After the mortifying revelation that something awful is in the air — or the water, or somewhere — in last week‘s Season 4 premiere of The Walking Dead, we open episode 2 in the dead of night, at the fence, where a flashlight-toting someone is feeding rats to the walkers through the chain link.
Inside the prison, Karen and Tyreese are cuddling. Even with such a comely girl in his lap, Ty can’t keep his mind off of Zack’s horrific demise at the big box store the day before. Fingering the awesome ROCK-PAPER-SCISSORS bracelet on Karen’s wrist (get your very own here), he ruminates about how life used to be filled with acquaintances — people who came and went and sometimes came back again. No big whoop if they didn’t. Now there’s just the people you know. And there are fewer and fewer of those.
Let’s take a minute on the bracelet, not just because I want one really bad and right this minute, but because the game is truly the pinnacle of completely random victors and victories, and even little kids know how to play. No one has the upper hand. A mere sheet of paper can vanquish a rock. You can think you have the upper hand, but the other guy does, too. Welcome to life at the prison. They should all be wearing these things.
Afraid he’s being maudlin, Tyreese switches from sentiment to romance and begins to sing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” to his ladylove, inviting her to spend the night in his cell. Not just yet, she says. Wise woman. The slow progression of their affair gives them something to look forward to in a world where that sort of thing is hard to come by. Especially if there are no more acquaintances left.
Karen heads back to her cell, stopping long enough to wash up in the latrine where — unbeknownst to anyone — Patrick died, and to admire a drawing one of the children did of “Nick” wandering out in a field of flowers. But Karen’s not the only one up.
Patrick’s back and he wants a midnight snack. At the last minute, another cellblock resident stirs and Patrick turns from Karen’s cell and stumbles a little further down, waking the guy with a devastating bite to the throat.
Across the prison, Rick — baby Judith in his arms — wakes Carl. Beth arrives to take a shift as Judith’s nanny. Back in cellblock D, Patrick’s victim turns, even as Patrick is still munching on his guts. What remains of his innards falls to the floor as he rises. I shall call him Gutless Wonder.
In the watchtower, Glenn has a tender moment watching a sleeping Maggie, then pulls out a totally fabulous, ancient, turquoise Instamatic and snaps a photo, laughing at the results. This is the first time I’ve noticed that Maggie wears both engagement ring and wedding band. Looks like we had a wedding during our six-month idyll. Surveying the image, Maggie tells him to throw it away. Even in an apocalyptic, Facebook- and Instagram-filter-free world, a girl likes to look good in a photo.
As Carl and Rick head for the fields, Michonne heads out on the hunt again, asking the pair if they have any requests — some stale M&Ms, perhaps? She asks Carl why he never wears Rick’s cop hat any more. “It’s not a farming hat,” Carl answers serenely. “See you soon?” “Pretty soon,” she says. I’m a fan of their warm relationship.
But farming isn’t really in the young man’s blood. Helping his dad with the compost heap and surveying the groups of walkers shaking the fence, he offers, “They only took out one cluster yesterday. They’re probably going to need more help today. Maybe we could help.”
It’s going to take more than a rattling fence to rattle Rick enough for that to happen. “I got other plans, involving dirt and cucumbers,” he says, surveying a handful of muck and worms. Carl asks if maybe he could go, you know, without parental supervision. “We have other plans,” says Rick, feeding the slop in the buckets to the pigs. Dad doesn’t care what all your friends are doing, Carl. If they jumped off a cliff, or walked into the middle of a horde of ravenous zombies, would you do that, too? Yeah. That time-honored parenting tool just doesn’t hold up well in this version of the world.
Carl apologizes for the request and says he’s been trying. Trying to go back to being just a boy with some chores, some buddies and a stack of comics. After everything he has seen and done and endured. But he’d like his gun back, anyway.
Just then a series of booms go off in the prison and Lizzie and Mika, the two little girls at fence in last week’s episode, come running, screaming for help. Hearing the noise, Michonne turns her horse around and heads back. Rick orders Carl to the safety of the tower with Maggie. Glenn shouts that there are walkers in cellblock D. Panicked, Rick wants to know what about cell block C and Sasha says it’s clear and the tombs are in lockdown with Hershel standing guard. “It ain’t a break,” Daryl tells Rick. The walkers have been here all along.
