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The Walking Dead S04E05: "Internment"

For your listening pleasure, might I suggest Ben Howard's "Oats in the Water"? Click the link to open it in a new tab and let the song play while you read. 


You know, for what could be labeled a filler episode, "Internment" was pretty amazing. Whoa, easy with the pitchforks and fiery sticks, mob! "Filler" might seem like a bad word when talking about television, but allow me to school you into thinking it is not. To ME, a filler episode is simply a chunk of a show where no major developments happen because the writers, producers, gaffers, and caterers need to streeeeeetch the story out a bit, typically to fulfill the episode count agreed upon by the people who make the show (the dorks behind the camera) and the people who pay for the show (the dorks at the studio). "Filler episode" doesn't have to be synonymous with "uneventful bore," even though that's the usual connotation.

Looking at the series from a distance, "Internment" won't be remembered as an hour with any significant developments (unless you consider it significant that Lizzie finally did something that didn't make me want to punch her)—at least not until the closing minutes, when Daryl, Bob, Tyreese, and Michonne returned with medicine. Wait, wait, don't get mad yet—awesome stuff happened, definitely, but I'm talking about the lack of major events here, like Carol getting kicked out of the group or Karen and David getting murdered or the group realizing they're fighting a new a virus. Yes, a lot of people (and zombies) died, but did we even know anyone's names, other than Caleb/Dr. S? This week's victims were mostly Woodbury 'fugees who were only on the show to be eaten anyway, so c'est la vie for those zombie snacks, they did their job. The outer perimeter fence was breached, but the invasion was quelled and the threat was squashed thanks to huge guns, and a little scotch tape should get that barrier back to being zombie-proof in no time. "Internment" played by sitcom rules, where by the end of the episode things were mostly the same as they were in the beginning.

Episodes like these do a great job of taking the temperature of a TV series, and even though "Internment" could be skipped during a re-watch of The Walking Dead and your brain's story intake wouldn't suffer that much, the episode—which oozed death, illness, and viscous lung goo—ironically showed us just how healthy The Walking Dead is right now. I ain't being sarcastic when I say that the show is better than it's ever been, and that has everything to do with it knowing what works and what fans want. And guess what satisfies both of those criteria? LOTS OF ZOMBIES and SCARY STUFF. "Internment" was the TV equivalent of your best friend coming over and even though you didn't do anything, you still had the best time because you just had fun hanging out. 

If "Internment" did focus on one character, it was the old man of the hour, Hershel Greene. Selfless and determined, Hershel and his kickass immune system dominated the episode, resulting in his finest moments of the series. I wanted to kiss this man on the mouth (provided he'd wiped Dr. S's lung phlegm off his face) after just about everything he did. He was a total rockstar, and cooler than Miles Davis in the face of total f*cking insanity. It's almost as if new Walking Dead showrunner Scott Gimple has made it his mission to highlight characters who've been ignored in previous seasons, and used the idea of character change after so many uneventful weeks at the prison (the time between seasons) to set them on a new path. First it was Carol, then Beth, and this week it was Hershel. No longer the helpless old wise man in the corner, Hershel decided to make a difference and threw himself into the fire to become a man of action. May I remind you that Hershel did all this only on one flesh-and-bone leg? 

There were moments during "Internment" where the episode drew precariously close to being an installment where the sick got sicker and everybody just kept talking about who should do what, which would have killed the pacing Season 4 has built up so far. But about a third of the way through, the sick started falling (conveniently, this happened to everyone who was ill at pretty much the same time) and the rumbling notes of Ben Howard's "Oats in the Water" (the song I linked to up above) bubbled up as Hershel wheeled a dead man out of the way and stabbed him in the forehead—a first for Hershel. That's when the tone of the episode really changed. Hershel was no longer the good doctor putting bandages on booboos; he was that Dutch kid who was sticking his fingers in the cracks of a dam that we all knew would burst. 

And burst it did, and it was awesome.

