11/10/2013, 9PM, AMC
Each week, it seems, we’re reminded that Carl is no longer a kid. Society codifies into its adolescents various benchmarks which, when met, signal another step toward adulthood—really, to sovereignty. Staying home alone. Going on dates. Driving. Driving to those dates. Shooting your mother’s corpse in the head. The ages at which these things happen tend to be determined for us. A nine-year-old can’t walk into his local DMV and request a permit test. While there are legitimate reasons behind those limitations, to the one they affect—to the adolescent—they are arbitrary. Who are you to tell me I’m not mature enough to stay by myself overnight?—I make some Pizza Rolls, then watch some Netflix and pass out, big deal, I’ll even set the TV sleeper. Unfortunately for Rick, his world no longer has any use for the distinction between child and man. He’s been clinging to these ideas of gradual progress for his boy, Carl. Immediacy is jarring. How can a kid cope with the realities of their world if not given the time to absorb the changes in bits and pieces—to adjust? But would kids know any better?
Carl’s spent the better part of two seasons stepping into the new role a zombie-ridden world demands of him. He’s cooled. He’s hardened. He’s abandoned the romance and hope and whim of a mind and imagination unfettered by the learned rules of reality. Rick’s done what he could to discourage this, but it’s inevitable. How often has The Walking Dead recycled Rick’s need to quarantine Carl from the abounding raw despair? It returns again in “Internment,” but in its twilight. As the fences are giving way to a hoard and most everyone else present is occupied in the sick block, Rick fetches Carl for reinforcement. He finally hears his son. Carl, suddenly patient this season, reiterates the futility of protecting innocence now. Rick responds: “Maybe. But I believe t’s my job to try.”
This tension between father and son isn’t new for the show, but it’s a double-edged device. It confirms Carl’s unsettling competence in this world. We’ve known this. However, since “Infected,” Rick has slowly begun to embrace the realities around him. There is no saving this world or the people of it. He couldn’t bring Shane back. He couldn’t protect Laurie. He can’t save Carl’s soul. At the end of the first season Dr. Jenner cautioned Rick against his persistence in combating reality. Tragedy is going to happen. This world is going to front you with a lurches of despair you can’t see coming. Rick has not consigned himself to Jenner’s despondency, but in each episode this season we’ve seen Rick behave in a more heroically determined way than at most points last season. It’s almost as if each season has marked a stage grief in Rick’s mourning over the fallen world.
Working against Rick thematically this week is Hershel. The state of the sick block occupies the majority of “Internment,” as the inevitable finally mounts. People die, and they die in droves. This of course cause significant problems for Hershel, the only useful adult locked away in there. “Interment” opens with Hershel and porously ailing Glenn disposing of a body. They wheel it out on a gurney before stabbing it in the temple. Glenn remarks about Hershel having not yet performed the newest protocol in burial ceremony. Hershel explains the need for a separation from brutality. There’s an underpinning of psychology to the nobility inflated in Hershel by the writers. Even in the direst circumstances we can cling to dignity.
The exchange instills a more nuanced purpose to an ultimately spoon-fed plot. It’s not that “Internment” is structured with any less care than other episodes. It’s that the payoffs here are ones we’ve been waiting weeks for. They were just as inevitable as Carl proving a capable partner to Rick. This plague was bound to take more people, and that only a few of the many sick had died meant that it was likely the rest would go at the same time. The episode builds to the final set piece when mayhem does set loose, but along the way Hershel directs Lizzy to read Tom Sawyer, forbids Maggie from coming into the sick block, cares for those closest to death, and refuses to shed the blood of corpses or zombies in front of any unnecessary eyes, particularly those of children. He’s had to repeatedly assure Rick that the horrors of the world are what they will be. All they can do to be prepared is to understand they’re coming and have values to fall back on other than survival. Here, we see him live out that credo. His efforts are genuine, but their end result is entirely artificial. Who still living hasn’t seen regularly violence and brutality? It isn’t about fooling oneself, though, it’s about remembering the minor things—the ones that, with repetition, have more formative powers than whatever larger awareness you have. The enormous gloom of it all cannot be combated on its terms. Go small or go home.
David Boyd directs the sick block sequences with suspense and ultimately grim horror, but it’s that extra bit of purpose in Hershel’s goodness that keeps “Internment” from being dull. The writers try him and his efforts over and over, holding out reward until the very end. Hershel’s days may be numbered—he saved a near dead Glenn, cleared out a sudden zombie outbreak, and generally sacrificed his well-being for those whose chances of survival were very slim, and all of that is way too generous for The Walking Dead—but the man will not go out wrong. He represents too much for characters who will outmatch his longevity. Has Hershel seemed any more necessary than as we crosscut between his protecting the children and Rick and Carl mowing down infiltrating zombies?
In terms of larger narrative, “Internment” doesn’t offer much excitement until the end, when Daryl asks about Carol. The episode ends before he gets his answer, meaning that likely he and Tyreese will find out in the same span about Carol. Rick seems to have Hershel and Maggie’s support in his decision. He likely won’t receive the same understanding from Daryl and Tyreese, for radically disparate reason. There wasn’t a lot of suspense built up in regards to the outcome of the plague, so its climax feels like the show checking that box off before it became inertia. Who died and who lived could’ve been pulled off with more mystery, but I’m glad the show isn’t, relatively, dawdling. It’s an effective episode, all the way through its last shot, but it lacks the inspiration to have closed off these plotlines in an arc concealing them within the season’s larger ambitions. The show takes a moment to tie some things up. It’s a stilted break in the season’s pacing, with plotting that required little new writing, but on we move. And, ladies and gentlemen, the Governor’s back.
- I am not a fan of what happened to this character last season, but the Governor provides The Walking Dead with something it’s ever in desperate need of: tangible opposition.
- Because I will always choose to have faith in writers rather than bag on them: There’s no way that pea pod was a serious metaphor, right?
- The group’s defense instincts have been inferior from the start at the prison. With time enough to formulate government and cultivate crops and livestock (ah, pigs), could they not have scavenged towns for metal sheets or lumber that could’ve sanely fortified the simple chain-link fence? Remember what Morgan did by himself?
[notification type=star]62/100 ~ OKAY. It’s that extra bit of purpose in Hershel’s goodness that keeps “Internment” from being dull.[/notification]