Yesterday I had a close look at both the Promo spot and the Sneak Peek video released by AMC leading up to tonight’s episode. In that preview I made a few guesses about what would happen during this episode; read after the break to see how close to/far off the mark I was.
<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss at length plot points of The Walking Dead S04E05, “Internment.” Read more at your own risk.>>
As it turns out, not really that close at all – and I’m happy that I’m not, as I really like Hershel a lot, and hope he sticks around just a little bit longer. About the only thing I got right (kinda sorta) was the return of the Governor. But he isn’t behind the gunshot that gets Maggie and Rick’s attention; nope, he’s standing under the shade of a tree nearby the prison, watching Rick and Carl enjoying a father/son moment in the prison garden.
The Governor’s appearance is really nothing more than a tantalizing little teaser for next week, so let’s take a look at the episode. We pick up right from where last week’s episode ended, with Rick driving along the leaf covered road. He sees a group of wild dogs mauling a walker – we’re all food, to echo the season opener. We cut to Hershel, Sasha and Glenn working to intubate Henry, one of the sick Woodbury survivors. They get him on a hand respirator, and Hershel instructs Sasha to keep going until she gets too tired. Hershel and Glenn find one man who has died, and Glenn prepares to stab the body in the head – but Hershel puts a hand on his shoulder and says, “Not here.” Despite everything everyone has gone through, Hershel still tries to hold onto humanity and decorum, even in the face of desperation. Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) asks them what they’re doing, and Hershel gives her homework – she has to read Tom Sawyer. Lizzie shows her practical side (pointing out that she won’t be able to finish it, due to the failing light), perhaps a sign that Carol’s attempts to harden the little girl are working. The two men continue into a private room, where Hershel and Glenn talk about killing walkers. Hershel’s admission that he has gotten this far without killing a single one yet made me search back – but while he’s helped people to escape walkers, and he’s run from his fair share, I don’t recall him ever lifting a finger against them. The body turns, and Glenn puts it down.
Maggie and Hershel have their meeting at the window, and she’s worried about Glenn not being there. In fact, Hershel’s covering for him – he’s looking worse than last we saw him, and he’s afraid that his condition will convince Maggie to expose herself to the disease in order to help him. We cut to Maggie at the fence, culling walkers. Rick arrives, and she immediately notes he’s alone. “Where’s Carol?” she asks three times before Rick finally answers. Once he explains his motivation, she agrees that he did the right thing, but admits she doesn’t know if she could have done it (banishing Carol) herself. Rick is pretty positive – he tells her that Carol’s fine, and that she can take care of herself. A rather optimistic stance in light of the constant losses that have plagued the group from the beginning. But he’s made up his mind that he did the right thing, and tells Maggie that “We don’t get to doubt ourselves anymore.” Looks like old-decisive Rick is finally back in charge. Rick goes inside to check on Carl, and tells him what happened. Carl complains that Rick won’t let him come help, telling him that “You can’t keep me from it…from what always happens.” Carl is getting wise beyond his years, and is finding a balance between the bloodlust he exhibited last season when killing the young Woodbury boy, and the frightened boy who would run crying to Lori whenever he was confused or hurt. He’s actually becoming something of a voice of reason, leaning more toward the Hershel/Glenn school of thought than the Rick/Daryl orbit.
We head back inside, and watch Glenn now working on Henry, keeping his breathing regular. Hershel goes to check on Dr. Subramanian, and we get the scene from the sneak peek AMC released last week. The key moment here is when the doctor tells Hershel, “Not everyone gets to live.” This is a commentary on life after the apocalypse in general, but of course it is also specific to the situation with this killer flu they are fighting. Hershel is a man of faith, and tells the doctor that he won’t give up on anyone; but the doctor knows from experience that if you try to save everyone, you might end up losing them all instead. He shows Hershel a hidden cache of shotguns and ammo, just in case things get out of hand in quarantine.
