Often it’s comforting when television characters stay consistent over the years. It’s the stuff that sitcoms are based on, that feeling that season after season it will always be the same Cliff and Norm cracking jokes at the bar. With The Walking Dead, though, I feel the opposite. In place of comfort, there’s fatigue, over its characters already being back to their familiar, entitled ways.
I guess it initially made sense for Rick to feel suspicious toward the prisoner guys, since he didn’t know if they’d been convicted for violent crimes or whether they were crazy or whatever. However, once he found out those dudes just spent ten months locked in a kitchen, unaware that the world had ended, you’d think he could’ve eased up a bit. I mean, you’d think the fact that they survived all that time without killing each other would’ve indicated some level of civility among them, no? That’s more than could be said for, oh, let’s see here, Rick and Shane! But before these gentlemen even had time to process that everyone they ever loved is dead, there was Rick doing what he and his brood do best: acting like they own every joint they enter. What was this guy like at house parties? Did people just stop inviting him after a while? Is that why he and Lori have nothing to talk about other than her affair with Shane, because they spent too many Friday nights alone together in the pre-zombiefied universe?
Last week I expressed hope that the prisoners would be more fleshed out than other supporting (and main) characters we’ve encountered before. Unfortunately, that didn’t pan out. There’s such an assembly line feeling to this show sometimes, churning out humans that are as identical to one another as the zombies. Once again, Rick seemed despondent over the discovery of living people. I don’t know if a tweet signal got crossed or what but for some reason, the show’s writers seem to think more rash, unnecessary fighting was what we were missing most during the hiatus. I thought it was funny how pained Rick looked while he was considering whether or not to kill the prisoner guys considering how ultimately violent his method of doing away with them was. That ax through the head was an impulse decision, but the death by zombie mob that he subjected that other guy to seemed unnecessarily painful considering all that dude did was run for his life. The two other prisoners whose lives smug Rick spared were sequestered to another wing of the prison entirely, otherwise known as the Cell Block Where Merle, Morgan, and T-Dog’s Character Development Live. This all put us viewers right where we left off last season, palling around with a crew whom we feel neutral toward, at best.
I know there have been complaints before about there not being enough zombies on this show, but this new strategy of devoting half an episode to the rote slaying of one sluggish group of them after another isn’t working either. It’s making them feel less scary instead of more, and also way more fake, and that’s a real problem. By far the most frightening moment of last night’s episode was when Lori was “saving Hershel’s life” (we’ll come back to that in a minute) by giving him mouth to mouth and we weren’t sure whether he was alive or undead. The fact that I was able to feel stressed out during a possible Lori-gets-bitten moment is a real testament to the power of suspense when done right.
That mouth-to-mouth thing means that the magical medical miracles are no longer confined just to Hershel’s farmhouse. I’m not sure how it works, exactly. Maybe Hershel did some sort of ritual during Top Chef night where he was able to confer his powers onto Carol and then head mean girl Lori made her share some with her. I just don’t know! The group sure were in awe of Carol, though, when she explained how gauze bandages work. “These will help prevent in-fec-tion.” Not that I want to pick on Carol too much. Now that Andrea is gone, Carol’s been remade into the resident female badass who's grown tougher in the wake of the tragic loss of a loved one, and I have to say, I’m finding this new role much more appealing than her previous weepy one.
I’m not sure I can even handle getting into Lori and Rick’s talk. Or rather their non-talk where they threatened to one day make us listen to them talk. Lori once again can’t seem to keep tabs on Carl, even though last week it was made pretty clear that there was only a very limited swath of prison that they’d managed to clear out. It’s not like the old days where young Carl had the entire zombie-infested countryside to wander around in unsupervised. After all that talk of the importance of finding the infirmary last week, I thought it would entail an epic (or at the very least on-camera) battle followed by a triumphant loading up of backpacks with antibiotics and ultrasound equipment. Even though I know it was foolish to get my hopes up, honestly I was hoping for sort of a mix between the Pretty Woman shopping spree montage and that immensely satisfying scene in War Games where Matthew Broderick is locked in the FBI infirmary and he rifles through the desk drawers looking for materials to rig an escape plan with. Instead, we were given never-nude Carl with his sheriff hat covering up what I’m beginning to suspect is a bald spot moseying in with his duffel full of bandages. He got it all by himself, too, only taking out a couple of zombies in the process.
The only other plot advancement we had this week was a feeble one. After an hour, Hershel opened his eyes. He is now missing a foot, which doesn’t exactly instill me with confidence that we’ll be leaving the prison anytime soon. It’s like his inability to walk is a down payment, with Lori’s baby being the monthly installments. I know the task The Walking Dead writers have before them isn’t an easy one. I realize it’s hard to make something as repetitious as brainless zombies fresh and new each week. But you know, for years Cheers managed to make a single location full of intoxicated characters who mostly remained seated never feel claustrophobic and stale. So it’s not like it has never been done before.