The title of tonight’s episode doesn’t hold any great mysteries behind it. Apparently we’re going to learn something more about what killed Carl’s friend Patrick, and likely also killed both Violet and the boar in the woods. My vote is for swine flu, and with the CDC gone, where will Rick and the group go for a cure? It’s not like they can go down to the local pharmacy for a flu shot.
<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss at length plot points of The Walking Dead S04E02, “Infected.” Read more at your own risk.>>
The episode opens with a mysterious figure feeding rats to walkers through the fence. All we see is a flashlight and a gloved hand pressing the struggling rodent through the links. I love the fact that this connects so well with the end of the last episode, and the title of this one. Rats were, of course, the carriers of the fleas which in turn carried the Black Death throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. As a disease spreading vector, they are infamous, and although I don’t believe that they are responsible for the plague affecting the survivors, this is a smart and knowing nod to diseases past. But more importantly, who might be doing this? We know for certain that it isn’t Tyreese or Karen, because we go to them where they’re getting a little better acquainted. Tyreese invites Karen back to his bunk – you know, to keep her warm – but she demurs, asking him not to rush. He’s a gentleman, and says goodnight.
Karen stops by the showers on her way to bed – the showers where Patrick has just died and turned (we find out that the episode starts right from the end of last week’s, when Tyreese mentions that losing Zack earlier in the day was really tough for him). She hears a noise and investigates. This sequence is very well done – her flashlight is wonky, and shower curtains make her area of visibility quite reduced. It reminded me of the very first Silent Hill game back on the PlayStation, when the player would be walking through claustrophobic rooms, about to by jumped at any moment. She isn’t, but her movements and noise alert zombie-Patrick, who gets up and follows her. She lies down, and we see his shuffling shadow stop outside her privacy curtain – only to be distracted by a cough a couple of cells further down. A cough! Could it be that whatever killed Patrick is spreading? The cougher does not get a chance to show us, as zombie Patrick rather efficiently rips out his throat, preventing any kind of warning scream.
In the morning, Rick and Carl are outside working on the farm when gunshots are heard from inside the prison. Michonne, who has just left on another foray, hurries back to help, but is attacked and injured (though not bitten). Carl grabs a rifle and takes out a walker, and Maggie comes down from the tower to help as well. Inside, Cell Block D is fully under attack. Patrick and his new friend, zombie coughing guy, have managed to turn several others in the early morning hours, and now people and walkers are everywhere as Daryl, Rick, and Glenn dispatch the diseased with cold efficiency. One man is bitten on the arm, and Carol takes him to a bed and prepares to amputate, only to find that he’s also been bitten on the neck. Pretty rare that a head amputation goes well for the victim, so she tells him he has to say goodbye to his daughters (Lizzie and Mika – Lizzie was the girl naming zombies in last week’s episode). Before she gets them, he asks her if she’ll take care of them as her own. You can see she’s torn – losing Sophia is still obviously on her mind – but she agrees, and brings the girls in. The father dies as he holds their hands, and Carol goes to issue the coup de grace, but Lizzie tells her that they should do it, and takes the knife. However, she’s unable to go through with it, and Carol does the deed.
Later, Carol confronts Carl and tells him again not to tell Rick about the extra training she is giving the group’s children. She’s afraid that Rick will want her to stop, but at this point, I don’t really see Carol paying much heed to Rick if she’s decided something needs doing. She and Daryl have obviously become allies if not lovers, and although they only have a few brief scenes together, the tension is palpable. Carol follows the girls to the fence, where Lizzie is lamenting the loss of her favorite zombie, Nick. Carol outright calls her weak, and tells her she needs to be strong or she will die. This struck me as unnecessarily harsh in light of the fact that the girls had just lost their father, but in retrospect, I don’t think Carol was even talking to Lizzie: she was speaking with Sophia, saying to her the things she wishes she’d said, things that might have saved her daughter’s life. Carol is getting a second chance at motherhood, and now that she’s a lot more kick-ass, it should be interesting to see how this goes. Perhaps a little bit of Mathilda (times two) from Leon: The Professional?
