The Walking Dead

Please note spoilers below.

While episode 1 of season 4 fell flat for this viewer, episode 2, “Infected,” turned up the tension by decimating the prison with a zombie outbreak in cell block D caused by Patrick’s dying from a strain of influenza. Now, not only do our heroes have to contend with the zombie horde outside of their walls, but also the invisible pathogen that kills rapidly and, of course, zombies grow where dead people lie.

Rick is still out of it for the most part, eschewing a leadership role and focusing on his relationship to Carl as a guardian and protector. While not quite as nuts as last season, Rick really isn’t stable enough to lead any survivor group and he knows that, which has led to his role becoming more palatable, particularly in this episode. Whereas before he could be too aggressive and annoyingly stubborn, now he’s very reserved and compartmentalized (limiting his sphere of care to his son – a theme touched on multiple times throughout the episode).

The theme of caring for others and how much to invest in one another during the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse is a theme of this show. Carol rediscovers her motherly spirit and assumes a guardian role over newly orphaned children. It’s interesting to watch Carol emerge as a strong character when she was nigh on the brink of getting killed off so many times up until now. Of course, a moment of strength doesn’t guarantee her presence in future episodes, but her character development from season 1 until now is one of the more interesting.

Because people are dying from a disease, Rick and those that dealt with the zombies in cell block D voluntarily quarantine themselves from the others. The prison compound’s fences are nearly overran by the zombie horde camped outside until Rick’s quick thinking (and the sacrifice of some pigs from the prison’s farm) distracted the zombies from breaching through to the main prison itself. Daryl, as always, is literally a super hero in everything he does. He proves integral to clearing out the zombies in cell block D and he helps Rick take care of the menace outside. He’s completely indispensable from many standpoints.

Glenn and Maggie continue their relationship, which is about as interesting as watching paint dry most of the time. The tension of them losing one another is mediated by the deep losses that other characters experience quite frequently. Perhaps the show wants to illustrate the degree to which Maggie and Glenn have compartmentalized themselves to one another, continuing with the theme of caring and the extent to which one should care for another. While neat and tidy, its lack of tension from a narrative standpoint makes it boring. If Maggie or Glenn were to die, it would be more tragic from the aspect of losing a good character, particularly in the case of Glenn, than it would be because of the universal themes of love and loss. If anything, love and loss are so universal among the characters of the The Walking Dead that it’s hard to pinpoint which scenarios are more poignant than others.

Michonne is an example of one such murky area. Her past is relatively unknown, yet she has strong emotional reactions to certain situations – such as, in this episode, a baby’s cry. While intended to be evocative of some past trauma it leaves us wondering what makes Michonne tick, which makes her endlessly interesting. The silent ronin with a mysterious past and deep emotional scars is a trope familiar to fans of samurai cinema but it’s unknown if that is what the writers are going for with Michonne or not.

Overall, this episode was enjoyable and filled with what fans have come to love about the series. The introduction of a viral element makes the circumstances under which everyone struggles that much more hellish and heightens the show’s narrative thrust of life continuing in the wake of a zombie apocalypse, flu and all.