Given everything that happened during last night’s claustrophobic, emotionally draining, completely nerve-jangling episode of The Walking Dead — aptly called ‘Internment’ — it seems kind of a shame to jump right to the end. But, really, how do you not? The Governor’s at the gate.
In those few seconds, the tidy bit of episode assessment I was about to do about parents and children, hope for the future versus hope for the day and the notion of sacrifice suddenly took on a dozen more tentacles when the cameras went sidling off to the woods and the man lurking there turned his head.
Bam. Everything revolves around the Governor.
Assuming the medicine Daryl and his recon crew brought back saves all of the Cellblock A survivors, how many people do we have to fight the enemy at the gate? How many are actually liabilities if we have to grab our hats and guns and run? And really, how much trouble can a guy who appears to have just three meager tents and a campfire be, even if the gates are crumbling? Especially if someone who is still battling the lung bleeds just spits in his eye or his campfire coffee and kills him horribly like that?
Not much. So you know that there’s so much more to the evil lurking in the woods — and God knows where else — than meets the eye. Patch.
But let’s tend to the matters at the prison first. After last week’s multiple field trips, all of the action in Internment took place either within the prison walls or at its outer gates.
In Cellblock A, the situation has become increasingly dire. Hershel, still pushing his elderberry tea and with only the fading Glenn and Sasha to help him, intubates a dying man named Henry to keep his failing lungs filled with air instead of his own blood. Glenn asks Hershel how long squeezing and squeezing and squeezing the makeshift respirator will keep the man the alive.
“Just as long as we’re willing to do it — as long as it takes,” Hershel says firmly, willing the greater message into his son-in-law’s mind. We have to try. You have to try. Giving up kills everyone. And we’re not just talking artificial respiration.
Hershel also still insists on moving the dead out of sight of the survivors before Glenn and Sasha dispatch them through the head. There’s no reason people who are already suffering so horribly need to witness the sort of end that awaits them. Even if that means giving meddling little Lizzie some homework to do in the form of reading Tom Sawyer in a single day. And keeping a desperate Maggie from seeing her dying beloved, prescribing for her hope instead of elderberry tea.
When Rick arrives back at the prison, Maggie notices that Carol is not with him. Rick tells her Carol was Karen and David’s murderer, confesses that he banished her for the deed and asks Maggie if she would have done the same. Maggie tells him he was right to cut her loose, though she’s not sure she could have gone through with it, herself.
Next Rick heads inside to deliver food to Carl and the kids, telling his boy to make sure everyone brushes their teeth after eating the fruit leather. If you didn’t see the episode, I did not make that last part up, I swear. Rick still has one dusty leather boot still so firmly planted in the hope of a brighter tomorrow that he doesn’t want anyone heading back to the dentist with anymore issues than necessary when it arrives. Not on his watch anyway
Carl is tired of being keeper of the children and asks when they can come out of isolation. He reminds his dad that he was exposed to people who were exposed to the virus and he still hasn’t come up ill, so he could be put to better use than he is now …. just … waiting.
“Dad, you can’t keep me from it,” he tells Rick.
“From what?” Rick asks.
“From what always happens,” says his world-wizened boy.
“Yeah … maybe … but I think it’s my job to try,” says his weary father. Now eat your fruit rollup and scrub your molars, son.
Meanwhile, back in Cellblock A, Hershel finds Dr. Caleb in the end stages of the virus — from which he knows he won’t return — and in no mood for a pep talk (was Carol right, then, about Karen and David?). He tells Hershel to take the IVs he’s made, the gun he has stashed and focus on the people who stand a real chance, because if he’s not willing to lose one, he will lose them all. Also he must make sure everyone’s doors are shut when he leaves them — make sure of that. Then he gives Hershel a last look at his ghostly face, blood trickling from his eyes and mouth to drive the point home.
Leaving Caleb, Hershel comes upon another dying man who has stumbled out of his cell and collapsed. As the others watch, he and Sasha load him onto a gurney, and Hershel realizes that Sasha is too weak to make it to the killing room, much less do the job. He’s going to have to take his turn, and he does so, pulling a sheet over the decedents face before he plunges a knife into his skull.
Just then, Rick appears at the window. Hershel updates him on the death toll, telling him they are burning the corpses instead of burying them now. Then he motions to the figure beneath the sheet and tells Rick he was just talking John Steinbeck with the man whose head he just punctured — most specifically about one quote from the author’s Travels With Charley: In Search of America, which is “A sad soul can kill you quicker than a germ.”
There in a nutshell is why he doesn’t let the dying see what happens to the dead, even though he knows they know.
“When we get past this thing, it’s not going to be like how it was, is it?” Rick asks, maybe talking about the virus, maybe talking about the world, likely talking about all of it. Hershel tells him no. Rick asks Hershel if he thinks he was in denial during his Farmer Rick days. Hershel says they all just happened to catch a break when Rick needed one most. And hopefully it’s not the last.