While the boys begin the clean-up, Michonne is ministered to by Beth, who is also looking after baby Judith. Judith begins to fuss and cry, and Michonne looks ready to throttle the child – seriously, she rolls her eyes, refuses to look at the baby, and otherwise shows irritation with every fiber of her body. After being fed a bit, Judith spits up on Beth and she needs Michonne to hold her. Michonne refuses, pulling away, but Beth hands her over anyways and goes to get cleaned up. Michonne begins to tremble, and then tears up and begins to cuddle Judith. Did she lose a child? She’s never spoken about her life before meeting up with the survivors, but there’s definitely something there – we’re going to be getting some more Michonne backstory soon, mark my words.
As Rick and the gang are cleaning up the cell block, they realize that several of the zombies were not even bitten, and that they have strange blood trails all around their mouths and noses. One of the Woodbury survivors says that they’re the tell-tale signs of an influenza outbreak – and now everyone who has helped with the infestation has been exposed. Karen and Tyreese round a corner – and Karen is coughing. They put her and another survivor exhibiting symptoms into isolation.
Once the rest are outside, Maggie comes running – a large group of walkers is threatening to break down one of the outer fences through sheer weight of numbers. Even Rick grabs a crowbar and begins ventilating skulls. He’s become a lot more hesitant to resort to violence, largely concerned about his effect on Carl, but he recognizes the need when it is there. Sasha notices a pile of dead rats on the inside of the fence, asking if everyone sees what she’s seeing. There’s definitely more than one kind of enemy inside the compound to go along with the influenza. The walkers are dropping like flies, but keep pressing forward, so Rick comes up with a quick plan to kill two birds – or three pigs – with one stone. Daryl drives Rick outside the compound where he begins to cripple the piglets and leave them for the walkers, leading them away from the fence in the process. Thus one of the potential sources of the influenza is removed, and the walkers are moving in the opposite direction as Glenn, Maggie, and Sasha reinforce the fence with logs wedged into the dirt.
Once things calm down, Carl helps Rick take apart the pigpen. Rick’s decided it just isn’t safe to keep them, just in case they are a vector. Carl tells Rick about Carol’s lessons, and then tells his dad that he thinks she should be allowed to continue. Then he asks when he can get his gun back. Rick thinks on it for a moment, and thanks Carl for telling him. He agrees that Carol should teach the children – after all, they’ve just had two bad attacks, and lost a whole bunch of people. Once they’ve lit the broken up wood from the pen on fire, he goes to a tool chest and hands Carl his gun. Once Carl has his, Rick pulls his own out, flips open the revolver, and holsters the weapon. It looks like kinder, gentler Rick may be ready to pack his bags – the realities of a hard world have forced him to accept his role as protector once again.
The episode ends with Tyreese carrying a bouquet of wildflowers, going to visit Karen in isolation. When he gets to her cell, he sees a bloody trail inside, leading right through the closed and locked door. He follows it outside to a courtyard, where he finds the still smoldering bodies of Karen and the other person in isolation, with two gas cans nearby. Were they already dead when they were burned? Or is someone trying to defeat the disease through a scorched Earth policy? In either case, Tyreese is just a little bit distraught, and someone is going to pay.
We’ve learned a few things from this episode. By far the most interesting character arc was Carol’s, as she is showing signs of becoming the sort of bad-ass mother that Ripley was for Newt in Aliens. Michonne gave us hints about a past she is still too afraid to talk about, showing a vulnerability that she hinted at in last season’s climax as Andrea died. Rick and Carl seem to have come to some sort of compromise between their desire for normalcy, and their recognition that the world is no longer a safe place. And perhaps most importantly, the show writers have given us at least three meanings for the title of tonight’s episode, “Infected.” There is the obvious infection of the influenza that is killing survivors and turning them with almost no notice; there is the unknown individual who has been feeding the zombies at the fence, thus drawing them closer and in larger numbers; and there is the unknown murderer of Karen and the other ill person. The group has infection in its midst, both viral and in the form of potential sabotage and murder. It may turn out that any cure they’ll find will be worse than the disease.
Steve’s Grade: A-
A very strong episode with a return to some of the violence and uncertainty of the first season. Two scenes in particular – Karen in the shower room, and Michonne with baby Judith – stand out as extremely well-written and acted moments that moved both emotionally and psychologically. Season Four has begun with two strong episodes – here’s hoping it continues that way.