Carl opens the gate for Michonne, but two walkers get in, too. Fending them off, Michonne backs over a trip wire and goes down. Grabbing a rifle, Carl shoots one walker through the head and the boy’s expression makes it clear that whatever steps he might have been making back toward boyhood, they’ve all been undone in a single shotgun blast. Maggie helps Michonne — who injured her ankle in the fall and the ensuing struggle — up off the ground.
Cellblock D is in chaos, but Rick still refuses the gun handed to him as he charges in. Ryan, Lizzie and Mika’s dad, gets bitten in the fray and Carol leads him into a cell to amputate his arm before the wound can become lethal. Drawing her knife and turning him onto his side, Carol notices a bite on his neck, as well. There will be no saving him.
Meanwhile, Daryl shoots a walker attacking Glenn, and he, Rick and Glenn realize it’s Patrick. Understanding that the rest of the fallen residents of C must be done in through the head before they turn, Rick draws his knife, walks into a cell and walks out shaken but resolute.
Realizing he is dying, Ryan asks Carol if she can look after Lizzie and Mika like they are her own. Yeah, she says. She can. And she will. She tells Ryan that he’s going to have to let them say goodbye, knowing that they need to the shock and sadness of it to become the girl warriors she needs them to be. The kind Sophia wasn’t. The kind she wasn’t until Sophia died.
Continuing the sweep of the cellblock with Daryl, Rick finds a walker locked in a cell and knifes him fiercely through the head. Farewell, Farmer Rick. Hershel and Dr. S are summoned to survey him and his blood-covered face — even though he was eaten by or ate no one and has no other visible wounds. A horrible death says Dr. S. Pleurisy and aspiration. Choked to death on his own blood, which caused the blood trails down his face, adds Hershel. Rick says he’s seen the same trails on the faces of a few walkers at the fence. Daryl says they were on Patrick, too. Whatever this virus is, it’s inside the prison and out.
Doctor S explains that the pleurisy turned the poor folks into human shaken soda pop cans, their eyes, ears, nose and throat bursting from the built-up pressure. Bob asks if the sickness came from the walkers. Dr. S says this sort of stuff was likely around before the walker-pocolypse. Could be pneumococcal. Most likely an aggressive flu strain. Nothing new borne of the undead.
Daryl says the walker — a guy named Charlie — locked himself in his cell at night to stop himself from sleepwalking, which is why he managed to stay contained and not join in Patrick’s feeding frenzy. The poor guy was just at the barbecue yesterday, in fine health by all appearances. Rick tells the men about Violet and the dying boar in the woods. Pigs and birds, says Hershel. That’s how this stuff spreads. The swine flu has arrived in cellblock C. Whomever ate the pork at the cookout is likely in deep doodoo. And it’s safe to say that the worm-eating piglets are not long for this world.
Meanwhile, Carol has led Mika and Lizzie to their father’s side in time for all to say goodbye. When he passes, Carol tells the girls they know what must happen next and that they can wait outside while she takes care of it, if they want. Lizzie stops her and says she can do it herself. Dad taught the sisters how. She tries. She can’t. Carol quietly stabs Ryan through the ear as Mike consoles her hyperventilating sister.
Outside, Maggie and Carl help the hobbled Michonne to cellblock C — which has taken a really long time if you ask me. Spotting Rick, Carl runs for his dad and confesses he had to use a gun to save Michonne. Spotting one of the Woodbury transplants walking by with her dead child in her arms, Maggie asks what happened in D. Rick explains that Patrick got sick and started attacking the cellblock. Whatever sickness felled him and Charlie, Rick, Carol, Daryl and Hershel have now been exposed to it, too.
The council meets to discuss what must be done in the face of the new threat. Hershel says they don’t know how fast it spreads. Carol says they can’t wait until people start showing symptoms to react. They decide to move the survivors from cellblock D to cellblock A — AKA Death Row. The horrible irony is lost on no one. Glenn says there are also a few clean, empty cells in the tombs. Of course.
