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“Infected,” the second episode of The Walking Dead’s fourth season, is an incredibly balanced hour – a feat the show doesn’t often pull off. In the midst of the blood, gore, and high body count, the heart of the episode is a look at how various characters are truly acclimating to the new post-Governor world. Most interestingly, the series appears to be sticking to its promise to develop its female characters into actual flesh and blood characters to rival the complexity the show has already allowed its male stars.
So far this season, Carol, Beth, and Michonne have already spoken more sentences than any of the three have to this point. Even more impressive is that the three characters have also interacted with more characters in these last two episodes than they have all throughout the series. A huge improvement.
This new version of Carol is showing us the strong woman we all knew she could grow into. The Carol from season one would never believe she could not only be a leader and a teacher, but also a pragmatist who is unafraid to fight against those forces that seek to dominate her. Seeing Carol maintain her maternal side while taking a dying father through his last moments with his daughters one moment, followed by Carol teaching those same girls that strength comes from within as well as through force is an excellent juxtaposition of what makes Carol such an amazing character. I’m thrilled the show has continued to allow her to develop.
Similarly, the conversation between Beth and Michonne is a great set-up for what I can only assume will be Michonne’s long-awaited backstory. Her reaction to baby Judith is extremely telling, and I hope we don’t have to wait too long to see what it stems from. Likewise, Beth is turning into a character that may become more complex than her sister Maggie. Like Carl, Beth is a teenager coming of age in a dark time. We’ve already seen she has learned that life is fleeting, which may cause her to become as jaded as Carl. Part of me hopes Beth can come through this emotionally unscathed, but I’m fairly certain there will be some dark times ahead for our favorite songbird.
In addition to the show’s female characters, “Infected” also allowed for characterization strides for Rick and Carl. Whereas last week saw Rick on a quest to find himself, this week has father and son together for much of the action. Rick has spent the time from the end of season three through the fourth season premiere refusing to allow either Carl or himself the ability to fight. He believes that by adopting a pacifist attitude and tending to the prison garden, he can save Carl from the horrors of the world and protect his own sanity. Unsurprisingly, this turns out to be an impossible task, as both he and Carl are pulled back into the world Rick so wanted to block out.
Seeing Rick once again take charge and become the leader the group will need in the coming months is refreshing. I’ve enjoyed the temporary break from Sheiff Rick, and I love the creation of the council, but Rick is our true protagonist, and he needs to be in the thick of the action. Having Rick sit on the sidelines and mope does nothing for the show or the character. It is telling that Daryl tells Rick he’s earned the break he’s taking, but that no one expects him to sit things out forever. As Rick straps on his gun at the episode’s end, Sheriff Rick returns, knowing nothing he says or does can protect Carl from the world. His best bet is to make sure Carl is able to face what is to come head on.
If the rest of the season can present episodes with character development layered with interesting zombie attacks, I’ll be a happy camper. My major gripe with the show is that episodes are often either character based with little zombie action or full of zombies at the expense of character. But, when the show gets it right, it’s a compelling and interesting hour of television that isn’t equaled. This week was a great example of a strong story merged with great action.
-- While The Walking Dead certainly has no qualms killing central characters, my one gripe about the zombie attack is that no one we really cared about died. Yes, Karen is killed at the episode’s end, but frankly, I really don’t care about her. Even worse, I know we’re supposed care about Tyrese (and he is a lovely guy), but we’ve spent so little time getting to know him, I don’t care that his girlfriend was murdered. Perhaps if we finally got his backstory (and Michonne’s, and Bob’s, etc.) these deaths wouldn’t feel so much like redshirt killings.
-- It’s been a while since the awful “Search for Sophia” storyline. But, I guess the one good thing to come out of it was the ever present knowledge that Carol is a mother who desperately wants to prevent what happened to her child from happening to any other child. If giving Carol a clear purpose within the show’s storyline is what came out of that drawn out mess of a story, I guess I can forgive the show for it.
-- I’m not sure how to feel about how excited I was to see Lizzy (Lindsay? Again, I'm not 100% sure on the name) take the knife from Carol at the end. I hope she and Carl grow up to be incredibly badass leaders of the group.
-- I’m intrigued to see if the person who killed Karen and the gentleman from Decatur (I can’t remember his name) is the same person luring the walkers (It has to be the same person, right?). And, even more importantly, I hope I know who this person is when his or her identity is revealed.
-- Kudos to the specical effects team, led by Greg Nicotero, for the excellent work on the prison attack. Great make-up and effects.