There's a certain sense of efficiency to Season 4's zombie attacks that was missing in Season 3, and the shitstorm in "Internment" was a spectacle of action-horror. People started dying in A-Block, and the prison's only lines of defense were an old man and a little girl. The perimeter fence was breached, and a horde began pouring into the prison yard. Glenn was coughing up his pancreas and a gallon of blood. All of this happened simultaneously, and yet the chaos felt orchestrated in such a way that the danger was palpable and it was still easy to follow what was going on. Having everything be so clear made the scenes even more nerve-racking, and no one did anything dumb! Well, Lizzie fell down, but that's the bare minimum of lameness that we could expect from her. 


And amidst all the madness, individual characters were making choices on the fly. Maggie had to decide whether or not to enter the infected zone, Rick had no other option but to give Carl a HUGE gun, Hershel had to address the most immediate threats (he even found the time to keep shotgun blasts to zombies out of Lizzie's view, but unfortunately, also out of our view), Maggie had to decide whether or not it was worth the risk to shoot at a zombie when the shot could pop the pump that could save Glenn's life. I mean, WOW. What a sequence. This was white-knuckled, grab-the-sofa-armrest, squeeze-the-life-out-of-your-significant-other tension. This was survival at its most primal. And it was magnificently terrifying. I may have called out for my mom a few times.

Then those slackers Michonne, Daryl, Tyreese, and Bob came back and saved the day. Yay! 

But the whole time, I couldn't help but be smug and think, "Gee Rick, I bet you wish you had an extra set of healthy hands to help out, hmmmmmmmm?" Maybe some hands that were wrapped in some awesome brass knuckles? I'm not saying Carol's absence was the reason the prison ended up in this mess, but her presence would have made cleaning it up a lot easier. With everyone so sick and a weakened fence being pushed to its limits by a replenishing swarm of walkers, the prison needed all the help it could get—and Carol had become a jack-of-all-trades who would've been up to any task. And speaking of Carol, she's more evidence of "Internment" being a filler episode in the best way possible: Her ousting situation was only grazed, with the real fallout likely coming next week. 

As a major contrast to last week's questions of procedure and what the future holds, "Internment" was about surviving another minute. And the fact that The Walking Dead could put two such dramatically different episodes back-to-back and still maintain a high level quality suggests that the series is finally making the leap to being the drama we always hoped it would be. I don't think this show has ever put together five good episodes in a row, and this is a streak that I think could keep going.




NOTES

– If there's one thing that could end The Walking Dead's recent run of great episodes, it's the last-minute return of the Governor we saw at the very end of "Internment." There he was, just single-eyeballing the prison from the edge of the woods. I am in no way excited for his return. As much as I enjoy David Morrissey, I've been enjoying the series just fine without his character.

– Maggie agreeing with Rick that he was right to send Carol away seems more like a writer's trick to validate Rick's decision than a natural reaction. Maggie didn't protest at all or ask any further questions. 

– I definitely screamed, "YEAH, CARL" when he took to that gun like a vet. And that slight hint of recognition from Rick screamed, "Okay, I guess he was meant to do this," after Carl tossed his pop a magazine and kept mowing down zombies. Let him be who he's supposed to be, Rick. And Carl is wearing the hat again!

– I liked the imagery and symbolism of Rick bleeding through his bandages. He lives in a world where wounds don't heal, where decisions are never black and white, where the bleeding never stops. The Walking Dead has shown us that it's capable of artistic moments, and there's plenty of room for it to continue with them. 

– Would someone please clean up that hallway where Carl and the young kids were? That place is a mess. 

– Lizzie, why on Earth are you shlopping around Glenn's lung blood with your shoe? What is WRONG with this girl?

– Hershel is quickly rising to the top of my favorite characters list. His joke about Spaghetti Tuesdays moving to Wednesdays was great. "A sad soul can kill quicker than a germ," he said. So he does his best Patch Adams routine to lighten everyone up. Love it. Yet when he retreated to a cell by himself, he broke down and wept. Hershel's desire to show strength and inspire others is exactily the kind of leadership the group needs.

– Where was Beth this whole time? Just hanging onto Judith?

– WHERE'S CAROL!!!???!!!???!!!???


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 11/30/2014

Season 5 : Episode 8

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