I’ve harped quite a bit in these recaps of The Walking Dead, especially last week’s, about how this season has honed in on the need for the survivors to not only come to terms with their circumstances, but to strike a balance between having the tools to survive and the will to survive without losing their humanity in the process. Carol took things a little too far with her utilitarian murder-immolation spree, and now she’s embarking on her exciting new life outside the walls. This same issue is addressed again in this week’s episode, “Internment,” which finds us spending the majority of our time with Hershel in Cell Block D as he tries, against all odds, to administer medical care to the sick and suffering before the illness kills them and turns them into flesh-eating monsters.
Sweet buttery Moses, life in the quarantine is grim. The Walking Dead continues its spate of absolutely devastating cold opens with one that starts on Rick continuing his wistful drive home in a shiny new Hyundai, Carol’s watch ticking away on the front passenger seat while two dogs nibble on a walker’s corpse. Soon, we’re back in Cell Block D, where Hershel and his makeshift hospice nurses Glenn and Sasha pump blood from a fellow patient’s throat with a makeshift iron lung. “How long will that keep him alive?” asks Glenn. “As long as we’re willing to do it. As long as it takes,” Hershel tells him resignedly.
When they come across a corpse in one of the cells, it becomes evident that the only thing keeping Hershel going is his optimism, which isn’t quite as infectious as the flu that’s ravaging the survivors. Glenn has a reasonably pragmatic view of things, and does his best to help Hershel out despite his rapidly deteriorating condition, but it’s hard to make a real impact when your lungs are filling up with fluid and you have the constitution of a Bronte sister.
Outside, things aren’t much better. The relative safety and security of the prison seems to wane with each passing day. The fact that they don’t even know about the approaching mega herd aside, Rick, Maggie, and Carl can barely keep the fences standing. Carol’s words about the way the world has changed loom large over the prison as support beams crumble and the fence comes crashing down, letting a small armada of walkers into the prison yard. Meanwhile, Glenn falls unconscious and it’s up to Hershel and Lizzie to fend off a pack of recently deceased cellmates that eviscerate some of the other quarantined patients in the process. It seems, for lack of a better term, the shit has hit the fan.
Plenty of bodies hit the floor this episode. So many, in fact, that the episode feels overwhelmingly grim at times. As much as this episode reinforces the need for both survival skills and a will to live, it also shows us that we cannot be islands. In a world being consumed by the dead, we need the living if we’re going to make it out of this in one piece. For Hershel, it is accepting that he can’t save everyone and that he needs Maggie’s help even if he doesn’t want her exposed to the illness. “I didn’t want you in here,” he tells his daughter. “I know. Just like you, I had to,” she replies. It’s heartbreaking stuff, but also heartening at the same time. These are people who stick together and rise above seemingly insurmountable odds, the kind of folks you want by your side in the apocalypse.
Likewise, Rick and Carl’s father-son moment of fence repair is cut short when the walls come crashing down and ambulatory corpses pour through the gap in their defenses. For once, Rick doesn’t have all the answers. Their exchange earlier in the episode makes this abundantly clear:
CARL: “Dad, you can’t keep me from it.”
RICK: “From what?”
CARL: “From what always happens.”
RICK: “Yeah, maybe… but it’s my job to try.”
And try they must. Armed to the teeth, Rick and Carl mow down the walkers in a hail of bullets. (Holy shit, Carl with the assault rifle.) The image of father and son with assault rifles as orchestral strains swell overhead is something that stays with you. They have to have each other’s back. This is no longer a world in which boys can just be boys.
When Daryl, Michonne, Bob, and Tyreese return with the medicine at the episode’s end, it’s bittersweet. They have the antibiotics they need to hopefully stop this disease dead in its tracks, but what if they had shown up one day sooner? Would all of these people still be dead? Hershel’s reward for his hard work is that all of these remaining people will live to see another day. Another horrible, death-filled day. But there’s more to it than that.
Some may write off this week’s episode for that exact reason, but Hershel is the shining example that this show isn’t just about living or dying, but taking ownership over your actions and choosing how you live in the face of certain death. When Hershel breaks down into tears on Caleb’s now vacant bed, his bible in hand, it’s a powerful moment, because Hershel has been a rock, a bastion of optimism in the face of a plague. But he is still human and these events, these senseless deaths… they take a toll.
And just when you think things might finally be okay, that damned music kicks in. You know, the grimy, industrial swell that sounds like a Throbbing Gristle B-side? That can only mean one thing – and it’s not going to end well for our survivors: the Governor is back.
Odds and Ends
– “I hereby declare we have Spaghetti Tuesdays every Wednesday. Of course we have to find some spaghetti.” Welcome to r/dadjokes, Hershel.
– “Rick, where’s Carol?” Maggie can’t even process this information. The apocalypse has done quite a bit to dehumanize the survivors, but it’s these moments of raw humanity and moral quandary on which the show thrives.
– “You’re a tough sumbitch.” “I am” Fuck yeah, you are, Hershel. You’re a limping boss. Scott Wilson killed it this episode.
– “A sad soul can kill quicker than a germ” – sad ass Steinbeck quote that neatly sums up Hershel’s M.O. in Florence Nightingale-ing the patients of Cell Block D back to life.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let us know in the comments below or whisper it softly to me on Twitter.