I've said for years that zombie cinema is more about Existentialism than about gore or scares, and when I read that Season Four showrunner Scott Gimple came up with the idea for the disease outbreak in the prison after listening to a book-on-tape of Camus' The Plague, I was glad to see someone on the creative side of the equation expressing it too. In fact, Camus' work can be seen as a philosophical framework for The Walking Dead in particular as it plays out the zombie apocalypse season after season, allowing the creators to really dig into the psychological impact of being thrust into a world, as described in The Myth of Sisyphus, "suddenly deprived of illusions and light." In this world, human beings are condemned to "an irremediable exile."
This week's episode, "Internment," whole-heartedly engages philosophical Absurdity as Hershel (Scott Wilson) continues to embrace community and struggles to find personal meaning in a world where no inherent meaning can be found. Despite being faced with fear, uncertainty, and inevitable death, he continues to fight. That's what really distinguishes Camus' particular brand of Existentialism, making it ideal for a long-form story like this. It takes that basic Existentialist rejection of a priori values and meaning, and emphasizes the fact that we must create value and meaning through our interactions with the world and others. Community becomes the playground for this fundamentally creative act and, as in The Plague, meaning is found in helping others. In this world, as in our own, complacency is the ultimate destructive act.
And that's why Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is forced back into action. His lack of direction and attempt to isolate himself from the day-to-day dealings with the apocalypse unfolding around him could never have resulted in anything but disaster and sorrow.
The opening moments of him driving, looking over intensely at Carol's watch, were very interesting. We don't know what's going on in his head, but there was a touch of insanity mixed with doubt in his eyes. The look on his face later in the episode — when he and Carl (Chandler Riggs) systematically machine-gun a herd of walkers — echoes back to this moment, as Rick is faced once again with a clear demonstration that others are far better equipped to deal with the new reality than he is.
Those who succumb to blind sentimentality, like the fellow who refuses to leave his son and is then murdered by him (he also shoots another patient accidentally during the attack), bring destruction and chaos. Even Hershel's attempts to soften the blatant reality of patients dying in the cellblock — by loading them on a gurney and wheeling them out before putting a knife in their brains — ultimately does more harm than good.
The shot of Hershel tossing the Bible from his pocket in order to make room for shotgun shells was a microcosm of his entire struggle, and the later scene with him alone, crying in the now-dead doctor's cell was heartbreaking. I'd even go so far as to say that this week's performance by Scott Wilson should put him in Emmy contention.
This episode, written by Channing Powell and directed by David Boyd, was one of the best in the show's history, despite postponing the inevitable conflict between Rick and Daryl (Norman Reedus). And it hit that high-water mark before we ever got to that final shot of a certain one-eyed madman lurking in the woods outside the prison!
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.