — were not random zombies but rather they meant something to her. Still, she butchered them faster than Rick cut up those piglets, so they didn’t mean that much to her.

TWD40201Also, it’s clear that no one should invest in this season’s new characters; they are apparently being introduced just because the show needs cannon fodder. Of course I knew Karen was dead meat the second that she started flirting with Tyreese. And David had two lines in the premiere, so of course he had to snuff it. Last week, Beth’s boyfriend Zack was practically wearing a neon sign reading, “Dear Walkers, Please Eat Me.” The only exception appears to be Bob, who has improbably survived into the third week. Seriously, just make the new people wear red shirts and be done with it. New characters need to be cultivated. I remember back in the first season, when Carol seemed destined to become zombie chow, but she stuck around because she became an interesting character with a tortured backstory.

Despite my expressed reticence about disease stories, this episode did deliver one of the most horrifying scenarios of the entire series: A walker loose within the prison while everyone else was asleep! And it really delivered on that premise. Imagine going to bed and never waking up because a zombie tore out your windpipe with his teeth! By the time it was over, Patrick and his chain-reaction zombies had taken out 14 redshirts people. On the bright side, the gang’s food is going to last a lot longer, but on the downside Rick believes there is strength in numbers, so he’s not happy about the loss of warm bodies. And when Rick’s not happy, nobody is happy. (Well, maybe Glenn and Maggie. Okay, just Maggie.)

Despite having a doctor, a veterinarian and an Army medic on hand, there is little chance that the eggheads will go into a laboratory and whip up a miracle cure for the plague just seconds before one of the heroes dies — because there is no lab. (Is there? Please say no.)

I thought Carol was going to stab Ryan through the eye, but she knifed him in the ear instead. I guess that would be the path of least resistance. Carol sure seemed eager to take custody of Lizzie and Mika — obviously she’s going to substitute them for the daughter she lost at the farm. How long until Carol pisses off Lizzie by calling her “Sophia”? Start your countdown clocks… now! Not that Lizzie isn’t already alienated. Like Mika said, “She’s messed up.” Which makes her a pretty good match for Carl, doesn’t it?

TWD40205And when it comes to messed up, who’s crazier than the mystery person feeding the zombies? Right now I think it’s a former Woodbury resident who is still loyal to the Governor — though I’m not ruling out the possibility that the Governor himself has found a way to slip in and out of the compound and is feeding the walkers, trying to draw and more to knock down the fences. After all, he has deployed walkers as his own personal attack drones before.

To the shock and horror of precisely no one, the ratings for this episode dipped from last week’s premiere, which lured a shocking 16.1 million viewers (TWD’s most ever) to a mere 13.9 million — which is still way ahead of the series previous high, the 12.3 million who watched last spring’s season three finale. In contrast, the hoity-toity MAD MEN averaged around 3 million viewers earlier this year. Zombies sell better than advertising men!

Don’t worry folks: Those piglets were not really cut; the knife wounds were pure CGI. And, just in case any small children are watching TWD (or reading this blog) and want to be traumatized, I discovered that Patrick was played by the guy who provided the voice for Phineas on the kids show PHINEAS & FERB!

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