After last season offered us a taste of the high life inside the walls of Woodbury, we’re right back in the trenches for Season 4. Maybe it’s the logical psychological progression of a zombie apocalypse, the artistic complement to our time spent in the dystopian village, or an effort to top the nihilism in the powerhouse that was Breaking Bad, but The Walking Dead is really upping the ante on the bleak this year. It says a lot for a show about people watching their loved ones die in the most gruesome ways possible that these past two episodes have emanated a new degree of dismal.
A week after Rick’s inability to kill a suffering woman who represented his own descent into monstrosity, we find the prison infiltrated by walkers — the gang astutely figures out with Gregory House-like precision that the bespectacled young Patrick contracted some type of flu that killed him overnight, transforming him into his ultimate zombie identity and wreaking havoc upon his fellow inmates. After the demise of the good-natured, cheeky teen, we’re treated to a slew of increasingly spirit-killing sideshows.
The episode’s stories, in ascending order of bleakness:
1. A herd of zombies threaten to take down the prison’s outer fence, chomping off the heads of rats (which seemed to have been placed around the perimeter as bait for the dead heads).
2. The bodies of two prison residents are burned, by an anonymous party, presumably in an effort to keep the flu from spreading
3. Two pre-adolescent girls watch their father die and incur the wrath of an increasingly cold Carol for being “weak” through the ordeal.
4. Rick slashes the stomachs of pig after pig after pig (the pigs are really cute, too) in order to lure the zombies from No. 1 away from the fence.
5. And worst of all, Michonne cradles coughing baby Judith — who she recognizes to have contracted the flu that killed Patrick and Carl’s pig — sobbing over the imminent demise of this baby and her own inability to resist comforting her despite knowing that she, in the process of doing so, is exposing herself to the same fatal disease.
Yes, this show is getting really grim. But… there are a few small victories this week, too. Kind of.
1. While Carl and Rick are mending fences, Carl tells Rick about Carol’s secret weapons tutelage and Rick gives Carl back his gun. Sweet-ish?
2. Carol refers to the late Patrick as a “practicing atheist,” which is very much in step with the way that character, who we barely got to meet, would have defined himself.
3. Hershel has a leg.
So… not all bad. Right?
Anyway, the big questions we’re left with: Who is leaving rats for the walkers? Who burned the bodies of the flu-ridden residents? What will happen to baby Judith and our beloved Michonne? And, mostly, has this show really never had an episode named “Infected” before this week? That doesn’t seem possible.