As if worrying about the dead rising up from the plane of existence between life and death and biting off people's ears wasn't enough, The Walking Dead's survivors now have to worry about the living! Or the almost dead, I should say. "Infected" was another successful episode in this rejuvenated (albeit young) fourth season, just different enough from The Walking Dead's raw formula to make the show feel new again. Yes, the glory days of The Walking Dead being scary, fun, and scary fun are back.
New showrunnner Scott Gimple needed to make the fortified prison a frightening place once again, and he did so with the recently introduced zombie-swine flu that's spreading across the grounds. It paid immediate dividends in the opening scene, when Karen was creeping around the prison bathrooms where zombie Patrick had crashed out at the end of last week's episode. I am a grown man and this scene frightened me as if I were a nervous baby. Is anything scarier than dead silence? Nothing happened, and that's exactly how the show will benefit from this virus outbreak. Otherwise, The Walking Dead is just a bunch of people poking zombies through a chain-link fence and sharing farming tips, the world is a lot less scary when the greatest threat is biting into an under-ripe carrot.
Though he didn't eat Karen, our poor young friend Patrick was up and walking again with the gift of zombie-ism, and he strolled into D-Block early in the morning for a breakfast of someone's throat. Quick question: Do zombies know to go for the throat when snacking, so that their meal doesn't scream for help and notify others, or did Patrick's nerdiness carry over into the
afterbetweenlife? Whatever the case, smart move! Patrick was able to enjoy his breakfast in peace. It is the most important meal of the day, after all. If zombies learned how to eat like proper gentlemen, they'd be extra scary. How everyone slept through all the wheezing and slurping and crunching sounds, I don't know. Are they that comfortable now?
What Patrick's noshing did was set off an absolute sh*tshow in D-Block as his leftovers got up and started looking for their own meal, causing pandemonium among the Woodbury refugees who'd been fast asleep. Humans were becoming zombies super fast! (Best not to ask too many questions, like "Why?") Rick, Daryl, and Glenn stepped in and took care of the walkers, then went through the unfun process of re-killing the not-yet-turned humans with headshots. Last week I praised The Walking Dead for bringing in fresh meat for butchering, and this week was the slaughter. Let's just hope there are still plenty more no-name extras to make this a weekly occurrence.
But just because the immediate threat was squashed doesn't mean the survivors are in the clear, and this is where Stage 2 of zombie-swine flu will really have an impact. Now every character is at risk of dropping dead and turning, adding a sense of paranoia and claustrophobia to these tight quarters and lighting a flame under the zombie apocalypse's butt so that we can watch more people get eaten. It's not exactly a subtle development, and what the F a deadly flu NOW?, but I think the ends justify the means because the only thing scarier than zombies are zombies with runny noses. Too gross!
Now the question the group faces is how to cordon off the prison to create the most sanitized environment possible, and good luck with that Game of Thrones-ish small council. There's no way to tell who is actually sick, but there's also no leeway. So if you've got a sniffle, it's off to A-Block with the rest of the infected. Honestly, if this was going down while I was there, I'd wish everyone well, look for new accommodations, and take my chances. Please, The Walking Dead, make this new outbreak the event that forces everyone out of the too-safe-for-a-zombie-show confines of the prison, because the longer The Walking Dead's characters stay settled, the less exciting the show is. And we all know The Walking Dead makes a jazillion dollars each week, so ditch the standing set and take this show on the road!
"Infected" continued to transform the members of group into television characters instead of uneaten zombie lunches with its focus on building character stories. However, I'm not all that into Rick as a pacifist and retired gunslinger; it's a waste of his character to not have him pointing a gun at a zombie or directly into the camera, as he's done so many times. Nobody wants The Walking Dead's iconic shot to be Rick brandishing a rake. We all knew Farmer Rick wasn't going to last long, so I'm glad he holstered his gun and gave Carl a firearm with minimal whining at the end of the episode. A sensitive Rick is a lame Rick.
What is a blast to watch is the show's increased use of Carol as someone who impacts more than just Daryl's sense of sexual safety. Carol clinched her nomination for this season's most-improved TV character when she brought Lizzy and Mika into Ryan's cell as he died. Her bedside manner was awful as she took a sensitive situation—two darling little girls saying their final goodbyes to their dying father—and turned it into an "Oh, get on with it" moment. I loved this scene so much, guys. When Lizzy and Mika were introduced I couldn't wait for them to die, but I'll wait another week if it means they'll be mentally tortured, especially Lizzy. I'm still upset with the girls for smack-talking Carl last week and naming zombies, so watching Lizzy's horrified face as she clutched the knife to finish off her dad was deeeeeeelicious. And the look of terror on her face when she turned around just in time to see Carol do what she couldn't was priceless. And then to top it all off, Carol matter-of-factly told Lizzy she was weak, and the kid did nothing to dispel that claim when she started crying about Nick the zombie being killed. Are you serious, Lizzy? Is there any chance that the ghost of Andrea has possessed Lizzy? Because this girl is an annoying idiot. (Don't worry, Mika, you're cool.)
But Lizzy still isn't the worst person in the prison. That title belongs to whoever is feeding rats to the zombies by the fence, probably to encourage some sort of breach. Who is doing this? It's gotta be Bob, right? He's the new guy who just happened to join the group by himself. Is he a spy for the Governor? Sent in to weaken Rick's group any way he can? And how is this person catching so many rats? Is there a hidden supply of cheese in the prison that I don't know about? Anyway, my money is on Bob as the culprit.
Another thing to wonder about: Is the King of the Rats also the same person who took a couple bodies, including Karen's, and torched them outside? Were these bodies dead when they were set ablaze? Or is someone attacking the problem before it can grow into a bigger problem and pouring gasoline all over anyone who coughs? Regardless of who that someone is, if Tyreese comes around asking if he can borrow a hammer, you probably shouldn't give it to him. The poor guy spent the opening of this episode singing "I Got You Under My Skin," and now he's got "Ring of Fire" stuck in his head. I doubt that whoever's bee feeding the zombies is the same person who burned those bodies. This current situation is going to open up a new debate of how to handle the ill, and someone made their opinion pretty plain and obvious already.
The Walking Dead has a knack for starting its seasons with a bang before fading down the stretch, but Season 4 feels different so far, thanks to improved character development and more interesting mysteries. Here's hoping this trend continues.
– Thank you random new Doctor Character for explaining the new flu to us laymen: It's like "a soda can and you pop the top, only your eyes, ears, nose, and throat are the top."
– Zombie death by being squished through a chain-link fence goes on the shortlist of Best Zombie Kills, assuming he's dead (.GIF coming tomorrow).
– Rule #2 of surviving the zombie apocalypse: Don't take pictures of your girlfriend when she's asleep! That rule also applies to surviving a non-apocalypse situation.
– I really liked this week's scenes between Beth and Michonne. Beth has gone full-blown Nihilist; she totally accepts the fact that people are dying. And Michonne's "I hate babies" face was hilarious. I don't know what any of it means, but don't you feel closer to both of these characters than you did before?
– While other characters are getting more time to shine, fan-favorite Daryl has been relatively quiet, hasn't he? I do think it's the right call; Daryl will have his moments, but these other characters (Michonne, Carol, Beth) need the attention more.