A bit later, Hershel walks the cell block, telling everyone to close their cells. A man falls out of his cell and onto the floor, dying in front of Hershel and the others. Hershel pulls out his knife – his conversation with Glenn has obviously bothered him. By not killing/disposing of turned people, is it possible he feels he has not been carrying his weight? Sasha acts as his conscience here, staying his hand and helping him get the body up on a gurney. He takes the body into the office where the communication window is, and stabs the body in the head, but only after covering its face with a sheet. He hesitates several times before he goes through with it, and his gesture has the symbolism of religious sacrifice writ large all over it. He holds the knife two handed above his head, and brings it down upon the body’s face. Hershel’s innate spirituality has been what’s kept him from killing to this point (or in this case, desecrating a corpse, something that is equally taboo in his Judeo-Christian ethic). It is only through the symbolic gesture of sacrifice, an offering to his God, that he is able to take the step into violence that he has been avoiding. Rick arrives just as Hershel stabs the body. Hershel is unshaken – he’s at peace with his decision – as he tells Rick that this is the third one they’ve lost. He shows the man’s humanity by speaking of a conversation they had the day before, when the man quoted Steinbeck to him. Rick says he has something to tell him.
We cut back to Hershel in the cell block. He looks somber, thoughtful – this is a combination of his reaction to Rick’s news about Carol, and to stabbing the dead man. He’s shutting cell doors, checking in on everyone. He continues, only to see Sasha’s feet hanging outside her cell door. He rushes to help her where she has fallen. The camera pans out and around the corner to another cell, where we see a large pool of blood on the floor. We pan up just in time to see a dead woman open her eyes.
To this point in the episode, the pace has been slow, with an underlying tension as more and more survivors appear to be on the verge of dying, and some actually are. But from here to the end of the show, the director (David Boyd doing his third episode) keeps us on a roller-coaster ride that never lets up until the very end of the episode. The next sequence consists of a series of smash cuts from scene to scene, much like the finale to The Phantom Menace, when the action shifted between three different groups. This technique ramps up the tension as it allows the director to leave each scene on a mini-cliffhanger before coming back for resolution (it was also the best thing about The Phantom Menace, a movie which I otherwise was disappointed with – but that’s a review for another day). It can also, if done well, leave the viewer feeling breathless and on the edge of their seat. Back to the action:
Outside, Rick and Maggie are buttressing the fence with logs. They’re concerned about what’s happening with the increasing group of walkers at the fence, but don’t seem overly worried as they’re doing something about it. Cut to Hershel holding an IV bag over Sasha’s head, as she comes to. They banter a little, and share a nice moment of camaraderie. Uh oh – you just know that’s going to trigger something bad. We head to Glenn, who realizes that Henry has died. He tries CPR on him, but to no avail. The extra effort sends him into a coughing fit that nearly kills him – he ends up gasping on the floor, blood dribbling from his mouth. Hershel returns to closing cell doors, but one man won’t let Hershel in to check on his son; “Let him sleep,” he says. Upstairs, Lizzie is checking on Glenn, and sees him lying on the floor breathing shallowly. Before she can say anything, Henry turns and sits up. Below, Hershel turns to leave the man and his son just as a female walker – the woman we saw in the pool of her own blood a few minutes ago – attacks him, knocking him to the ground. A blonde woman comes out of her cell to help, just as the father of the sleeping boy also comes out, holding a handgun. She stomps on the walker’s leg, breaking it and getting her off of Hershel. As the man is about to shoot the walker, his son appears behind him – he wasn’t sleeping, he was dead, and now he’s turned. He bites his father’s arm, causing his arm to twist, and he shoots the blonde woman right in the head. We jump outside again, where Rick and Maggie hear the gunshot. Rick tells her to go, and she runs into the prison. We then see the walker son chowing down on his dad, as his hand spasmodically flexes and fires the gun again. Upstairs again, Lizzie is leading zombie-Henry away from Glenn, doing her best to save him. She is, however, walking backwards, which is almost always a bad idea. Rick, meanwhile, has gone into the Warden’s offices in order to grab Carl – he knows he needs help with the fence.
