Ah, The Walking Dead I’ve known and loved has come back to us in the second episode of this new season. I was admittedly underwhelmed by the premiere, even though I know there was a lot of set up for the chaos that erupted in this episode. The horror elements returned to us, and there were amazing subtleties in the acting for things that we have yet to explain (if we will ever explain them at all). Overall, a great episode to introduce us to what I’m thinking is going to be the theme of this season: building walls around your community isn’t enough to protect yourself in a zombiefied apocalypse.
We continue immediately where we left off – it’s the night of the store raid, where zombies fell from the sky, and where one of the Woodbury boys Patrick suddenly falls ill and turns overnight in the shower. His infected blood seeps into the system. Tyreese’s new boo goes to the bathroom to rinse off a bit, hears a stir. This was totally an amazing cold open – I was on the edge of my seat, a feeling I love to have when watching this show. She sees nothing and walks away, but we see the lying body of Patrick stirring on the floor, just missed by Tyreese’s boo (I know she has a name, but since she doesn’t last long… well, this is what I’ll call her) Patrick begins a terrifying and unexpected breach in the prison, feeding and immediately infecting a fellow former Woodburyan. I will say – this last shot of the cold open is amazing – the breeze passing through the blankets that hang, the unlocked prison doors open, and the sounds of feeding destroying the trust and security that led to these people leaving their prison doors unlocked at night.
The next day, the original Grimes camp has yet to discover what’s happened in the newly infected cell block. Rick is working out his green thumb, and everyone is observing how all of the walkers are congregating together at certain sections of the fence. It’s a day where Rick is forced to solve two problems: 1) the infection breach, 2) fortifying the fragile wire fence. First Rick and the crew tackle the infected cell block, after hearing the echoes of gun shots. Michonne was about to ride for errands and another hunt for the Governor, but returns promptly sensing the danger. Michonne is unexpectedly attacked by the zombies, injuring herself along the way. Carl touches a gun for the first time in about a month or so (we’re to assume the beginning of this season is no less than a month after Woodbury merged with the prison)
Once they quash the infection in the cell block, Herhsel determines that there is some flu infection that needs to be monitored. An immediate (but loose) quarantine is established – those exposed to the flu (a.k.a. those killing the turned former Woodburyans) are to stay away from those who were not. This creates a romantic block between Glenn and Maggie, since Glenn swooped in on the effort to stop the infection spree and Maggie was outside, saving Maggie and Carl from the walkers at the gate. But anyway, the council of the prison (Carol, Daryl, Sasha, Glenn, and Hershel) recognize the necessity of enforcing the quarantine and figuring out the source of the flu. Perhaps the water? Perhaps the pigs?
From here on out, there’s so much heartbreak. First, Carol takes charge with attempting to aide a father who joined the camp, who was injured, but discovers was bitten and knows he’s about to turn. She brings the father’s daughters to his cell, and tries to firm up their strength and make them understand what “has to be done” in this new world they live in. She tries to get them to be the ones to fully kill their father, and stop him from turning. Their fear is so palpable, and it’s heartbreaking to watch them understand what has to happen but feel fearful about it.
There’s also a wonderful moment of heartache in observing the subtleties of Michonne. We still don’t quite know a lot about her. She is immediately uncomfortable w/ Judy, but lets Beth mend her wounds. It’s hard to keep Michonne down! But when called into action to watch Judy, Michonne immediately resists, but Beth shoves Judy in Michonne’s hands anyway. The way Michonne holds her and cries (and Judy’s understanding silence) is such a beautiful, heartbreaking, subtle signal that there’s much more pain in Michonne’s past. I’m guessing she lost her child in the zombie apocalypse, so she has trouble otherwise being overt in affectionate actions, and it’s hard for her to connect with children again. This was such a quiet wonderful moment. Danai Gurira is totally a star in this show, and I loved that we saw this moment.
We also have a wonderful moment between Carl and Rick. We know that Rick has had to watch Carl get forced into growing up. And this episode kind of makes more clear that there’s some sort of solidarity in Rick and Carl’s self-restraint in using guns as a result of that speedy growing up process. Last week, Hershel insisted that Rick needs to keep a gun on him. It’s almost clear that Rick recognized this unfettered rage within himself and Carl, so he decreed they control themselves by not using guns. And there’s also this amazing sense of maturity in Carl in his respect and recognition of Rick’s decision. We know that Carl took the self defense to a potentially scary level – almost Shane-like, you could say. It’s like they’re going zen to recapture their humanity. Carl was apologetic in his admittance that he had to use a gun to save Michonne. He also made a point to share with Rick that Carol is trying to teach self defense to the kids. Rick respects that Carol’s lessons are necessary, even if the sheltered Woodburyan girls were too traumatized to act upon her lessons.
The final moments of horror and heartbreak occur when the gang realizes the walkers are about to destroy the prison fencing. Something is attracting them to congregate to a certain spot. Rick finds a bunch of dead rats that were fed to them. (Could it be the noob from The Wire feeding and riling up the walkers? He’s only been there a week and we know so little about him…) The walkers get so strong and pile onto the fence so much that the fence bends and they even start climbing. Suddenly, Rick comes up with a plan: feed the walkers the pigs they’ve been raising (since they suspect the pigs could be bringing in the infection that caused the prison breach) Watching Rick slaughter those pigs was heartwrenching, and horrifying, and you know he felt that too. It’s another sacrifice of life at the mercy of a world they still have yet to understand. After all this effort to fortify their walls, they are still not safe. Not safe from the walkers, and not safe from other forces that can prompt the infection.
We end with a terrifying moment – with those exposed to the infection quarantined, we’re left with wondering what happens to them now. Tyreese tries to visit his boo, and bring her flowers, only to follow a trail of blood… outside the prison doors and in the yard is his boo and another member of the camp, bloodied, probably infected, and fried. There’s something deeper going on than just a mere flu catching on.
There’s definitely hints of uncontrollable chaos – from disease, to managing a community probably too large for the Grimes camp to handle or keep track of (even with a council to alleviate the leadership roles). All the hard work is almost for naught. It also should make the viewers wonder: how did this not happen at Woodbury before? (Maybe it did and no one talked about it?) Even with the fancy fencework to block walkers, there’s still evil infiltration. Could this be at the hands of the Governor? Could there be someone else untrustworthy in the prison? Is the prison about to return to its status as a prison, instead of claiming its reinvented status as a sanctuary? This episode stepped up the game for me, and I hope for more horror and intrigue as we unfold the mystery of the infection and the walkers dogpiling on each other at the gates. Till next week!