Last week’s season premiere of The Walking Dead plunged us into a whole new world, one in which our protagonists have become brutal and vicious out of a simple need to survive. The little niggling dramas that held the cast at Hershel’s farm for most of last season are no more. Pacing and writing were spot-on, and if this week’s episode is any indication, we’re in for a hell of a ride.
Episode 2 picks up in medias res, right where the premiere left off. It drops us smack in the middle of one of the series’ most terrifying scenarios yet: a man bleeding to death, surrounded by zombies on one side and criminals on the other – and this man is the only one in the whole crew with medical experience. Poor Hershel got bit, and in order to save his life, Rick lopped off his leg below the knee.
The scouts have to hold off some very scary criminals to get Hershel back to “safety,” and in the process we get to know who our survivors up against: Oscar (Vincent Ward), Andrew (Markice Moore), Tomas (Nick Gomez), Axel (Lew Temple), and Big Tiny (Theodus Crane) are the remaining inhabitants of the prison, each with his own weapon, crime, and outlook. They’ve been locked in the cafeteria for either 292 or 294 days, depending on who you ask, and they have no idea what they’re up against.
Once the men get past the requisite dick-measuring contest, it becomes clear who the alpha males are: Rick and Tomas are pitted against one another almost immediately. Rick kindly agrees to allow them to stay in the prison if they stay in their own cell block – which Rick and company will help to clear for them. Tomas thinks, as many a criminal would, he’s getting a bum deal on this transaction, which also involves dividing the remaining food in half.
In the process of cleaning out the cell block, the cons display their true nature when, in true prison riot fashion, they dive into the fray, slicing, dicing, bludeoning, and screaming at the tops of their lungs. Rick, Daryl, and T-Dog stand back, all but tapping their feet and checking their watches, waiting until the guys in the blue jumpsuits realize their foes aren’t your average trustie or guard. The first to chicken out is Big Tiny (of course), and when he suffers a mild bite, who should decide his fate but Tomas? The con takes out his former friend so viciously Hannibal Lecter would be proud. (As an aside, a note to the production crew: this CGI blood spray stuff needs to go, guys.)
When, in the fray, Tomas makes it abundantly clear how he plans to off Rick, the one he rightly recognizes as the leader, Rick responds the only way he can. When Andrew makes a run for it, Rick then disposes of him as well.
This world happened.
Meanwhile, Hershel grows paler, his breath more labored, as the women tend to his wounds. (I do hope the writers touch on the sexism of this post-apocalyptic world at some point – and I missed Andrea this episode.) Maggie appears to be the only one who knows the reality of things: if Hershel can’t walk, he can’t run – and all they do is run. Rick dispatches Glenn to make absolutely certain that if Hershel dies, he doesn’t come back.
Maggie, Beth, Lori, and Carol gather around the bunk, saying their goodbyes and keeping watch. The beauty of this series is its ability to layer even the most emotional moments with suspense and tension: Maggie, tears coursing down her pretty face, bends over her father, telling him to let go – and all the while, we’re wondering if her father is going to convulse, dart forward, and take a chunk out of her face. When Hershel’s breath, already sour with impending mortality, mercifully stops, Lori brings him back to life – for real, still himself. How he’ll be able to survive in this world with only one foot is anybody’s guess.
The episode spends only a small amount of time on what, for me, is the most frustrating set of characters in the whole show: Rick, Lori, and Carl. When Carl escapes (again – for Chrissakes, how can Lori not keep track of her son and then whine about it?!), he procures much-needed medicines from the infirmary. Immediately his mother chastises him, but let’s be serious here: in the zombie apocalypse, a child isn’t a child anymore. If the Carl of the series goes the way of the books (and he appears to be on the right – or wrong – track), this will become obvious very quickly.
In the only one-on-one interaction Lori and Rick have, he gives her a cold shoulder so icy that you’ll feel the chill. She deserves it, but it’s still a hard thing to contend with. “For the record,” Rick tells her after Lori fishes for a compliment or two, “I don’t think you’re a bad mother.” Well, this critic does, but that’s beside the point.
The remaining 40% of the prisoners are confined to one cell block after Axel (Temple – somewhat of a zombie/B-movie fixture whose credits include Devil’s Rejects, Zombex, the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Silent Night Zombie Night) begs for their lives. Oscar, he says, was in for breaking and entering, and Axel himself just really likes his pharmaceuticals. There’s a lot to be said here about the prison system in this country, but that’s for another article.
This is a whole new, more brutal, uglier world – perfect preparation for The Governor. In the final scene of the episode, Carol decides (sanely, as Glenn continues to repeat) to practice a caesarean section on a walker – but someone else is watching. Any guesses who?
Share your thoughts and predictions in the comments!