More than a few times in its run, The Walking Dead has shown that one of the strengths of episodic television is that each individual show can itself be a mini-story. The best of these small stories have great entrances and exits—strong beginnings such as the opening scene of the pilot or last week’s masterful first four minutes.
Last night’s episode, the second of the third season, gave us one of the least creative opening scenes of the series. The show began, not only in the middle of the scene where the last episode abruptly ended, but it felt like it picked up with the exact same shot. Creative? Not exactly. Effective? You bet.
To review, when the credits rolled last week, the group’s tactical team was in a gigantic pickle. Hershel had been bitten, Rick had just hacked off his leg in an attempt to save him, they were trapped in a small room with walkers beating down the door, and just before the episode went to black out, a small group of prisoners popped up behind a screen. At first, Rick and company all but ignore the prisoners as they scramble to get Hershel back to the cell block before he bleeds to death, sprinting out of the room and leaving the prisoners to stare at the bloody half of Hershel’s leg still lying on the floor. But once Hershel is safely in the hands of Carol (whom Hershel taught some basic medical skills), Rick has to decide what to do with the surviving prisoners.
That decision provides the heavy moral questioning of the episode. We saw last season that Rick is willing to spill the blood of the living to keep his group alive, but until this point, the people he’s killed have all been substantive threats. Rick decides that he, Daryl and T-Dog will help the prisoners clear their own cell block, then they’ll all go their separate ways.
The plan sort of works at first, until one of the prisoners gets bitten and Thomas (the leader of the prisoners), a poorly drawn inmate caricature, slaughters him before he even starts to turn into a zombie. Thomas looks like he’s trying to challenge Rick’s status as the alpha male, but when he steps out of line and shoves Rick under a walker, Rick takes a machete to his head. When another prisoner runs into a courtyard and gets trapped in a zombie horde, Rick locks him in and watches calmly while the walkers tear the young man apart.
So far this season Rick’s tactics, and more importantly his decision making, have kept the group alive. But he’s become a cold, hard version of the man who once grappled with death and killing. In the episode’s final scene he meets Lori on the balcony and she expects him to want to talk about their relationship, their son, perhaps the baby she’s about to bring into this disaster of a world. Instead Rick thanks her for saving Hershel (more on that below) by saying, “We’re all grateful for what you did.” Rick is no longer a husband and a father. Leading the group has become his full-time job, his identity, and he’s established himself as a force that won’t let anything get in his way. The previews of next week’s episode tell us that we’re about to (finally) meet the Governor, which may give us the ultimate alpha male showdown.
Zombie Kill Report: Once again there were a few dozen, mostly bludgeoning kills in the tunnels under the prison. A better metric to measure the episode’s gore may be the various ways that humans died. There was Thomas’s prison-gang beat down of his fellow inmate who’d been bitten, Rick’s machete to the head that ended Thomas’s short career on the show and the zombie horde that, we assume (the camera showed Rick’s totally dispassionate face) tore one of the prisoners limb from limb.
But there was that one kill… That stood out. With Hershel gravely injured, it now falls to Carol to try and deliver Lori’s baby, so she asks Glenn to help her find a female walker she can kill and use to practice doing a c-section. Carol kills the woman zombie by stabbing her in the eye for one of the most gratuitous kills we’ve seen in a while.
Biggest “oh s__t” scene: After Carol and company stop the bleeding in Hershel’s leg, he falls asleep for most of the episode. When he stops breathing and Lori gives him CPR, he comes to and grabs her. At first we think he’s turned into a walker, but it turns out that Lori has just brought him back to life. While this is medically dubious, it does make for a hell of a scene.
And it would seem that the good Dr. Greene will survive. For all of the talk showrunner Glen Mazzara gave about killing off main characters, it seems Hershel has earned a stay of execution—at least for this week. He’s not out of the woods yet, but I doubt they’d have him live through that kind of trauma just to die soon thereafter. Then again, I’ve been wrong before.