Not every new cast of supporting characters on The Walking Dead can be the Green family. As we saw in last week’s season premiere, the prison has provided Rick and company with not merely a new shelter and a new personal hurdle (that being the amputation of Hershel’s leg, post walker-bite), but some new neighbors: a group of five inmates who have been holed up in the penitentiary cafeteria for the past ten months. So long, in fact, that (to paraphrase one Oscar Hammerstein) up ’til now, they didn’t have an idea of what the modern world was comin’ to.
With the introduction of these new characters comes the reinstitution of the recurring theme that zombies are not at all the only adversary facing our heroes: people can be just as dangerous. For the first two seasons, Rick played a beacon for the resilience of human compassion over cold survivalism — in killing Shane, he has lost a bit of his color and adopted a greyer, more Machiavellian instinct. Such proposes the challenge of how to handle the camp’s fellow prisoners: cast them out? invite them in? kill them?
Whereas Rick always upheld the position of morality to Shane’s utilitarianism, Lori seems to be adopting the humane position in light of her husband’s transformation. In her first effort to reconnect with Rick this week, Lori insists that he is not a killer, and she encourages him to do what he knows is right — if only to set an example for Carl, who has taken to lone adventuring and the gleeful destruction of walkers. Seeing her son turn to a callous hunter makes Lori visibly ill. With a father figure like Shane, Carl had no chance at compassion. But perhaps she can remind Rick of the kind of man he used to be.
While Hershel is carted off to the cellblock to be treated and nursed by Carol and Lori, Rick heads a welcoming committee for the inmate fivesome with Daryl and T-Dog. At the forefront of the prison gang is Tomas, with whom Rick negotiates a trade: in exchange for assistance in retrieving the prisoners residence in Cellblock B, the camp will take half of the men’s food supply. Hands are shaken, dotted lines are signed upon, all set to go.
But that dusty artifact called humanity is once again shirked in the name of survivalism. We are to understand that, having spent ten months locked in a cafeteria together, these men have some sort of human bond. A semblance of camaraderie. But Tomas doesn’t flinch a bit in doing away with one of his so-called friends, Big Tiny, when the latter is scratched by a walker. His complete lack of hesitation instigates anxiety in Rick and Daryl, who agree to keep an eye on him.
If any indication of Rick being gone for good has yet to arrive, it is just how fast he transitions from caution to action in this episode. A Season 2 Rick would keep his notions about Tomas on the backburner for a few weeks, letting them brew before taking action. But one more false move from Tomas (who tosses a hungry walker onto Rick, chalking it up as an accident) seals the man’s fate. Rick kills the man, and chases one of his allies, Andrew, out into the field to meet his own death.
Rick doesn’t take well to this new executioner position. He agonizes over the death and suffering of Andrew, knowing well that he once would have given him the man the option of redemption and cooperation. But the humane are dying out — recalling the late Dale’s pleas for everyone to rediscover their own compassion in “Judge, Jury, and Executioner”, we see that even the kindest members of the camp are capable of foregoing their empathy in the name of survival. Rick’s lighter instincts lose this battle in regards to Andrew, but he, Daryl, and T-Dog spare the remaining inmates — a burglar named Oscar and a drug addict named Axel — allowing them the sanctity of a corpse-laden Cellblock B. But it’s likely that we’ll see these men again soon.
Back on the other side of the jail, the team tends to Hershel and prepares for the duality of fates that might overtake him. Maggie rejects Glenn’s and Beth’s optimism, insisting that her father is gone for good — an understandable perspective considering the personal losses she has endured thus far. One of the show’s most intimate moments with Maggie so far has her bidding goodbye to her father as he lies dying, abandoning the tough-as-nails persona to which she rigidly adheres and crying openly over the weakening Hershel. But a brief lapse into breathlessness followed by ad-hoc CPR from Lori revives Hershel altogether, allowing for a bittersweet celebration in the prison cell.
Meanwhile, Carol has advanced to a leadership position of her own. With Glenn’s help, Carol apprehends a female walker on which to perform a preparatory c-section, as she acknowledges that she will have to be the one to deliver Lori’s baby.
This and last week’s episodes are a very interesting highlight of the transformations certain characters have taken since the show’s inception. Rick has turned from Superman to Batman (though even darker — Batman won’t kill). Carl has “grown” from a wide-eyed child to an aspiring hunter, but without losing the childlike need for approval and respect that seems to imbue his every movie — he doesn’t kill walkers and seek supplies simply for the good of the team, he does it to feel and look like a man. In the eyes of his dad, and, perhaps more so now, of Beth. Young love. Young, zombie-infested love.
And Carol, who started off the show with nary a comment, thanks to her violent, deranged husband having broken her spirit, is now a strong, authoritative member of the A-team. She hunts alongside Daryl, will deliver Lori’s baby, understands consequence and has no problem ordering around the likes of Glenn (although who would? He’s a puppy dog). As Rick lost his reservations when he was faced with the death of Shane, Carol lost hers with the death of Sophia. Now, she has nothing to lose, and proves herself capable of more than anyone would have given her credit for at the start of their journey.
But as Carol undertakes the practice operation, she is watched from the bushes by an unknown set of eyes. Human eyes. So whose are they?
[Photo Credit: AMC]
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