AMC‘s The Walking Dead Infected TV Show Review. The Walking Dead: Season 4, Episode 2: Infected jumped right into the horrific consequence of last episode’s conclusion but not before two additional, disturbing sequences. The first (and more pressing) shed some light (no pun intended – honest) on why Walkers had been massing at single points of the perimeter fencing. The second (and more chilling) came after a canoodling session between Tyresse (Chad L. Coleman) and Karen (Melissa Ponzio). I say chilling because Karen was a late addition (only formally introduced in the very last episode of season 3, which put her on the death-watch short list), and her relations with Ty had been chaste, which certainly left them something to look forward to (bright prospects: always a killer). When she unwittingly drew the attention of a Walker already in their midst to her open cell, it was a safe bet that she was done for.
She was saved by a cough from another cell and coughing turned out to be a key element to this episode. I could not help wondering whether this meant she had earned a place on the longer term cast list, like Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.), or we were being strung along (à la Sophia, back in season 2).
A fairly long, suspenseful, and truly gruesome build up made the ensuing carnage that much more panicked and unmanageable. Michonne (Danai Gurira) was injured in the scramble but the fatalities were all Woodbury extras. This made it clear to me that Walkers, having taken a backseat in the previous two seasons, will be the principal threat for his one; and that the show will be using those extras to keep the kill rate high. While I am not in it for the gore, violence, or the death-watch office pool, this prospect did leave me anticipating a much more heightened sense of tension and suspense. More disposable characters means more room for fatal twists and turns, such as we had in “Infected.”
It was established that another virus – akin to the influenza epidemic of the early 20th century – had been spreading within the prison. Not only did this give rise to a homegrown Walker outbreak but introduced a new level of paranoia to the group and the series. Until now, the show’s characters had understood and played by certain survivalist rules (don’t trust strangers and don’t let anything Walker get into your bloodstream); but now they had to worry about a contagion they could neither track nor control. Of course, some control came in the form of a hasty quarantine, but there was no way to know who had caught it for sure.
That is, no way besides a hacking cough.
The cell block outbreak and ongoing crisis at the fence pretty much marked the end of a honeymoon period between seasons 3 and 4. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) had traded his leadership role for that of a farmer, and insisted Carl (Chandler Riggs) join him (Carl had appropriately remarked that he no longer wore his signature Sheriff’s hat because “it’s not a farmer’s hat”). By the end of “Infected,” he had literally tossed his farming gloves aside to deal with the Walkers at the fence, and re-armed Carl – the rehabilitative aspect of his chores apparently having took hold. After sacrificing all their pigs, taking a measure against the outbreak as much as the fence crashers, Rick was reduced to tears. He might as well have been lamenting the loss of the homestead that could have been.
Having formally broken the peace, “Infected” began highlighting what may be ahead.
Michonne’s injury left her in Beth (Emily Kinney) and baby Judith’s company. Despite what seemed like nihilism last episode, Beth was very much the caring optimist. Michonne was being downright Nietzschean over her injury. On top of that, she was clearly uncomfortable around baby Judith – loudly refusing to take her from Beth. She did take her, however, breaking into tears and holding her tightly. Maybe it was to Danai Gurira‘s credit that I found something foreshadowing about what should have been a tender moment. This might have been another glimpse at Michonne’s long overdue backstory.
Carol (Melissa McBride) had been left two charges, Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) and Mika (Kyla Kenedy), after they were orphaned by the cell block attack. For anyone thinking they may be substitutes for Carol’s own lost daughter, I would point out that Carol: doting mother and battered wife no longer exists. Carol had become a hard nosed survivalist, whose idea of caring for the prison’s children was making them hardened. So much so, in fact, that she kept this from their parents. Here now, was an opportunity for her to properly see to Lizzie and Mika’s survival. The problem was that Lizzie did not have the stomach to keep her father from turning postmortem and had grown attached to one of the fence Walkers. Her sister, clearly the stronger of the two, assured Carol that Lizzie wasn’t weak, just “messed up.”
Now, about Karen and that cough….
As the only sure sign of infection, Karen and Ty were confronted when she was heard coughing and they were separated. When Ty dropped by her holding cell, later, he found the cell empty and bloodied, with a blood trail that led past a fire exit to two burned bodies, still smoldering. There was clear evidence that one of them was Karen.
Certainly that answered the question of Karen’s death-watch status but the reason I cite the scene was over a particular chord it struck, pertaining to the new element of paranoia brought to the series. It reminded me of a scene from John Carpenter‘s The Thing – considered the ultimate paranoia film by many. In that film scene, a character carelessly goes chasing after a lurker and is later found burned outside – his glasses the only clue to his identity. With The Thing in mind, “Infection” brought a new dimension to The Walking Dead. Between the apparent cause of the Walker fence crashing and the dispensing of Karen and an unidentified other, at least one person within their ranks was an active liability. There was a subtle clue, given during that confrontation with Ty and Karen, as to the identity of the one behind the burning; but it might be something of a spoiler for me to sa, just now. I will say, it may likely hang on the identity of the second corpse and who knew about that person.
With the prison no longer a safe-haven, new threats from within and without, and a new pool of characters coupled with new outlooks for older ones, the sight of Rick strapping on his sheriff’s belt, then burning his blood-soaked farmer’s shirt, perfectly symbolized where the series now stands, and may be headed.