Outside the meeting room, Karen is coughing. Hershel says the doctor will take a look at her, and Karen says David from the Decatur group has been coughing, too. There’s a Decatur group? In addition to the Woodbury group? Or Decatur before Woodbury? Anybody? In any case, Glenn heads off to scout clean cells. Daryl says he’ll get to burying the dead. Carol worries for Lizzie and Mika who spent a lot of time around Patrick. All the kids did. <gulp>
Carol finds the girls at the fence and tells them it’s time to bury their dad. She says she will look after them like she promised Ryan, but that means making Lizzie face up to the reality that she is weak. “He’s dead,” Lizzie retorts. “He was special and now he’s dead.” She’s not talking about dad, though. She’s talking about Nick, the walker with the name tag from last week at the fence. I think we can pretty much be certain who drew the picture of Nick in the field. And who’s feeding the walkers at night. Why the girl is more concerned about Nick than her own dead dad is still a puzzlement.
Mika gives it a go. She’s just stupid, the little sib informs Carol. Messed up. But not weak. Mika knows something about Lizzie that we don’t know, but we really probably should.
Joining Daryl at the grave site, Rick apologizes for not being much help in cellblock D without his gun. Daryl says he did just fine and that he earned his time off from killing by keeping everyone as safe for so long. They still need him to help figure their way out of this new mess, though. Rick says he screwed up too many times, made too many bad decisions, including some that almost cost him his boy. But he’ll be as much help as he can. We get a long, lingering shot on Daryl’s angel wings as he tells Rick that what Rick sees as mistakes, Daryl sees as leadership.
Let’s test that theory.
Maggie screams for Rick and Daryl — the walkers are multiplying and the gates are giving way. Everyone who is paying extra-close attention to the walkers’ faces as they are taken out, raise your hands. As the crew alternately pushes back at the fence and dispatches as many walkers as they can, it’s plainly obvious that Badass Rick is back. And this time, it’s likely for good.
In cellblock C, Beth is patching up Michonne’s ankle as Baby Judith plays with red plastic cups on the floor. Michonne says that they’ve begun taking out the dead for burial and Beth says she doesn’t want to know who is among them. Not just yet. Michonne says her stumble was pathetic and if that’s the kind of warrior she’s become, Maggie and Carl should have just left her where she lay instead of risking getting hurt or worse. Beth won’t hear it, saying that when you care about someone, risking getting hurt is part of the package. Michonne stares at her hard.
Beth asks if there were kids among the dead. “There’s all these widows and orphans,” she observes, “but what do you call someone who has lost a child? You’d think someone would have given that a name.” Michonne winces, as Judith begins to wail.
Does she always cry like that, Michonne wonders, knowing what Beth does not. “I think she senses people’s moods,” says Beth, toting the baby away.
At the gate, Maggie loses her footing and stumbles. Glenn turns to help her, but Maggie warns him that they’re supposed to stay away from each other until they know what the virus entails. Sasha spots the dead mice at the gates and points out that someone is feeding the walkers, just as the gates begin to give. Bonus points to Team Nicotero for the walker who rams his eye socket through the chain link. You never cease to amaze me. Icky-tacular.
Looking back at his pen of doomed piglets, Rick instructs Daryl to get the truck.
In cellblock C, Carol comes upon Carl making crosses for the graves. “Do you know if Patrick was Catholic,” he asks her. “He said he was a practicing atheist,” she replies. Carl sighs and dismantles the marker he’s working on..
Time to talk about what Carl saw in the library the day before. Carol asks Carl if he told his dad about discovering the Carol Scouts. Nope says Carl. “Are you going to tell him?” Carol asks. Carl says nothing. “I have to teach those kids to survive and you know it,” Carol tells him. “Did you tell their parents?” Carl asks. No, says Carol. “Are you going to tell them?” asks Carl. Well played, young man. Well played. Carol says that even though it might be easier now that cellblock D has been attacked, she doesn’t want to take the risk of them not understanding. Carl protests that he doesn’t want to lie to his dad. Carol says she’s not asking him to lie. She asking him to say anything. It’s different.
