The prison awakens to the fallout of Patrick’s zombification in what is one of the most gruesome episodes of The Walking Dead we’ve seen in quite some time. ‘Infected,’ written by Angela Kang, shows that this season will live up to the high standard set by the premiere episode. In fact, season 4 might be better and more terrifying than season 3. (Spoilers ahead)
(I repeat here there be SPOILERS.)
Guys. Guys. We need to talk about the opening of this episode because, dear Cthulhu, was it masterful.
‘Infected’ opened with the perfect homage to traditional horror movies.
Karen leaves Tyrese’s cell, after declining to have sex with him, and heads back to her own room. She wandering in the dark with only a flashlight when she hears a noise. The audience know it’s Zombie!Patrick (Vincent Martella) and we’re yelling at our TVs “Don’t go that way, Karen! Run Karen!” as she searches through a dark and creepy prison bathroom to find the source of the noise.
She doesn’t find anything though and goes to her room. Zombie!Patrick is awake now and hungry for brains. We think this is the moment Karen bites it (or gets bitten), but that doesn’t happen for one very specific reason. Karen and Tyrese didn’t have sex, so of course she can’t die now. She’s still “pure!”
I loved this opening. It was clever and gave the audience a little bit of levity before the horror that was to come.
And what horror it was. We get lingering close-ups of Patrick chowing down on intestines and in a terrifying chain reaction one zombie rises after the other. The attack was frenetic and intense. You couldn’t tell what was going on, who was alive, who was dead.
This was the kind of episode where you hold your breath the entire time and even when it’s done, you still aren’t sure if it’s safe to breathe.
Even the quieter moments of this episode are rife with tension.
Carol (Melissa McBride) tends to the wounds of Ryan, who was bitten on the arm. As she prepares to amputate, she discovers that he was also bitten on the neck. Her interaction with a dying Ryan is so moving. Her compassion mixed with his fear makes the tragedy palpable.
Sometimes with this show the situations are so over the top that you lose the human element. This scene was quiet. This scene let you feel their reality. It got even more emotional when Carol brings his children in to say goodbye. One of his daughters offers to be the one to kill her father. She panics at the last minute and falls apart and Carol follows through.
This scene affected me more than Carl killing Lori. Perhaps because it was a quieter and simpler scene. As with Carl, the death of a parent sets these children up for a new path in life. They are no longer children. Later in the episode, these girls embrace Carol’s teachings and take ownership of their roles as zombie slayers.
The true horror of this episode isn’t in who died, it’s in the cause of the infection. The zombie virus hasn’t gone airborne. It’s something else. It’s a flu-like virus that spreads and kills fast.
Nearly everyone has been exposed.
To contain the virus, the council quarantines everyone who might be infected. This separates Carl and Rick from Judith. The show doesn’t focus much on Judith, because Little Ass Kicker’s still too small to slay zombies, but she’s not too small to bring more layers to Michonne’s character.
When Big Ass Kicker meets Little Ass Kicker it doesn’t go so well at first. Michonne appears disgusted by the baby. She refuses to hold her or even to look at her. Beth, as a member of the ever intuitive Greene family, knows that Michonne needs to let go of whatever emotional weight she is carrying. She thrusts Judith into Michonne’s arms and walks out of the room. It takes a moment, but Michonne puts down her guard, nuzzles the child and begins to weep. Judith, who was in the midst of a tantrum, stops crying in Michonne’s arms.
We know that “guarded” is Michonne’s (Danai Gurira) middle name, but she has softened throughout the show. She has a warm relationship with Rick and Carl, so why was she so resistant to Judith? Will we be subjected the trope of “the emotionally guarded woman who lost a child” or is the story more complex?
I’m hoping for the more complex answer.
Speaking of complex, let’s talk about Rick. Sheriff Rick became Farmer Rick after the events of last season. Farmer Rick has hope. Farmer Rick isn’t a dick. Farmer Rick loves pigs, cucumbers and protecting his son. He walls himself off from tragedy (aka reality).
The walls literally come crashing down on Farmer Rick when the zombies attack the fence. The attack is so forceful that the fence nearly collapses. Much like the outbreak scene in the beginning of this episode, this one is chaotic.
We do learn one key piece of information during the chaos. Someone is feeding the zombies rats.
There is no holding back the zombies at this point. The only thing left is to distract them. Rick must sacrifice something he loves – his hope for a new beginning – his pig farm.
On paper, I imagine a scene where a farmer feeds his pigs to zombies wouldn’t read as emotional, but on screen, it was a punch to the gut. The anguish on Andrew Lincoln’s face was so visceral. His sacrifice pays off and the zombies move away from the fence long enough for them to repair it. The fix is temporary, of course. The zombies are back at the fence at the end of the episode.
The prison dwellers have three things to worry about now: An impending zombie invasion, a spreading infection and a traitor in their midst. The episode ends with the double murder of Karen and another of the group. They were both burned alive, but by whom? Had they succumbed to the virus before they were killed? Was it a mercy killing or is someone tormenting our band of survivors?
I’m more inclined to believe it’s the latter. But is it one person or a group of people?
With all of these variables out there, one thing is clear – there is no saving the prison. It’s doomed.
Here’s another thing to think about before next week: Farmer Rick dies in this episode and the ghost of Sheriff Rick is also put to rest. So which incarnation of Rick will we get next week? He will undoubtedly be back to a leadership role, but to what extent? How different will it be from past seasons?
So many questions. How do you think they will be answered?
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 on AMC.