I'm always happy when Angela Kang is writing an episode of The Walking Dead, not only because they're usually pretty good, but she was also a staff writer for the criminally underrated Terriers and that's enough to earn my respect and devotion in itself. Director Guy Ferland is also a welcome name as his episodes are usually pretty solid (and we just don't talk about his contributions to the god-awful Torchwood: Miracle Day), so with both he and Kang working together, "Infected" has all the earmarks of an excellent episode and lives up to those expectations.
The episode begins just moments after last week's Season Four premiere ended, with Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) saying goodnight to Karen (Melissa Ponzio) who then hits the restroom before calling it a night; the bathroom where Patrick (Vincent Martella) is lying undead and bloody on the floor. It's one of the most intense and nerve-wracking scenes in ages, since we know what's going on but Karen doesn't, and luckily that tension is relieved fairly quickly as she exits unharmed. However, a particularly heavy sleeper in the cell block is not so lucky, as Patrick shambles into his cell and chows down on him, making nary a sound. And when heavy sleeper turns and shambles out of bed we get one of the more disgusting gore effects in recent memory as his insides slide out onto the floor. Yuck!
Oh, and did I mention that someone was out by the fence with a flashlight feeding rats to walkers? What the hell? That's not cool.
And with that we move into the episode proper and while other characters are spotlighted over the hour, the real focus is on Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Carl (Chandler Riggs). Rick is doing the best he can to avoid taking charge and to keep both he and Carl from taking up arms; even going so far as to forbid Carl from helping out on Fence Clearing Duty. It's a noble effort, and while the others are supportive of Rick's attempt, I don't think anyone expects it to last. And within moments, Rick is in the thick of it, helping to put down the zombie outbreak in the cellblock – although he does refuse the gun that is handed to him.
All in all about fifteen people are lost thanks to Patrick's midnight snacking and thankfully the group is able to very quickly suss out what happened. That's a relief as a viewer and a sign that show runner Scott M. Gimple is on top of the game. We're not letting this mystery linger and the characters act on the knowledge they have, connecting the dots swiftly and effectively.
It looks like with the death of Andrea last season, we are finally clear of the random acts of stupidity that sometimes hampered good storytelling. For now, at least. As last season proved emphatically, even the strongest start can lead to wild swings in quality over sixteen episodes. But that's defeatist talk!
Anyway, with the threat of a super flu that kills overnight weighing on them, the council decides that anyone exhibiting flu-like symptoms needs to be quarantined, for their own sake and the sake of the others. Which means that Tyreese and Karen have to put a hold on romance, since she's got a little cough.
So not only do we have the threat of plague inside the walls, there's also that little bit about someone feeding the walkers. Thanks to the midnight feeding, the walkers are piling up in one area of the fence rather than spreading out like they normally do, and that spells trouble of a different kind. Fences are nice and all, but if you pile enough bodies against them, they will come down. And apparently our heroes can't put the undead down fast enough to maintain the integrity of the outer fence.
This throws Rick's quandary into the spotlight as he knows that his sow died from the same flu that killed Patrick, and that something has to be done to lure the walkers away from the fence. In what was a surprisingly moving scene, Rick sacrifices all of the surviving piglets – slashing them with a knife and tossing them to the walkers from the back of a pick-up truck. And just like that, it's made plain to Rick that farming is not the life for him.
He burns the pig pen, straps on his pistol, and what the hell, returns Carl's gun to him, too.
It's heartbreaking and inspiring all in one fell swoop.
And speaking of heartbreaking, Michonne (Danai Gurira) gets another moment to shine under the guidance of Gimple, when Beth (Emily Kinney) takes a break from singing more Tom Waits songs (I think I'm in love!) to baby Judith and asks Michonne to hold the kid for a minute. No sooner does the kid hit Michonne's hands than she begins breaking down crying. It's a short scene and there's no explanation. They just lay it all on the performances of the actors and it works so well.
Before too long, Michonne should be as big a fan favorite in the show as she is in the comics if they keep this up.
Meanwhile back in the prison, we have no idea who's been feeding the walkers, although I have a suspicion thanks to the attention given to a couple of new characters, Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) and Mika (Kyla Kenedy) Samuels. Their dad died from wounds in the morning's zombie attack and Carol (Melissa McBride) swore to look after them. This is a good thing and it's nice to see how the zombie apocalypse is affecting other children besides Carl, but unfortunately, it's not affecting them in a positive way.
Lizzie has a habit of sympathizing with the undead lining the fence and is almost as upset about a walker named Nick (he was wearing a name tag, so she started calling him by name) being put down as she is about her father. I'm a little worried she's responsible for the rat feeding and if she's really that broken, then I'm afraid that Carl will be involved in a variation of another scene from the comics. And it was one of the most disturbing scenes in what is a series comprised almost entirely of disturbing scenes.
But before we dwell on that possibility, we are smacked in the face by this episode's conclusion, where Tyreese goes to visit Karen in quarantine with some lovely flowers he's picked, only to find a bloody trail smeared from the cells she and a guy named David (who was also coughing) were staying, out to the courtyard where he finds their bodies burnt to ash and still smoking.
It's horrifying and we have no idea who did it. Hopefully it's the rat-feeder and I'm wrong about Lizzie. I guess we'll find out more next week. Hopefully.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.