Five new survivors are introduced this week on The Walking Dead, but how do these prisoners change the dynamic of the Grimes gang just as they’re just settling into their new prison home?
Let’s bitch it out.
The appearance of the convicts is essentially just a catalyst to reveal the significant character development of our leader, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) since last season. If there was any doubt, the passive Rick who favoured decisions by drawn-out debate is long gone. Rather than wait half a season for the prisoners to do something to threaten the Grimes gang, Rick takes out (almost) all of the danger in under 40 minutes. But let me back up a bit to contextualize the situation: we met this new gang in the last few seconds of last week’s offering, “Seed“, just as Rick had finished hacking off Hershel’s (Scott Wilson) freshly bitten leg. There’s not much time to get to know the newbies as Hershel’s got to get back to cell block C to have his wounds tended to. Apparently the onslaught of zombies that chased our crew into the sealed cafeteria in the first place have magically turned into a single, riot gear walker, who is quickly disposed of by T-Dog (a poor IronE Singleton who is still struggling for something significant to do).
Back at Chez-C-Block, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) gives Rick her blessing to “do whatever” he needs to do to keep the gang safe, even if that means killing these convicts in cold blood. I can’t help but wonder why Rick even cares what Lori thinks. Remember last season when Lori Lady-Macbeth-ed Rick into killing Shane (Jon Bernthal) only to look at him disgusted when Rick admitted to doing the deed for her and Carl (Chandler Riggs)? I’m confused by the dynamic between these two, but I thought it was a good sign that even though he’s significantly hardened with his newly grown spine, Rick still needs to be seen as a righteous man in Lori’s eyes. I felt that with her “blessing”, Rick is able to take care of biznass when it comes to protecting the group.
Although it’s quite obvious from the moment we meet the new group of convicts that they’re bad news, we still get the unnecessarily long and gory killing of Big Tiny (Theodus Crane) by a clearly psychotic Tomas (Nick Gomez) to really hammer it home. Still the stand/glare-off between Rick and Tomas before Tomas gets a machete in the head is wonderfully tense and suspenseful. It reminded me of the quick-draw in the bar in last season’s ‘Nebraska’ when Rick so bad-assedly disposed of two riffraffs. I’m sure many will see Rick’s speedy disposal of Tomas and his subsequent chasing of convict Andrew (Markice Moore) into a den of walkers as indicative of Rick’s turn “to the dark side”, but I still think Rick is navigating through the inevitable hard choices he’s got to make in the interest of survival. Just like Rick needed to kill those two men in the bar, he needed to take out Tomas. As for Andrew’s death, well, it wasn’t so much a killing so much as a ‘non-saving’.
Let’s deconstruct that particular death. The camera deliberately lingers on a close-up of Rick’s reaction as he hears Andrew scream for his life as he becomes the main course at the zombie buffet. Andrew Lincoln’s performance is brilliantly ambiguous. Personally, I read the subtle nodding of his head as Rick convincing himself that he did indeed do the right thing considering the circumstances. It’s not as though Rick doesn’t still struggle with his conscience (after all hearing a helpless man beg for his life can’t be easy). This moment shows us how Rick needs to build the courage and motivation to go back and deal with the two remaining convicts. Maybe he’s recounting Lori’s earlier blessing before heading back to execute Oscar (Vincent Ward) and Axel (Lew Temple). If Rick were indeed the cold-hearted killer that many believe he’s become, then he would have quickly disposed of Axel and Oscar without stopping to hear their reasons for wanting to live (and subsequently believing them and letting them go to fend for themselves in another cell block). Don’t get me wrong, Rick has definitely changed, but I don’t think he’s come completely unhinged ala Shane last season.
Perhaps the best scene of the night came at episode’s end when Rick and Lori have another one-on-one discussion. After “securing” the convicts, Rick learns that Lori administered CPR to Hershel, effectively saving his life. We get a touching moment when Hershel musters up all the strength that he has to grab Rick’s hand, silently thanking him from cutting the zombie out of him. Lori takes a breather outside in a brilliant metaphorical location – a fenced walkway bridging one section of the prison to another. The visual significance is astounding as Rick joins her, the married couple effectively caged in limbo. What follows is a truly heartbreaking conversation – one that hits quite close to home as bad memories of painful breakups emerged. Lori confesses that she hoped Rick came out to talk to her about their floundering marriage, wishing he’d give her some glimmer that they might be able to work through it. Instead, Rick responds by agonizingly raising his arm to pat her on the shoulder and then quietly says “We’re awful grateful for what you did” (ie: resuscitating Hershel) before walking away.
Lincoln completely nails the scene – immediately communicating how Rick has given up on Lori, despite still clearly loving her. He doesn’t tell her that he’s grateful, instead using the communal “we” and stripping away any semblance of intimacy between them. It reminds me of the moment when your soon-to-be-ex starts calling you by your first name instead of “babe”, “hun” or <insert any pet name here>. I’m probably a great candidate for president of the “No Loris Club”, but I truly felt so incredibly sad for her as she laid her cheek on her shoulder, grateful for that one moment of physical contact from her estranged husband. It’s moments like these that make me invested in The Walking Dead, as opposed to those disgusting and plentiful zombie kills. I’m eager to see how Rick and Lori will continue to unfold, and delighted that the creative team behind the show have done the impossible – they’ve actually made me care about Lori.
- We get a bit of clarification on the nature of the zombie virus: Everyone has it, which remains dormant until you die, but apparently you can turn into a walker if you’re bit or scratched deeply by one. This somehow activates the virus as it works through your bloodstream. I think this explains why Hershel’s leg needed be cut off and presumably, why poor Big Tiny needed to die. I’m still a bit confused, especially since last season we saw Shane get cut by the same knife he used to kill a walker, and with the amount of walker blood that spurts about in killings, it’s darn near impossible for our survivors to avoid ingesting or inhaling some of that. If someone with a more careful eye cares to chime in about the logistics of how one becomes a walker, I’m all ears. (A necklace full of ’em, in fact…)
- Any ideas on who was spying on Carol (Melissa McBride) as she hacked up the lady bits of a dead walker? Looks like whiny Carol has finally emerged from her role as “human scenery”. Here’s hoping T-Dog will follow suit.
- Darryl (Norman Reedus) sure is wasting a lot of arrows on walkers in this prison. I really hope he’s going back to recoup them…
- Carl shows that he’s a brave idiot by going off and finding the infirmary on his own. Again, I never thought I would say this, but I totally agreed with Lori when she scolded him about being an impetuous little know-it-all. It has nothing to do with him being a kid; it’s about him being stupid. It’s common frigin’ sense that in an apocalypse you take at least one other person with you wherever you go, or at least tell someone that you’re running off into unknown territory.
What did you think Dead fans? What do you make of Rick’s evolution? Any hope for Rick and Lori? He’s still wearing his wedding ring – that means something right? Do you think Carl’s arrogance is going to get him into trouble? Let’s not forget his role in Dale’s (Jeffrey DeMunn) death last season. Hit up the comments section and let us know what you think. Remember, we have a strict SPOILER FREE zone, so no comments revealing plot points in the comics, or any other tidbits you’ve found online.
The Walking Dead airs at 9pm EST, Sundays on AMC.