Two weeks into a new season and we’ve had two good episodes in a row? I’m feeling almost optimistic, y’all.
“Infected” picks up on the promise of last week’s cliff-hanger, where poor Patrick succumbs to the flu and rises again to wreak havoc on the survivors. As I predicted, the survivor’s illusion of safety leads to a number of deaths. Every interior door in the prison seems to be, if not wide open, unlocked, allowing ZombiePatrick to amble directly back to cell block D completely unhindered — and unspotted, because no one is up keeping watch. This was the same problem Woodbury had as well. The town was such a haven in undead chaos that no one wanted to spoil the illusion by dealing with unsightly practicalities. Actually if we want to compare apples to apples, Woodbury comes out ahead. At least their outer wall couldn’t be pushed over by a crowd of eager zombies and armed patrols worked the streets 24/7.
Instead, at the prison, we have sheer privacy curtains over open cell doors and security on the inside that is so lax we have Karen and Tyrese wandering through freely, ZombiePatrick instigating a blood bath, and some unknown quantity feeding walkers rats through the fence at night despite posted lookouts in the watchtowers. Most people seem to be armed but not necessarily keeping their weapons close by when they sleep. There’s no way to alert others to danger unless someone manages to escape it (like the kids who bring the backups to the cellblock).
So Patrick infects an un-named survivor (after two tension-filled misses at Karen), who rises up and infects another, and by the time the crew shows up, cellblock D is an abattoir. Glenn and Daryl are in the rescue squad, but so is Rick, who is backed right into a zombie-fighting corner.
Continuing Rick’s thread from last season, we learn that he has indeed gone a full 180 from gunslinger sheriff to peaceful gentleman farmer — or the closest approximation the post-zombie world can get to. His abdication is more than just refusing to carry a gun. He seems to have completely stepped aside from any semblance of authority. Except he’s Rick, and he’s responsible for most of them being there, directly or indirectly, and that isn’t something you can hide from. Andrew Lincoln is really killing it this season (HAHAHA pun). The moment he has to pick up a knife and start killing walkers again — not just spiriting people to safety, but getting actual blood on his hands, is wrenching. The hesitation on his face, the resolution there when he pulls out his knife — he knows what he has to do and what he’s giving up to do it.
In the aftermath, the three medics (Hershel, new guy, and other new guy Bob) quickly realize that there are two bodies which turned without being bit and figure out the flu angle right away, linking it to a possible swine flu issue (don’t forget about Violet the dead sow). Last season we’d probably spend a couple of weeks figuring out what went on, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that the characters picked up on the obvious. And then they took reasonable precautions to prevent other people from being infected. What show are we on here? The Walking Dead seems absolutely committed to turning it around this year.
Most of the rest of the episode is setting up conflicts for the coming episodes and weeks. First, there’s the outside threat to the prison itself. After having the gate blown to hell and part of the prison completely open to the outside (don’t forget an entire wing crumbled before the survivors found the place), it didn’t seem like retreating there instead of taking over Woodbury was the smart money. But they managed to rig up a security system and a way to replace the big gate the Governor plowed through. Unfortunately, that doesn’t do anything for the chain-link fence that is their main source of protection. The flaws in this were not-so-subtly brought up in “30 Days,” and are doubled down on in “Infected” when the lured mob of walkers start leaning on a weak part of the fence, where it starts to cave in.
This leads us to Rick’s other powerhouse moment in the episode. As Daryl pointed out in their graveside chat, having Rick in the thick of things is important to everyone, not just because of his prowess with a gun, but because Rick is able to see things in a different way than the rest of them. He sees solutions where others miss them, no matter how distasteful those solutions may be. This is why it’s Rick who loads up his precious piglets on the back of a truck and uses them to lure the walkers away from the collapsing fence. The group might have decided to kill the pigs because of the flu anyway, but watching Rick hobble these animals and leave them squealing for masses of walkers to descend on was devastating. You could see Rick’s hopes for the future basically evaporating in each slice of his knife. The spray of blood on his face was just Fate’s way of rubbing it in. His hands are never going to be clean. He’s always going to be the one making the hard choices. He just needs to find a different way of making sure it doesn’t destroy his soul in the meantime.
The other set up is the continuation of the rat scene from the beginning of the episode. During the fence collapse, the rats are discovered. But before the group can really investigate what’s going on, Tyrese discovers that Karen and the other sick survivor have been dragged from their quarantine cells and burned to death in a courtyard. There’s no indication if they had turned before this, but given how long it took Patrick to die, it’s likely that Karen was still alive when she was taken from her cell (or rather, that she wasn’t undead yet, and was killed in her cell). If I’m not mistaken, this is the same courtyard where they found the butchered deer last year and discovered that one of the prisoners had snuck back into the prison and was sabotaging the group. Which could be an important clue — this may not be someone from within causing issues (and the red herring is obviously Bob) but an actual outsider they’re not aware of. I think it’s too early for this to be a Governor sympathizer causing problems. I believe we’re going to find this is an entirely new threat, probably connected to the people who lured the walkers away from the big box store last week.
Childcare still seems largely characterized as a “female issue” on the show, but I am less offended by it this year than I have been in the past. It may be my newfound optimism speaking, but it seems like the show has done a lot to branch out the female characters — Beth had more lines this week and last than she’s had since she appeared on the show in season 2. Most of them were not around her wanting babies. Carol’s progressed far beyond being the grieving mother of Sophia; that she ends up with two blonde little girls to replace the one she lost is more of a second chance than a step backwards. If one or both of those girls died this season, I don’t think we’d see a return to Carol as a barely functional shell of a person. The scene with Michonne and Judith didn’t reduce Michonne to soft mother figure — it provided needed backstory to the hard woman who used to drag walkers around on chains with her. Readers of the comics knew what happened in her story, but that brief scene with the baby managed to convey a lot without any dialogue whatsoever. It was a layer of emotional complication that Michonne desperately needed.