“Sick,” the second episode of this season of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” was one of those episodes that helps you forget some of the show’s past missteps. We’ve already discussed how the first episode restored that much-needed sense of desperation to the show, and that feeling is continued in this week’s episode. It also brought to bear a critical new dynamic that the previews have shown will play a larger role in this season — the idea that sometimes, the living are just as bad, if not worse, than the dead.
The encounter with the five prisoners was perhaps one of the best ideas they could have had. “The Walking Dead” needs more than the occasional fresh blood — it needs bad blood. Only a couple of times in the past two seasons did they encounter anyone who might be adversarial to their cause, and that always rang somewhat hollow. On the one hand, I’ve never really bought into the post-apocalyptic conceit that people immediately become ravening beasts who rape and kill everything in their path because of the breakdown of society. On the other hand, the end of the world is unlikely to always bring out those better angels of our nature. The show needs more to propel it than zombies chasing the cast, and this set the stage for the next obstacle rather nicely.
The prisoners were important for more than that, though. It enabled us to see one more facet of the evolution of this group’s dynamic, as Rick’s hard edges become even harder and his grip over the group is more tight than ever. It’s a good development, and I felt like the rapport of the group — all jangled nerves and jagged breaths and tightrope-taut anxieties — felt natural and just right. The tension has never felt more right than it does right now, between the new living neighbors, the ailing — and possibly failing — Hershel, and the adjustments to their new realities, the group is rightfully on edge. Much as they did in the first episode, they feel more real this season so far than they probably ever did in Season Two.
And while there’s little character development happening outside of Rick’s increasingly stoic and severe exterior, there’s much happening that is working quite nicely. Carol’s burgeoning interest in… um… anatomy is a fascinating, if somewhat perverse, development, and while pretty blond Beth is doing little other that cry and be pretty, Maggie is developing into a nice, strong character as well. Her poignant scene at what we assumed was Hershel’s deathbed was one of the more emotionally gripping ones that the show has featured.
Yet all wasn’t blood and roses this week, as the show did fall back on some of its same tired, frustrating tropes. Lori and Rick’s relationship is clearly meant to be a Very Important Topic, but it’s already rather overdone. Lori gets shaky and teary eyed and makes hollow, passive aggressive statements about how terrible she’s been, Rick clenches his jaw and stares off into the distance, there’s a minor platitude uttered, and scene, rinse, repeat. It just doesn’t feel as authentic as it should.
Worse yet… fucking Carl, who is rapidly become the most hated kid in television not named Joffrey. But Carl is much worse because he’s so poorly written, again cycling through the same stupid, tooth-grindingly aggravating scenarios. Carl runs off, Lori gets upset, the group gets frustrated, Carl acts like a brat. It’s one of the worst and most oft-repeated themes of the show, and they need to put an end to it. Carl may just be a child, but I refuse to believe that a child, after all he’s seen and experienced, could still be that ignorant and arrogantly foolhardy.
And I’d like to point out that we’ve now had 20 consecutive episodes without T-Dog being developed in any fashion whatsoever. Seriously, “The Walking Dead,” either give the man his due or kill off his token black ass. I’m severely annoyed.
So yes, there were some hiccups. Yet “Sick” was another solid entry into the series, one that, in addition to really doubling down on the blood and gore and mayhem (yet with purpose, fortunately), is putting the characters through an emotional and physical wringer. Their trials and tribulation feel more authentic and real, in all of their stomach-clenching tenseness, than ever before, and it’s making for a better show. Next week should prove to be one of the more interesting episodes, where we finally get to see more of Andrea and Michonne and the ominous Governor. But until then, we can content ourselves in knowing that our little group fights on, and isn’t going to let anything get in the way of their survival.