After two episodes that each focused on only one of The Walking Dead‘s main storylines, last night’s episode, “Killer Within,” was a balanced back and forth that pushed the plot on two fronts. But not equally. We saw hints and glimpses of potential conflict in peaceful Woodbury, but the real action was back at the prison, where decisions Rick made in the heat of combat came back to haunt him in a brutal way. The ensuing action gave us the most impactful episode since the Battle of Greene Farm.
Two weeks ago, when we last checked in with our core group of survivors, life looked like it might be settling into some new kind of status quo. After fighting a bloody battle to take a prison from walkers and a few errant inmates, Rick displayed heroic action and callous disregard for human life, sometimes within minutes of each other. The turning point—which we now know would come back to haunt Rick—was when he locked one of the inmates in a yard full of walkers, then watched as the young man scrambled to stay alive. In the beginning of last night’s episode, that prisoner worked systematically to dismantle the prison’s security and lure walkers by the hundreds inside the walls (while somehow managing to stay alive, a true feat from a seeminly weak character).
After that preamble, the episode turned downright casual as even Rick took the opportunity to poke fun at Glenn and Maggie for sneaking away for some alone time. But things started to get serious when the two known surviving prisoners asked for asylum. Rick took advice from his security team, but the only one willing to give the two inmates a chance was T-Dog. His character has been a frustrating part of the story. Last season, during the height of the languid days on the farm, T-Dog went entire episodes without speaking a line. He’s more than proven his worth as a loyal soldier, and he’s the only one who stands up to Rick and encourages him to bring the two inmates into the group.
Shortly after that discussion there was a nice moment where Hershel walks on his crutches and Lori looks at Rick and somehow everything seems like it’ll be okay. Of course it isn’t. All hell breaks loose. Walkers streamed in from every corner of the prison. You have to go back pretty deep into last season to find the last surprise zombie ambush on this scale. And the results are devastating. After being bitten, T-Dog sacrifices himself to save Carol; Lori, Maggie and Carl become trapped in a tiny room and surprise, Lori goes into labor.
I’m on record as saying that Lori is the most annoying character on the show, which stems mostly from last season. It wasn’t the character exactly—every group needs someone trying to act as the voice of reason—it was Sarah Wayne Callies’s performance that frustrated me. She’s not a bad actress—far from it—but the writers didn’t give her much to work with. Nearly every time we saw Lori last season she was either being a total buzzkill or looking shocked at something with giant bug eyes, a facial pose that wasn’t very convincing even in the most dire of situations. Callies more than made up for that with her subtle acting this season, which is why I’m sorry to see Lori go. The emergency Cesarean scene was barbarous, a cruel reminder than life is still severly primal. And then there’s Carl. Poor kid. One minute he’s making eyes with a cute older girl and the next he’s not only helping deliver his new sibling (did anyone catch the baby’s gender? If they said it, I missed it.), he heroically volunteers to be the one to put his mother down and ensure she won’t become a zombie.
The closing scene had so much potential. In the span of less than an hour we went from nearly pastoral to nearly apocalyptic, and then Maggie and Carl walk out with the baby and no Lori. It was exactly the kind of scene that begged for Andrew Lincoln to turn in a great performance. Instead, he took a giant Babe Ruth swing and missed. The episode ended with Rick Grimes belowing from a supine position, trying hard to convince us in the audience that he actually cared for his wife. I didn’t buy it, and it ruined what was otherwise a pretty powerful episode.
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Zombie Kill Report: Dozens upon untold dozens. The fights with the walkers didn’t linger like in the opening two episodes, but they shot and killed quite a few (and likely blew through their ammunition in the process). After T-Dog was bitten and he bum-rushed a group of walkers to save Carol, he suffered the most grusome human death in quite some time, as a zombie tore out his throat. Rest in peace T-Dog.
Meanwhile in Woodbury there was little action, but some decent intrigue. Andrea seems to be having second thoughts about hitting the road again with Michonne, while our zombie-killing Jedi Knight has some major problems with The Governor. Toss Merle into the mix (he wants to go search for his brother, but The Governor doesn’t want to let him go), and things are starting to heat up in paradise. We’re nowhere near the boiling point, but we’re laying the groundwork for some epic fights in the not-too-distant future.
Tonight’s conspiracy theory: I’m going to throw something out of left field, and again, if you’ve read the graphic novels and know what’s going to happen, no spoilers please! During the birth scene, Lori passed out quickly, but Maggie never checked to see that she bled to death. We never saw Carl shoot Lori, we only heard a gunshot, and then Carl came strolling out like the stoic man he wants to become. He may very well have done that incredibly horrible, terrifically noble deed, but did he? Merle managed to wriggle out from under the clutches of death and come back to wreak havoc on the story. Will we see a zombie Lori, or perhaps some butchered version of a live one down the line?