This review contains spoilers.
Sometimes I wonder if The Walking Dead‘s insistence on changing behind-the-scenes personnel isn’t a good thing for the show, rather than a bad thing. The move from Frank Darabont to Glen Mazzara was a huge improvement; the change from Mazzara to Scott Gimple isn’t quite as dramatic an improvement, but the show still seems to be on better footing when it comes to finding a balance between character drama and crazy zombie action. It also seems to be developing some sort of consistency with its diseases, as seen by the recent sub-plot of the plague overtaking the prison.
Even if it’s not wholly scientific accurate (I’m not an epidemiologist, so your infectious disease questions should be routed to someone else), there’s a fairly consistent logic to what’s going on here in the last few episodes. The flu has been striking down adults, rather than children and the elderly; Hershel has been having people cough in his face for days and he’s somehow still fine. That mirrors the 1918 influenza outbreak that savaged the world in the wake of WWI and killed somewhere between 50 and 100 million people worldwide. Basically, that particular flu caused the body’s immune system to go crazy and attack healthy cells in an attempt to fight off the disease. The reduced immune response in the elderly and children prevented them from getting sick to the point of death—perhaps that’s why Lizzie is sick, but not dying like everyone else.
Hershel, as we see this week, has a real desire to isolate the sick and dying patients from the reality of their situation. Even though they know what happens when someone dies from the flu, since they lived through it during the Massacre In Cell Block D a few episodes back, Hershel still makes sure to sneak dead bodies out for disposal and, when the zombie outbreak inevitably happens, he lures the zombies away from the group so he can discreetly off them, rather than off them in front of people. This is also solid medical science.
At Louisville’s Waverly Hills Sanatorium, some 8000 people died from the effects of pneumonia, and the five-story building was one of the largest sanatoriums dedicated to the treatment of tuberculosis in the United States. Of course, back then, treatment for tuberculosis was fresh air, sunshine, some horrible disfiguring operations, and waiting until the person either lived or died. When the main hospital was constructed in 1924—replacing older wooden building dating back to the turn of the century—one of the added features was its infamous Death Tunnel. It’s a 500-foot chute leading from the main hospital down to the highway below, which allowed doctors and nurses to travel up for work, supply deliveries to be made, and bodies to be discreetly removed from the morgue to waiting ambulances and train cars for disposal.
These are clever real-world examples for the show to bring into its closed setting, even if it feels a bit artificial at times to have Hershel go out of his way to avoid killing zombies in front of people in the sick ward. It seems appropriate for him, though. Hershel’s only concern is the health of his patients and the safety of his family. That’s why he locked himself in with the sick and locked Maggie and Beth on the outside with the healthy. Scott Wilson has kind of a thankless role in the series, but he’s really good at conveying the optimism of a character like Hershel while still hitting the valley of sadness that Hershel hits in the moments when he’s not able to save lives. Unlike Rick, he’s able to strike the balance between being selfless and looking out for his family’s best interests.
It’s fun for The Walking Dead to have a Hershel-heavy episode, because he’s one of the more interesting characters at this point (at least until Carol comes back leading her army of zombie henchmen). Sasha and Hershel have a nice little moment or two together, and while I’m not a huge fan of Lizzie since she keeps making Season Two Carl mistakes, at least the idea that she might be crazy is kind of fun.
Channing Powell (White Collar) has turned in a pretty good script this week. One of the little touches she did with this episode was to make sure that everyone keeps pushing the blame for Carol off on Rick and that Rick has decided to tell the most likely person to snap—Daryl—some other time. There are some very good character moments, and one of the best murder-crazy Grimes family killing sprees the show has ever put to film. There was also a little undercurrent of comedy this week. Rick and Carl have some pretty funny moments, like when Rick reminds Carl to brush his teeth, and Hershel got some of the better lines this week. He told a joke, inspired some people, got to have a really funny tough-guy moment with Daryl… you can’t beat that in a script.
David Boyd, who did the brilliant Arrow in the Doorpost from last season, is back in the director’s chair. While I think the fight scenes in the prison could be a little muddled, particularly when it was a one-on-one fight, but the wider shots were all really well-composed. The herd of walkers worked incredibly well, and Hershel’s back-to-the-wall shotgun fiesta in Cell Block A was really well shot, particularly from the outside. He also did a great job emphasizing the little bonding moments between Rick and Carl without over-selling the moments. Sometimes, all you need is a meaningful reaction shot.
Another week, another good episode for AMC’s cash-cow zombie show. This season has lacked the significant ups and downs of seasons past, and while it’s tough to miss those really, really jaw-dropping moments, having a consistently entertaining experience from week to week is kind of nice. Besides, with this show, things can go from good to great at the drop of a hat. Or, perhaps, the donning of an eyepatch.
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