Lizzie continues to lead zombie-Henry, but falls – fortunately, Hershel sees what is happening, and manages to get to her in time, flipping the walker over the railing. Maggie gets to the door to quarantine and yells to be let in – but no-one can hear her. Hershel is back at Glenn’s side, and tells him to hold on. Then back to Maggie, as she breaks an axe trying to smash through the hardened glass. Hershel, inside, turns to Dr. Subramanian’s cell, telling him it’s time to grab the shotguns – but the only thing the doctor wants to grab is Hershel. He’s died and turned, and Hershel, showing a new side to himself, breaks Subramanian’s arm against the bars, and then stabs him in the eye. Once over the line, he’s all the way over the line. He’s no Daryl yet, but Hershel is showing an ability to do what is necessary that we haven’t seen manifest from him in this kind of overtly physical manner before.
Back outside, Rick and Carl share a moment – they’re doing something good! – so of course, this is when the fence goes. The horde chases them, and they just make it inside the gatehouse. Inside, Hershel is grabbing and loading the shotgun, while outside Rick and Carl are doing the same from their stash of automatic weaponry, just as the inner fence also breaks. Hershel leads the zombies away from the Lizzie and a boy, who are now hiding in a cell, and Rick and Carl mirror his movement, backing away from the horde as they fire carefully into it at head height. Carl is showing great efficiency and proficiency, hitting with every shot, and taking out a walker that gets too close to Rick. Rick gives him a look that is full of burgeoning awareness: he’s seeing the man that Carl is quickly becoming, and he’s uncertain if this is the man he’d hoped his son would become. Inside again, Maggie runs to the office where she’s been speaking with Hershel, and shoots out the glass – she’s into the quarantine area. Hershel shoots the female walker and checks on Glenn. He realizes the only way to save him is to intubate – but the only respirator they have is still attached to zombie-Henry’s face. He jumps down onto the wire mesh and proceeds to struggle with the walker, trying to pull out the tube. Maggie shows up, efficiently shooting the father of the “sleeping” boy, who has now also turned, up through his chin and out the back of his head. Is it just me, or is it true that dead people seem to take a lot less time to turn when the action heats up? Back when Andrea’s sister Amy turned in Season One, it took her a couple of hours, if I recall correctly. That was also the finding of Dr. Jenner back in the CDC in the first season’s finale. Oh well, dramatic license – perhaps there is some sort of mechanism by which walkers rise quicker if in the midst of other walkers/fresh meat?
Maggie sees her father struggling with zombie-Henry, but he warns her not to shoot – he’s afraid the respirator will be damaged. She does so anyways, and they both rush to help Glenn before he dies. Once he’s intubated, however, he begins to breath much better. Lizzie arrives and asks if it’s over. In a small piece of character building, we see her casually dipping her toe into the blood pooled on the floor – Glenn’s or Henry’s it doesn’t matter. This is a pretty creepy action, and shows she’s entering that same cold psychological place that Carl inhabited for a while over the last couple of season.
Back outside, Rick and Carl are staking the last few moving undead through their heads, putting them down for good. As they’re finishing, a set of lights approaches – Daryl and the gang are back. Tyreese immediately asks how Sasha is, but Rick doesn’t know. Tyreese goes inside to check, and we see him holding her up. She’s looking better due to the IV, and it appears she’ll pull through the illness. Bob goes inside and helps Hershel and Maggie mix the medicine for injection. This might be a small attempt at redemption on his part, but it certainly won’t win any of Daryl’s sympathy. It will be interesting to see where Bob’s character goes in the next few weeks. Hershel is looking ready to drop – I seriously thought at this point that they were going to write a heart attack into his storyline – and Maggie tells him to rest. He goes to Dr. Subramanian’s cell, and sits on the bed. He caresses the doctor’s cheek, a sign of affection between two warriors that have fought the same battle, but through which only one has come out unscathed. He then opens his Bible, but doesn’t read from it, simply looking exhausted.
The next day, we see Michonne dragging walker bodies onto a trailer to be removed from the grounds. Daryl, Tyreese, and Hershel are talking about how things are going. Glenn has stabilized, and will likely pull through. Daryl asks Hershel how Carol is doing. Hershel looks uncomfortable, and tells him he’ll have to ask Rick about her. Hershel walks over to where Michonne has finished loading the trailer, and goes with her to dump the bodies.
Over by their garden, Carl asks Rick to come with him, but Rick tells Carl that he has to go speak with Daryl. “Now?” he asks, and Rick doesn’t take much convincing to avoid speaking with Daryl immediately. They walk down to the plants, and pick a bean pod off a vine. Rick pops it open, and hands a bean to Carl, taking one for himself as well. Symbolically, we see that life is still viable on some level, even in this devastated land. Rick and Carl turn and walk back up toward the prison. Our POV changes to outside the prison grounds, and pans down as we keep Rick and Carl in center frame. A person is watching them, and we see him in profile: he has a patch covering his right eye. The Governor is back, and if we thought the survivors were in peril this week, I suspect that next week may be anything but a cakewalk.
There were some interesting themes in tonight’s episode. Hershel again mentions that everyone has jobs to do, and the theme of saving others was very pronounced. Dr. Subramanian’s admonition that you can’t save everyone proved prophetic, as sacrifice also became a major theme, one which tied into the theme of fathers and sons. This was apparent on three levels, all of which were brought home by the father that tries to protect his already dead son inside quarantine. He made the decision to enter quarantine despite his health in order to protect his son, something that Rick expresses to Maggie he’s not sure if he would do. But the fact that the son, under the protection of his father, literally consumes him, also reflects on the Rick/Carl relationship. Carl is changing and growing in both age and ability, and Rick is genuinely afraid that the environment is creating of him a cold-blooded murderer. His attempts to instill humanity in his son are often undermined by necessity. Their relationship is further anticipated when Rick’s father figure – Hershel – is forced to stab his first pre-turned body. As I mentioned earlier in the synopsis, the symbolism of the stabbing was one of religious sacrifice, and here it specifically brings to mind the biblical story of Abraham, whom God ordered to sacrifice his first born son, Isaac. This was meant to be a test of his faith, and he was stopped at the last moment; but Hershel is not stopped, and in a sense, neither is Rick. Here, we also see Rick having to make the hard choice to sacrifice Carl in the context of his childhood innocence; although Carl has killed before, Rick tried to undo the damage that this had done to his psyche, only to be forced to call on his son’s killer instinct in a time of need. The sacrifice is not a willing one, but it is a necessary one. Without Carl’s help, there is no way that Rick stops the horde pouring through the fence, and the question of who will survive the disease and not becomes moot. There is no one to stop Rick from making the sacrifice – does this, then, symbolically line up as a direct opposition to Hershel’s constantly reiterated faith? It will be interesting to see if the writers continue to play with these tropes of fathers sacrificing their sons, and of more interest, what dark places this might take them to. Is this setting Carl up as a future leader? As the one who will actually be able to take the Governor out? Or are Rick and Carl destined to have some sort of massive confrontation in the future?
This was, ultimately, Hershel’s showcase episode. Scott Wilson showed fantastic range and ability, and was a real highlight. His physical acting was subtle and moving, especially his interactions with Dr. Subramanian and Glenn. He shows real care for these people, and Hershel’s complete denial of the self when others are in need makes him, at this point, the most noble character in the series. In addition, while this was Hershel’s episode, a more subtle characterization was taking place under our noses with Lizzie. Watching her nonchalance as she led zombie-Henry along the catwalk, or casually toed the pool of blood, shows that she is going to become a character to watch over the rest of the season, and potentially into the future. They’re definitely setting her up to be practical and cold, and without a guiding parental hand, she may not be able to step back from the abyss as Carl has somewhat managed to do.
Next week’s episode promises to be interesting, with the Governor showing up, Daryl and Tyreese still needing to find out about Carol, the prison no longer the safe haven they thought it was, and a few sick people still struggling to make it through the illness. Enemies both within and without should make for a good ride.
Steve’s Grade: A-
A slow burn builds to a thundering crescendo that takes viewers on a breakneck pace through the last half of tonight’s episode. I found myself glued to my seat.