READ MY REVIEW OF THE PREVIOUS EPISODE, “30 DAYS WITHOUT AN ACCIDENT”, HERE.
Series stalwart Angela Kang pens a great follow up to Gimble’s season-opening instalment, as the nature of the infection that befell Mintz-Plasse doppelganger, Patrick, is elaborated upon, as are the consequences of his turn inside the prison walls (ghastly and gruesome consequences they are too). “Infected” is almost a bullet-pointed composition of all the elements that make The Walking Dead such compelling viewing, but the episode does miss a few beats along the way, particularly concerning the storyline and substandard acting of the orphaned sisters that Carol takes under her wings, following their father’s death by a stealthy assault of ‘sleep walkers’.
“Infected” opens with Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) ruminating over Zack’s demise from last week, before attempting to woo his beloved Karen (Melissa Ponzio) with an embarrassing rendition of Sinatra’s “I’ve got you under my skin”. It’s these fleeting moments of intimacy between its characters, harmoniously adjoining the gore and perpetual dourness, which help to elevate The Walking Dead to such essential standing in this modern age of television. There’s a core of genuinely realised humanity to this show that’s constantly at the forefront, rightfully precedent to the carnage of zombies devouring humans, and humans massacring zombies in exchange.
Of course, this being the programme that it is, and after three seasons of ample forewarning that happiness is no longer sustainable and must be immediately rectified upon its occurrence, it was clear from the outset that Tyreese and Karen’s relative contentment would perish in due course. The relentlessly grim realities of the world now ensure that maintaining such trivialities is a severe improbability for the characters. They’re always approaching another disaster, no matter their futile efforts to abate them.
But to its credit, “Infected” attempted to dispel the predictability by feigning a similar finality to Glen and Maggie’s relational bliss, and to partial success. The Walking Dead has made audacious divergences from the original source material in the past, and does not eschew from killing high profile characters during the first few episodes of a season (see: Lori’s death in the third season’s fourth episode, “Killer Within”), so it wasn’t exactly out of the question for either to be the red herring for the others’ elimination.
And even though the misdirection ultimately came to its characteristic nought, the episode still deftly teetered with what the means of Karen’s inevitable death would be. She was consistently on a threshold of potentially fateful dangers throughout. She unknowingly awakened zombie Patrick from his slumber at the beginning, who consequently engaged in a bloodthirsty pursuit that, were it not for a comically convenient cough from another of the prison’s occupants, would have meant her being devoured there and then.
And then there was the hypothesized diagnosis that she had acquired the same virulent infection as Patrick, based on a second amusingly, conveniently timed cough, which seemed like it would be the nail in her temporarily figurative coffin, given the devastating diurnal course of it, and the absence of any viable treatment, or the likelihood of one being concocted in time.
Kang effectively teased the imminence of its eventuality to such an extent that it was difficult not to be lulled into the belief that Karen might survive another episode, at least. But the episode’s harrowing coda hammered home the brutalities that govern survival amidst a milieu of ravenous undead, and will no doubt prompt an exacerbating continuum to the discord that’s sure to ensue already, as a consequence of the group’s dire discovery that one of their inhabitants has been supplying a banquet of live rats for the zombies to feast upon (perhaps what’s needed to remedy this situation is a sign like that which you’d find in a zoo; “Don’t feed the walkers”).
The logical assumption is that the culprit responsible for dining the walkers on squirming rodents is the very same person that left the two charred corpses for Tyreese to stumble upon. But whilst the former seems an obvious stratagem for sabotage, the latter appears to have been nothing more than a desperate attempt to quell the spread of infection through the prison. I’m of the opinion that the two events are actually unconnected, but will be deemed to be related incidences by Rick and co., no doubt.
As for who the saboteur might be, the obvious likelihood is the Governor, but there’s little in the way of substantive logic that could explain his being there. Lizzie’s (Brighton Sharbino) peculiar surrogated affection for the walkers at the fences could be prompting her to feed them. Plus, as her sibling, Mika (Kyla Kenedy), inferred, she’s “messed up”. So, is this sabotage at all, or is it merely an act of thoroughly misguided compassion by an extremely impressionable and screwed up adolescent? And could the group’s likely presumption that someone is working to destabilise them from the inside lead to their own ruin?
Whatever the case might be, their habitat is beginning to fissure on all fronts. I must admit, I find the notion that no effort beyond jamming lengths of timber between the fencing and the ground has been made to strengthen their outer fortifications a bit contrived. Reinforcing the fence to counteract the barrage of zombies weighing on it should have been one of the first measures addressed during the interim that followed the arrival of Woodbury’s survivors. Whilst the scenes depicting the group’s efforts to cessate its collapse were fraught with the customary suspense, upon reflection, the situation they found themselves in was dependant on a drastic and uncharacteristic oversight.
However, the ensuing diversionary “pig bait” tactic was one of the most affecting moments in The Walking Dead. It wasn’t solely due to the horrific fates that befell the pigs themselves (though that was saddening all on its own); it was that it meant an abrupt end to Rick’s delusions that he could rebuild what was lost when the undead began to walk; some modicum of normality and sustainability for him and Carl.
I feel it also pertinent to commend the reuse of those sombre, dolour chords that accompanied Rick’s tri-question commune with Clara in the previous episode. It’s a beautifully bleak composition, which has invaluably amplified the effectiveness of the two sequences its featured in thus far.
Standout Scene: ‘Momma Michonne’
In one brief moment, where absolutely nothing is said, we so concisely learn a crucial insight into Michonne’s past. She’s clearly suffered the grievous loss of a child at some point – whether it was prior to the outbreak, or after, it lends the necessary credence to the solemnity of her persona in the previous season, and her reluctance to let anyone close. Wounds of that sort do not ever fully heal, and Danai Gurira encapsulated the tragedy of it in her performance exceptionally well. Lump…throat.
To summarise, “Infected” pretty much carries on the brilliant form of Gimble’s “30 Days without an Accident”. Carol’s storyline lacks the dramatic impact it’s clearly aiming for, in part because the two child actresses aren’t capable enough to authentically depict the traumatising effects of their recent experiences, but also because we’ve seen this sort of thing done before, with Carl’s emulation of his father’s calloused mentality last season.