“I still think there’s a plan,” the older man says emphatically. “I still believe there’s a reason.”
“I need to talk to you about Carol,” says Rick. Though we don’t see their conversation, Hershel is clearly troubled by it when he comes to shut the cells for the night and discovers Sasha lying in the entrance of her cell.
Around the cellblock, others are starting to turn.
Outside, Maggie and Rick continue to try to reinforce the fences with timbers. Troubled about Glenn and her dad, Maggie wants to know if Rick would be in the sick ward if Carl had the virus. “If I thought I could help,” Rick says, telling Maggie he is happy she is there helping him. Helping. With the fence. Helpers are becoming increasingly hard to find.
Coming to, Sasha says she thought Hershel was a fool coming into the sick ward, but she would no longer be there if he wasn’t one. Meanwhile, Glenn realizes that despite his best efforts, Henry has died. He tries to call for Hershel but is overcome with a coughing spasm that drops him to the floor, where Lizzie finds him just as Henry turns. Lizzie’s cries distract Hershel long enough for a walker to overtake him. Chaos ensues.
A young blond woman and the father of an ill teenager come to Hershel’s rescue, but as the man takes aim, his son — who has turned — attacks him, throwing off his aim. He accidentally shoots the young woman through the head. The gun continues to fire as the boy makes a meal of his dad. Two more walkers in the making, where once there were folks who could have been saved.
Rick and Maggie hear the shots, and Rick tells Maggie to go to her father and her man. He knows where to get help with the fence.
Lizzie manages to lure Walker Henry — the intubator still bobbing on his face — away from Glenn, calling him gently like an obedient dog. Hershel sees what is happening and when Lizzie’s boot heel catches in the grate, taking her down with Henry atop her, he is there to pick the walker up and hurl him over the railing. Scott Wilson is a wonder from start to finish in this episode.
Maggie tries to break in to the locked cellblock, but the bulletproof glass holds against her ax.
Hershel scrambles for Caleb’s cell to get the IVs and Caleb’s gun, but the good doctor is now a bad walker and Hershel does him in.
Outside Carl and Rick have a father-son bonding moment wedging timber into the fence before the whole thing gives way and they are set upon by the horde. It’s nothing that the pair and a few automatic rifles can’t handle. And it’s a zombie shootout inside and out. I don’t think we’ll be exiling Carl to monitor the oral hygiene of his peers any longer.
Hershel finally makes it to Glenn’s sides and realizes that only the intubator will save him. Unfortunately it’s still attached to Henry’s snarling face, and Henry isn’t real keen on giving it up. Coming upon her dad struggling with the walker, Maggie raises her gun to fire, but Hershel shouts to her that she’ll hit the bag and he needs it to save Glenn. Enough said. Maggie expertly takes out the walker, saving her dad, the intubation bag and hopefully her husband in the process.
Side note: After three-and-a-half seasons and countless artful zombie and human kills, Glenn vomiting up blood and ooze is the first time I’ve ever felt sick to my stomach watching the show, which puzzles me. Anybody else need a couple extra swallows, too? Or did I just have an off night?
With Maggie to hold Glenn still, Hershel tells him he knows how this works, then forces the tube down his throat. “You’re going to be OK,” Maggie tenderly tells her man. Hershel strokes his daughter’s face. Then Lizzie appears, running the toe of her boot through Glenn’s bloody emissions and asking if it’s over. Try as I might, I cannot figure out what this child is about. And I hugely look forward to finding out. Surrogate daughter for the Governor perhaps? They’ve both been left pretty left of center by their circumstances.
As Rick and Carl finish off the last of the walker horde, they spot the minivan carrying Michonne, Daryl, Bob and Tyreese speeding toward the gate in the darkness. “Dad?” Carl says before running to let them in. “Everything is going to be OK.”
Tyreese runs for his sister. Bob mixes up vaccines. Maggie tells her father to go get some rest, now that help is here. Retreating to his cell, Hershel clutches his Bible and gives in to sobs.
With the meds administered and Bob and Maggie there to handle the sick ward, Hershel takes the opportunity to head outdoors for some air. Tyreese and Daryl ask after Glenn and Hershel says he’s stable and breathing on his own.
“He’s a tough sum’bitch,” Daryl tells him.
“He is,” says Hershel.
“You’re a tough sum’bitch,” says Daryl.
“I am,” says Hershel stoutly. But only so tough.
Daryl asks about Carol. Hershel tells Daryl that she’s OK, but he’s going to have to get the details from Rick. Then he heads out with Michonne to dispose of the dead.
In the garden, Rick shares a pod of beans with his boy — eat your vegetables, son — while someone watches in the distance. Someone with an eye patch and an attitude. And Rick’s problems just got much bigger than telling Daryl he kicked Carol out.
New episodes of The Walking Dead premiere Sunday nights at 9/8CT on AMC.
Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC