Walking Dead: Season 4, Episode 2 “Infection”
Last week, I gave the season premiere of The Walking Dead a bit of a hard time. Partially, I was being silly. But I was also legitimately criticizing the show for its lack of subtlety. This week’s episode still made its points with a sledge-hammer. But as I watching I came to a realization. This show ain’t Mad Men. But it’s not supposed to be. Maybe it’s okay that a show about zombies is about as subtle as a zombie apocalypse.
The cold open teased a greater mystery which will likely play out over the next few episodes. Someone’s been feeding zombies. That explains why so many have been building up around the prison gates.
After that brief tease, we check in on Tyreese and Karen sharing a tender moment. Tyreese sings “I Got You Under My Skin” to his intended. It’s a genuinely romantic moment. I have to give credit to Chad Coleman for his natural delivery. But I also have to credit the show for giving the characters this quiet moment. Frankly, this scene is better than anything Tyreese got to do in Season 3. Up until now, he’s just been a nice guy with a hat and a hammer. Now we see he’s also a hopeless romantic.
As Karen goes back to her cell, she takes a moment to appreciate the artwork of the two girls we saw naming zombies last week. The drawing depicts the two girls safely inside the prison walls with grey zombies gathered outside. One of the zombies is named Nick. It’s a tiny little detail that will be important later in the episode. I missed it the first time. But I have to give the show credit for including these little touches. These are the kind of things The Walking Dead has been missing for too long.
When Karen returns to her cell, she falls asleep quickly. We see zombie Patrick roaming the halls looking for a victim. Immediately, I think Karen is toast. Of course we just got to see Karen and Tyreese share a tender moment because Patrick is about to munch on Karen. That’s how The Walking Dead works!
But it seems the show was playing on my expectations. Just when it seemed Patrick was going to shamble into Karen’s cell, there was a noise from the next cell over. Zombie Patrick shuffled into that cell instead where he ripped some dude’s throat out.
The next morning, we see Rick. And brace yourself, he’s holding baby Judith! Rick has already spent more time with his daughter in season 4 than he did in all of season 3. Rick calls Carl out to do some farming. That Rick is a changed man. Wonder how long that’s gonna last.
Carl and Rick have what feels like a real father-son talk. Carl wants his gun back. He wants to help kill zombies. He’s like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. He’s sick of farming, he wants to join the rebels. But Rick pulls an Uncle Owen and ignores Carl’s request.
But Rick can’t ignore the little girls running out of the prison calling for help. Everybody scrambles. We see that the residents of the prison have a protocol for this sort of emergency. But things don’t go exactly according to plan. Michonne tries to ride out of the prison gates on horseback. Almost immediately, she is over-taken by walkers. Carl grabs a rifle against his father’s wishes and ultimately saves Michonne’s life.
Rick runs into the prison where all hell is breaking loose. Like last week’s “rain of zombies”, this is a well-staged action sequence. Rick, Daryl and the other lead characters run through the chaos trying to determine who is still alive and who needs to be put down for good. Everywhere they turn, there seems to be some little kid in danger of becoming a zombie hot lunch.
Carol finds a victim who has been bitten on the arm. She grabs a belt and prepares to amputate the arm on the spot. However, just as she is about to lop off this guy’s appendage, she notice another bite on his neck. As he is unlikely to survive a head amputation, Carol concludes that the poor sap is a goner.
It turns out that this guy is the father of the two girls we saw naming zombies last week, Lizzie and Mica. He’s a single dad and all his daughters have left in the world. With tears in his eyes, he asks Carol to watch over his girls as though they were her own. Which probably isn’t the best way to phrase that request given the fate of Carol’s flesh and blood, Sophia.
Carol agrees to raise the girls. But she decides they need to say goodbye to their father first. Oh boy, this scene is a killer! Crying kids! A dying father. Nope, nothing subtle about that. But damn it works. Not only that, but the dad could go at any minute. So there’s an added element of suspense. At any moment, the tearful goodbye could turn into a zombie scare. It was suspenseful and emotional.
The older girl decides that she should be the one to put her father down before he turns. Carol, who has been instructing the kids in survival technique, is ready to administer on hell of a final exam. But unlike Carl, Lizzie can’t follow through. She drops the knife and turns away. Carol does the deed while telling the girls to look at the flowers in the corner.
