Two weeks into the new season and Rick’s dreams of being a post-apocalyptic gentleman farmer come to a bloody end. At least it happened at his own hand and not because of someone else. Just add “had to sacrifice my own pigs” to the laundry list of issues Rick will have to work through at some future date.
The visuals of Rick’s prison-yard garden -- bright and leafy on the surface but with the rot of worms just inches away -- was a perfect metaphor for how tenuous Rick’s newfound pastoral life really was. And just when it appeared that he had successfully set up a life distanced from hard decisions and danger, he was pulled right back into it, thanks to a collapsing prison fence.
“Infected” built itself around a tension-filled centerpiece in which one thing going wrong led to another thing going wrong led to several residents of the prison getting turned into zombie chow. And it was all thanks to what appears to be the biggest new threat of the season, the flu.
Patrick, the gawky new kid we met last week, succumbed to what appeared to be some strain of aggressive flu and just like that, a new zombie was roaming the halls of cell block D. The flu may not appear to be as dramatic of a threat as zombies or psychopaths like the Governor, but it quite possibly could prove to be the most devastating threat on the series to date. Black plague-level pandemics have been rare in the modern world, but this is a world seemingly resting upon Hershel’s skills as a veterinarian to keep everyone healthy.
The unexpected attack from within created several new casualties and was the cause of the most wrenching scene of the episode, in which two young sisters were forced to confront their father’s death and impending zombification, all while Carol was waiting to slip her knife into his brain. It’s the kind of harrowing moment that makes “The Walking Dead” simultaneously addicting and excruciating.
The flu has also given the series several opportunities to put the dramatic principle of Chekhov’s gun to good use. (The principle being that a gun seen in the first act must be fired by the third act). In this case, the principle means anyone seen coughing in the first act will wide up dead by the end of the episode. This week, it was Tyreese’s lady love, Karen, who was sent off to quarantine with a cough and wound up as a bloody, burned corpse by episode’s end. Who burned her body, along with that of the ill David from Decatur? That brings us to one of the biggest mysteries of the new season.
It appears the group has a budding sociopath in their midst, feeding live rats to the assembled walkers at the fence line, causing them to bunch up and eventually push the fences over. Who is this person? Is it the same person who burned Karen and David? Answers coming later.
But back to Rick and his dashed dreams of being James Cromwell in the “Babe” movies. Though he wanted desperately to keep himself insulated from the harsh realities of his world, he has never been one to walk away from those in need, and when it appeared the fence was about to collapse, he did what he needed to do and sacrificed his pigs. (Though it’s possible that the pigs brought the flu inside the walls of the prison, in which case Rick was exacting some brutal revenge)
If the worms served as a fitting metaphor for Rick’s story in this episode, a decision by the prison society’s council foreshadows a very dark future for our heroes. With cell block D rendered unsafe due to possible flu infection, they are looking to move to cell block A, otherwise known as Death Row.