As Michonne exercises in her cell, Beth paces with Judith in her arms, singing a bluegrass versions of The Ramones’ “I Don’t Want to Grow Up.” If you don’t know the tune, it’s worth your time to look up the lyrics, which include, “How do you move in a world of fog that’s always changing things/Makes me wish that I could be a dog when I see the price you pay.” And “Nothin’ out there but sad and gloom, I don’t wanna live in a big old tomb.”
Way to find the perfect song for the moment, Beth.
That’s some lullaby, says Michonne. “I just sing her what I like,” shrugs Beth. “I figure it’s better than ashes and cradles falling from trees.” Just then Judith vomits on Beth’s shoulder. Beth tries to hand off the baby to Michonne so she can clean up and is stunned when Michonne refuses to take the child. Fear of the virus? Something more personal? Finally Michonne relents, first holding the girl like a rotten sack of potatoes, then giving in and cradling her close as tears begin to flow. If that scene didn’t get you, people, you should check for your pulse.
The next scene’s a dooze, too. To lure the walkers away from the listing fence, Rick and Daryl barrel out into the field where Rick sacrifices his beloved, doomed baby pigs to the herd.
Later, Carol finds Mika and Lizzie at the fence, gazing at the walkers. Time for an open-air Carol Scouts lesson. Lizzie, those are walkers, Carol instructs. Nick was a walker. We don’t feel bad about Nick dying. We feel bad about our dad dying. Carol tucks a blossom behind Lizzie’s ear to end the lesson. (Everybody remember Daryl tucking a blossom behind weak Carol’s ear back in the way, way back, when we were all betting she’d be the next taken out?). Lizzie slowly reaches out and takes the knife from Carol’s hand. Carol smiles at the bittersweet victory.
Carl comes upon his bloodied dad dismantling the pigpen and reaches out to help, but Rick stops him. Carl asks if he thinks the pigs made the people in D sick and Rick says it could be. Or it could be the other way around. In either case, he thinks they should stay away from Judy for a while. It’s the first time I’ve heard anyone call the baby Judy. It sounds even weirder than Judith. Carl says he understands — they have to protect his little sister.
Speaking of protecting the children, Carl decides to fess up about what he saw in the library. He says that he thinks Carol should be allowed to continue. “I know you’re going to say it’s not up to you,” the boy says. “But it can be.”
Rick thanks Carl for his honesty and after a while says he won’t stop her. They watch the pen start to burn, then Rick heads for his toolbox and gives his boy back his gun. He retrieves his own holster and weapon and the two Grimes men arm up together. Carl walks off. Rick stays, stripping off his shirt to display a badly bruised back, and looking toward the fence.
Inside the prison, Tyreese comes to check on Karen, bringing a bouquet of posies to cheer his beloved up. Instead he finds an empty cell, a bloody pillow and two even bloodier trails leading to the door. Outside he finds two gas cans and the smoldering bodies of Karen and David, Karen’s bracelet still encircling her arm. Tyreese falls to his knees.
Good a time as any to revisit the song he was singing in her ear at the start of the episode, going a little further in from the romantic first verse: “In spite of the warning voice that comes in the night/And repeats, repeats in my ear/Don’t you know, you fool, ain’t no chance to win/ Use your mentality/wake up to reality.” And reality is likely that what is under everyone’s skin, and at the gate, and beyond it, means there is no place left for a peace-loving man.
So what say you, Walking Dead fans? Who’s feeding the fence walkers? What the heck’s up with Lizzie? Is Michonne a mourning mom? Who burned up poor Karen— and did she turn first, or was someone not about to take that chance? Will it change Tyreese into a warrior? And is the Ricktator back for good? Sound off in the comments section below.
Next week on The Walking Dead — 7,500 dead on the road! 7,500 hundred dead! You take some down, too many around! 7,500 dead on the road!
New episodes of The Walking Dead air Sunday nights at 9/8CT on AMC.