When did The Walking Dead get so damn effective?
Meanwhile, the menfolk are cleaning up after the mess of the zombie attack. They figure out that Patrick died from an illness. They come up with a plan to quarantine anyone who might be infected including themselves.
It’s a pretty scary proposition. The message of last season was that you can’t live alone. But living with others poses its own set of problems. At any moment, someone could die of natural causes. If they do the threat the survivors have worked so hard to keep outside the prison walls gets inside. And there’s no way to protect yourself from it.
In the aftermath, Carol approaches Lizzie and Mica who are once again watching the zombies at the gate. She tells them bluntly about their father’s impending burial and that they can bring flowers if they want. She tells the girls that she intends to take care of them. But then she delivers some hard truths as well.
Carol tells Lizzie that she is weak. I don’t think you’ll find that technique in any parenting book. But then again, if Carol had been more honest about the dangers of a zombie apocalypse, maybe Sophia would still be alive. In that context, Carol’s tough love makes sense.
Unfortunately, Lizzie can’t handle the truth. She pretends that she is upset about Nick, the zombie from her picture. Ol’ Nick is gone. Lizzie runs off in tears. Little Mica informs Carol that her sister is “messed up”. Yeah, that will happen.
For the second time this episode, the prison gang faces a zombie threat. This time the zombies from the outside are pushing against the gate in larger numbers. The gate is in danger of falling.
Farmer Rick is reluctantly forced into action. He grabs a sharp stick and starts killing zombies. When it becomes clear that they can’t kill zombies fast enough, Rick hatches a plan. He sends Daryl to fetch a truck. Then he drives outside the gate and starts leading the zombies away with bloody piggies. As Rick cuts the last pig, blood splatters all over his face. Nothing subtle about this show!
Meanwhile Carol checks in on Carl. She wants to make sure he’s not going to tell his dad about her lessons during story time. She’s worried that if the kids’ parents find out what she is teaching them that they will make her stop. Not exactly cool, Carol. But given what Carol went through with her own daughter, it is at least understandable.
There’s also an odd scene with Michonne and Beth. Beth singing alert! Beth is singing baby Judith a somewhat disturbing lullaby. Judith shows her appreciation of Beth’s song choice by throwing up carrots on her. Beth asks Michonne - who is in the process of throwing herself a pity party – to take the baby. Michonne initially refuses. But eventually, she holds little Judith and she weeps.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this little interlude. But I had to admit that the sight of Michonne snuggling that baby and crying was a powerful one. Again, it was better than anything Michonne got to do in all of season 3.
Once the zombies have been dispatched, Carol meets with the girls again. She clears the air and puts a flower behind Lizzie’s ear. I couldn’t help but think of the flowers Daryl gathered while they were looking for Sophia (which seemed like most of season 2). Lizzie reached down and took the knife from Carol’s hand in the sweetest, most tender way a child can take a dangerous item from an adult.
Watch the scene again. There is a moment when about four or five emotions play out across Carol’s face. There’s pride. There’s sadness. There’s regret that maybe she could have saved her own daughter if she had done things differently. And there’s also hope that maybe this time with these two adopted daughters will be different. This is exactly the kind of stuff The Walking Dead should be doing.
Carl meets with Rick as he dissembles the pig farm. He tells his dad about Carol’s lessons and also suggests that Rick let Carol keep on teaching them. Rick reluctantly agrees to let Carol continue without telling the kids’ parents. Then he sets fire to what remains of the pig farm and gives Carl his gun back. Not only that, but Rick straps on his holster like a gunfighter who realizes that he can’t retire from violence just yet. Rick watches his little farm and his dreams go up in smoke as the zombies regroup outside the fence.
The episode ends with Tyreese grinning like a schoolboy with a crush. He’s carrying flowers to Karen’s cell. But he is met with a trail of blood. Tyreese follows the blood outside. There he finds two charred bodies and a gas can. He recognizes one of the bodies as Karen because of the bracelet she is wearing.
So two episodes in, The Walking Dead has stepped up its game. Can the show keep it up all season long?