If you want a gorgeously haunting story that will both inspire and terrify you long into the night, then last night’s episode of “The Walking Dead” is for you. ‘Interment,’ penned by Channing Powell, focuses on Hershel (Scott Wilson) and on the most elusive of all things during times of tragedy – hope.
The Greene family has been particularly wise this season. Maggie, Beth and Hershel have all offered words of wisdom to the group. No doubt, the girls get their wisdom from their father and he gets his wisdom from his faith. That’s his lighthouse. That’s where he keeps his hope. For him, it works.
Hershel’s view of the world is so different from Carol’s and even Rick’s. That view gives this episode a different feel than the indifference we saw last week. For Hershel, his faith is his strength and this episode he demonstrated that quiet, compassionate strength is just as strong, perhaps stronger, than Carol’s detached brutality.
“I’m not giving up on anyone, not yet.” – Hershel
Hershel believes emotions and compassion will be the salvation of the group. Carol believes emotions and compassion will be the end of the group.
Hershel says the above quote to Caleb, the doctor, who is already bleeding from his eyes and mouth. He begs Hershel to focus on the people who are not as ill, but Hershel won’t leave someone in need. Hershel’s actions filled me with dread this entire episode – not because I thought what he was doing was wrong, but because every moment he was on screen, I was holding my breath waiting for him to cough. I was expecting the quiet hero of this story to take ill and die.
But he didn’t.
He was weary and exhausted, but his compassion kept him going. Even in this chaos, even after, as Rick says, all of his choices have been taken away, Hershel’s compassion never stops.
Last week was all about how our emotions can weaken us. This week shows us another avenue. What it comes down to, for Hershel, is this: when the world ends, do you want to be detached and empty or do you want to be full of love?
Hershel isn’t alone in his hope, either. Glenn and Sasha, though both on the verge of death, help him care for the others in the cellblock.
There is something so haunting about seeing the dying care for each other… seeing the dead bring out the dead. They are all helping each other die with dignity… because once they are dead, there will be no dignity, only the zombie virus that will rage through their bodies.
There isn’t a lot of dignity when you die with blood rolling out of your eyes, nose and mouth, but they try to give as much dignity to each other as possible. As I said though, Sasha and Glenn are both gravely ill and the illness eventually catches up with them. They both pass out at nearly the same time.
AND THEN THIS EPISODE GOES BALLS CRAZY.
Person after person dies and zombie after zombie rises. You can’t tell who’s been turned or what is going on. It’s similar to the chaos of the outbreak in the second episode of the season. Hershel and Lizzie are almost bitten. Glenn is going in and out of consciousness. There is no way for me to capture the frenetic nature of these scenes. You never know who is going to live or die on this show. If you’ve read the comics, they don’t provide any kind of guidepost because this show deviates from that story quite frequently. Maybe it’s because Glenn and Hershel are two of my favorite characters, but this sequence had me feeling desperately unsettled.
I was waiting for one of our main characters to die.
None of them did. And that is because of Hershel’s hope. It won’t let him give up. It forbids him from letting the people that he loves die. It is what gives him the adrenaline rush to rip a motherfucking zombie off of Lizzie and freaking throw it over his shoulder onto the catwalk below.
Strength comes from many things – from muscle, from stoicism, from practicality…. but it also comes from love. No one will ever dismiss Hershel as a weak old man again.
When Daryl returns with the medicine (that saves the lives of Glenn and Sasha) he tells Hershel that he’s a “tough son of a bitch” and Hershel responds, without missing a beat, “I am.”
Damn right you are, Hershel.
He’s such a tough son of a bitch that he goes out hunting with Michonne!
Then the episode shifts to the inevitable. Rick has to tell Daryl about Carol, but we don’t get to see that this weak. We see Rick’s hesitation and who can blame him. It’s not going to be easy. Regardless of whether or not Rick thinks that he did the right thing, he doesn’t take joy in his decision and he knows that it’s a decision that may end his friendship with Daryl.
This really was a transition episode, putting an end to the flu-virus storyline and opening the door to the Governor’s return – who shows up unceremoniously in the final scene. He’s doing what he has probably been doing this entire time – watching and waiting.
We’re sure to find out more about him next week. Do you think he’s the one who has been feeding the zombies rats or does he have someone inside the prison working for him?
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 on AMC.