The Walking Dead Recap: “Infected”, Season 4, Episode 2

by J. Lamb (Snoopy Jenkins)

Walking-Dead-Season-4-PosterThe Walking Dead, AMC’s smash-hit zombie apocalypse action-drama, owes much of its success to the general interest in and support for gore-infested violence by American audiences. This season’s premiere raked in 16.1 million viewers, and devoured more 18-49 year old view attention than this season’s N.F.L. games. Thanks to Jenn Reappropriate’s conference commitments, I watched and live-tweeted “Infected!”, last-night’s episode , and my perspective and mild spoilers follow.

Robert Kirkman’s dystopia appealed as a comic because, during most of its run, the narrative focus highlighted human survivors. Rick’s post-traumatic insanity, Sophia’s alternate mental universe, Carl’s sociopathic nihilism, and even Michonne’s clumsy sexuality all fell within what reader would recognize as human responses to the unreasonable events presented by The Walking Dead. One of the most useful moments in the comic happens somewhere in the Prison, when Rick, in a frenzied monologue, explains the nature of the new world no meek can inherit.

“The second we put a bullet in the head of one of those undead monsters — the moment one of us drove a hammer into one of their faces — or cut a head off. We became what we are! And that’s just it. THAT’s what it comes down to. You people don’t know what we are.

We’re surrounded by the DEAD. We’re among them — and when we finally give up we become them! We’re living on borrowed time here. Every minute of our life is a minute we steal from them! You see them out there. You KNOW that when we die — we become them. You think we hide behind walls to protect us from the walking dead?

Don’t you get it? We ARE the walking dead! WE are the walking dead.”
― Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead, Vol. 5: The Best Defense

So far this season, The Walking Dead has challenged viewers to respect the drive of many of the survivors to forge lives of respectable domesticity; from Maggie’s openness to childbearing to Rick’s agricultural pursuits, Kirkman and co. present life at the Prison not as something to be tolerated, but as something malleable, improvable, like fertile black soil. I wish I could believe this. The dramatic arc requires that viewers buy into Rick’s weary relinquishment of camp authority, that we respect the dangerous ignorance of Woodbury refugee children as beautiful innocence. Last night’s episode punctuated commercials with characters who convey their unwillingness to relinquish their souls through domestic activities that appear unreasonable in a zombie apocalypse.

Michonne does not hold babies while others fight, damn it!

Michonne does not hold babies while others fight, damn it!

Michonne’s beleaguered rage when holding Rick’s infant daughter does not emerge because of a discomfort with new life’s soft beauty; it’s the barely checked anger felt by someone who rationally approaches the zombie apocalypse with martial force, personally delivered. Michonne defends herself. Beth, Carol, and others often rely on others to defend them, and outsource the moral and practical questions imposed by a nation of undead. But of course, Kirkman and co. can’t write a scene where a woman rejects motherhood in America, so we watch Michonne’s face morph from incensed feminist to nurturing aunt, her maternal instincts activating like a Marvel Comics’ secondary mutation. Be careful what you wish for with those feminist icons, ladies.

Getting it.

Getting it.

Though the show’s interactions with race and sex are scarcely better. Jenn Reappropriate wrote earlier about the historic sea-change for Asian American male portrayals the character of Glenn Rhee presents audiences today; never was that more true than in this episode, where Glenn is the only sexually successful male on the show. Norman Reedus’ rugged good looks can’t save Darryl’s backwoods charm from wasting itself on Carol, and without Lori, Rick’s more comfortable with pigs than people. And then there’s Tyreese – easily the most physically imposing character yet seen on The Walking Dead, Chad Coleman’s Tyreese spends much of this episode allowing his own tension about the horrid morality of their world to prevent him and Karen from enjoying the warmer moments of the human experience.

It’s not implausible, I guess – but I’m having a hard time with the notion that relative safety from zombie gore affords other characters the time for playful camera moments while Tyreese goes Drake emo over the same zombies that have lived outside the gates for several months. Again, we are supposed to buy into the fiction that different characters have different interactions with their own humanity given their time spent zombie murdering for the sake of the community, but Kirkman and co. have only written opposing poles. Either you lose something vital to your psychology to directly confront the world as it is now (Rick, Darryl, Michonne) or you practice avoidance.

Really, that’s still my general problem with The Walking Dead. In our real world, people have multiple avenues to analyze problems and enact solutions, and the writing on this show routinely pretends that only two ever exist – the moral one that preserves your good name at the cost of your life, or the one you do to live and hate yourself. Carrying a pistol for safety need not end childhood. Teaching the young about knives does not make anyone in need of a hemlock chaser. And no, saving humans with the other white meat doesn’t make one irredeemable. It makes one intelligent.

No one hired me for my softer side.

No one hired me for my softer side.

The Walking Dead comic made these psychological and philosophical questions work, because the focus was always on the humans; calling zombies ‘walkers’ made the horde appear vast and anonymous, like thunderstorms or wasps. But the success of AMC’s television adaption derives directly from the blood and gore, the incessant red macabre guaranteed in every episode. This death exploitation is the focus, so unlike the comic, we deal with the ethics and the morals in between zombie skull stomps and undead decapitations. This leads to simplified thinking and cheaper writing. So Kirkman and co. have a frustrated brother spend an episode avoiding sex and being denied sex, just to offer a parting discord on the transitory nature of life in prison. Here’s hoping he likes his catfish blackened.

Advertisements