There are a lot of ways we can find hell on Earth, and there are even more in the world of The Walking Dead. And while the plague story has veered dangerously close to overstaying its welcome (like so many storylines in this show), ‘Internment” wrapped it up with an absolute nailbiter of an episode. It did so by preying on our darkest fears, something the show often does quite well, and by showing us some of those hells.
Hell on earth is four dying people, sweating, exhausted, trying to save the lives around them — or at least provide them some comfort in their final hours and minutes. It’s Hershel trying to bring some levity to a sick ward with jokes about spaghetti, while Glenn does all he can to hold back his own raw terror. It’s having a doctor gaze into your eyes as blood pours out of his, forcing Hershel to accept the horrible truth. Hell is a doctor who hasn’t lost hope, but who knows that for himself, there is none.
Hell is Rick having to listen to words of uncommon wisdom from his son, who he’s fought so hard to save from having to face the darkness. Hell is finding the walls falling down around you in the dead of night, and having to ask your child for help putting them back up. It’s having to give him a gun and watch as he cuts through a horde of corpses without hesitation, treating them like the meat that they are. It’s knowing he’s doing it right, even if Rick wishes that it didn’t come so easy. Hell is walking through a field of corpses, driving spikes through their brains, and realizing that’s a bonding exercise in this nightmare of a world.
Hell is realizing that Glenn and Hershel and Sasha can’t do it all, can’t save everyone, can’t even keep themselves upright. As the sick get sicker, hell is watching their saviors wheel away their friends so that they don’t have to witness their bloody fates. It’s watching them fall just as they try to help. Hell is realizing that the angels of mercy are dying in that hole with you. Hell is when the hero has to kill the ones he wants to save.
Worst of all, hell is realizing that your weakness is why it can’t be contained. And so it’s also a little girl luring a dead man away, in the hopes that she can do something to help. It’s a friend collapsing, your doctor dying, and a man’s daughter saving him even as she may well be condemning herself. Hell is knowing that she has done it for all the right reasons, which is the worst reason of all.
Hell came from all sides this week, from outside and within. It proved a rite of passage for so many of them, for Rick, who now knows things can never go back to what they were, for Carl, whose father sees him as more than before, for better or worse. It was for Maggie, who learned just how far she’d go. Perhaps most of all, it was a trial for Hershel, who not only lost more than he saved, but also had to kill his own patients — in fact, this may well have been Scott Wilson’s finest hour of acting thus far.
‘Internment’ was the much-needed end to the hell that was the sickness that devastated the group and obliterated the population. It was a terrific storyline, one that allowed for conflict and danger and horror and tragedy — and did so in a different and unique fashion. But it also had to end, and the showrunners ended it well. They thankfully didn’t let it drag on like they did the inconsistent third season or the utter slog that was the second. Instead, they simply used it as a way to present new challenges, to strengthen and harden the group, to almost break them. But also, to split them apart. There remain unresolved issues — Carol’s fate is going to bring them back to a breaking point, I suspect. Tyreese’s rage will be matched only by Daryl’s. Rick’s decision will be contentious, to say the least. And lurking at the gates, silently watching, is their old foe, ready to destroy them even as they try to rebuild. Hell isn’t just being trapped in a prison surrounded by the dead and the dying. Hell is also what comes afterwards.