“Infected” was (by The Walking Dead standards, anyway) fairly quiet. But like the deadly strain that’s now threatening the prison-dwellers, season four’s second episode was all about pressure building until it explodes—whether that pressure is from your past, or from an aggressive flu that kills you by making blood burst out of your eyes, ears, and mouth. (God bless this show.)
It was also an episode of deeply sad moments: Michonne crumbling into tears while holding Judith; Rick’s pained face as he sacrificed newfound peace for the group’s safety. The questions set up by these moments are also important: Are we finally getting a glimpse of Michonne’s past? And will the new virus force the survivors out of the prison and into the big, bad (and infinitely more interesting) world?
The flu wake-up call comes at an especially ripe time. Rick and the others are way too comfortable at their faux-farm—people aren’t even closing cell doors when they go to bed anymore. This mind-boggling oversight gets half a cell block killed when Patrick, the bespectacled kid who died in the bathroom last week, reanimates and serenely comes shuffling back in. Not a single sleeping soul hears his zombie-gurgling. And all that stands between him and his first bite of some poor guy’s vocal cords is a curtain. A curtain.
You can guess the rest. One zombie turns into two, then three, and before you know it, little children are running and screaming for Glenn, Rick, Daryl, and the others to end the bloodbath. Hershel and a doctor named Caleb examine the bodies and surmise that Patrick died of a lethal type of exploding flu that involves blood pressure building up “like a soda can” until it pops out of any orifice on your face. Rick realizes he saw blood running from the eyes of a walker outside and that several of the pigs have been sick lately too. It’s official: This area is infected. They’ve all been exposed.
Rick is reluctant to step up and help solve this new dilemma. He’s still only semi-rehabilitated from his near-brush with Ricktatorship last season, and so is his kid, Carl. (The effects of the zombie apocalypse on children, who are growing up with a grotesquely warped sense of normalcy, is briefly touched on when we see Lizzie, the little girl who loses her father and is all “meh” about it, go apeshit over the loss of her favorite walker, “Nick”—a disturbing sign of what’s to come from this kid.) But since Rick is still Rick, it’s not long before he finds himself helping in another crisis, this time involving a herd of walkers bringing down part of the prison fence. While Maggie, Daryl, Sasha and the others frantically chip away at the undead swarm, Rick hesitates. It’s clearly been a long time since Officer Friendly spiked one of these things.
Back at the prison, Beth is bandaging Michonne’s twisted ankle and babysitting Judith. All is well until Judith begins to cry and, from the looks of her tortured face, Michonne may as well be listening to the sound of a thousand harpies clawing chalkboards in hell. She refuses to help and Beth ends up covered in white, chunky baby vomit. Guiltily, Michonne grabs Judith and holds her at arms’ length. Michonne’s face fascinatingly transforms from disgust at the she-child to an infinitesimal smile to full-on body-wracking despair. She brings Judith close, holds her, and sobs.
Did Michonne once lose a child of her own? In last season’s “Clear,” Michonne mentioned having a boyfriend before the outbreak. The Walking Dead is not Lost and characters’ pre-series-beginning selves are of little importance. I get that. But wouldn’t it be nice to know how the hell Michonne learned how to use a sword? Or anything about Glenn beyond his former occupation as a pizza boy? Daryl is a fan favorite partially because we know about the drugs, abuse, and racism he grew up with—and how he overcame his upbringing to become a beloved, functional member of the group. Knowing more about other characters’ pasts would only make the stakes that much higher, no?
Meanwhile, despite the group’s best efforts, that prison fence is most definitely coming down. Zombies are climbing all over each other, the weight even managing to cheesegrate one’s head through the fence (this effect is ah-mazing). For Rick, despite the long way he’s come in restoring his sanity and attempting a semi-normal life again, there’s no choice. He has to step in and save the prison. He enlists Daryl to drive him outside, where he reluctantly lifts a small pig from a box, slices its thigh open, and uses it to lure the herd away from the fence. As the zombies overtake the squealing animal, Rick picks out another little pig and does the same, dropping it another few yards away. The third time he does it, blood splashes onto his pained face. The sacrifice is done and the prison is safe but, as Rick now knows, there’s no more going back to their pretend-life of peace and farming. He gives Carl back his gun and holsters his own famous Colt Python back around his waist.
The last thing we see is Tyreese, taking flowers to his Woodburian lady love’s cell in death row, where she’s been staying since catching the exploding flu. Karen, however, is not in her cell. Instead, there’s a trail of blood, leading outside to two burned bodies (one of them wearing Karen’s bracelet) and an abandoned container of gasoline.
Who torched the good people of death row is mystery number one from “Infected.” Mystery number two is who keeps feeding rats to the walkers? Lizzie, the elder of the two girls who lost their father, would be a good guess. She’s clearly got a soft spot for them and, as her little sister Mika tells Carol, “She’s messed up. She’s not weak.”
It feels as though it’s time to move on from the prison, though the characters likely won’t think so for another few episodes. In the comics that the series is based on (semi-spoiler alert, though what happens in the comics by no means will necessarily happen in the TV show), Rick and the gang leave the prison and head toward Washington, D.C., where they meet a man named Porter who claims to understand the cause of the zombie outbreak. If this is fated to happen in AMC’s version of The Walking Dead, I can’t wait. Exploding faces? You haven’t seen anything yet.