“There is no army. No government. No hospitals. No police. It’s all gone.”
Episode 2 picks up where its predecessor left off; the group is in the cafeteria, trying to save Hershel’s life under a familiar red and white sign that proclaims, “Emergency First Aid.” If this isn’t an emergency, I’m not sure what is. Maybe I don’t know enough about tourniquets, but it seems no one is concerned about keeping any pressure on the one Rick rigged up prior to his impromptu amputation. It seems that would be a big help in addition to keeping pressure on the stump, but I’m not a doctor.
The prisoners are aghast when the men try to open the door, but T-Dog announces, “We got this.” While I admire his spunk (and sensible dress, and sharp increase in dialogue), the scrambling panic at the end of the last episode would suggest otherwise. Still, he stabs the riot walker with precision and the gang wheels Hershel back to the home cellblock on a trolley, leaving his leg and the prisoners behind.
There is a predictable flurry of panic, but overall constructive. The prisoners, for lack of better ideas, are following the gang, leading to some charming exchanges between Daryl, T-Dog, and the man clearly the prisoners’ leader. They have been keeping track of time, locked in the cafeteria for 292 (294) days and waiting for salvation. They are clever enough to realize that for civilians to break into a prison it mean there’s nothing left outside the walls.
The confirmation of this gives instant insight into the hearts of these people; Tomas, their leader, is only interested in taking back ‘his’ cellblock and reclaiming his possessions, while the others struggle to grasp the enormity of events that have transpired while they were cloistered away. They inquire about borrowing a cellphone to check on their moms, kids, and ‘old lady’ like any decent-hearted person would upon hearing everything outside the prison is in ruins. Daryl, T-Dog, and Rick exchange looks, ill at ease with the situation and already understanding it isn’t likely to work.
They persist in trying, though, negotiating a food-for-labor scenario that is more fair than it needs to be; these convicts have no real concept what is awaiting them and would be easy victims to the walkers still filling the prison. As most of the prisoners still grapple with the news of what the world has become, Tomas goads Rick and tries to renegotiate the food distribution. We learn they’ve been using the freezer as a septic tank (thank you for answering that question), and Mustache observes hopefully, “Can’t wait for my own pot to piss in.”
Back with Hershel, Carol tackles the difficult questions with a compassionate lack of hostility, asking if Lori is worried about what will happen to her and the baby if Hershel dies. Lori plays it off to maintain her veneer of decency, but her distress is clear. Beth and Maggie deal calmly enough when Glenn handcuffs Hershel to the bed (and why wouldn’t you handcuff him wall-side instead?), even though the girls have radically different perspectives on Hershel’s prospects. Beth is seen altering a pair of Hershel’s pants so he won’t trip over them, while Maggie is the heart of pessimistic realism. To wit, she even asks Glenn, “Am I the only person living in reality here?”
It’s a variation of a question I ask of at least one character every episode, and in a similar way so is Glenn’s statement in response, “I’m not expecting [the worst]; I’m just prepared.” This is precisely why Rick has left him behind to ‘deal with’ Hershel if the need arises. It also shows that Rick has not formed a full picture of Maggie’s character, though I’m wondering if this is because he doesn’t thinkshe’s capable, or if he is transferring his worry about whether he would be able to do likewise in that situation.
Hershel has been teaching Carol a bit of medicine, which is probably the smartest thing ever in an undead apocalypse. We get a good scene of Lori’s manipulations but Rick is different now, shrewd and able to see through her machinations. He also seems tired, like he’s resigned and can’t bring himself to care. Rick risks himself and the others yet again to prevent taking human lives, even though it’s clear at least one convict is a serious liability. Still, the menfolk take the convicts to fight walkers and claim another cell block. Big Tiny looks endearingly alarmed and we see as they try to bludgeon walkers to death that they still aren’t comprehending what they’ve been told.
Maggie asks for some time alone with Hershel and I really thought she might mercy kill him to spare him from the surety of changing. Instead, she does what none of the others can be compassionate or selfless enough to do–she gives him permission to die, if that’s what he needs to do. She reassures him that she and Beth will take care of one another, thanks him for all he’s done to enrich her and provide for her, and is willing to let him go if that’s the way it needs to be. The others need him still; Beth has come far but is neither as old or balanced as Maggie, and Lori and her family need Hershel for their own self-interested reasons. It’s not a mercy killing, but it is merciful all the same.
Carl returns toting a large bag; he has done something incredibly useful and found bandages and medical supplies! Wait… he did something reckless but useful. Wait… Carl fucking wandered off again. He killed two walkers and didn’t get himself into trouble this time, but in his adolescent struggle he’s still taking unnecessary risks that will endanger himself and others, even when his intentions are good and his actions are necessary. His irritation is coming to a head with Lori and the only thing that backs him down is Beth’s reprimand, unusually sharp because she’s lost her mother and might be in the midst of losing her father as well.
Big Tiny, weakened by the horror, backs away from the group just as he’s been told not to. He is set upon by a walker and is saved by Tomas but it’s too late. In the group’s clamor over how to handle Big Tiny’s scratch, the survivors knowing what will happen and the prisoners refusing to believe it, Tomas steps in again, cleaving into Big Tiny’s head with a pry bar. It’s not that he doesn’t question it, or that he doesn’t have any compunction about killing as a preventive measure, but that he doesn’t seem to care or need a reason to kill in the first place. Here, he is clearly a Bad Man, and everyone is suddenly sure of it.
Carol pulls Glenn away, and he is able to go now that we know Maggie has the fortitude to put Hershel down if needed. We learn that Lori is officially overdue on delivering this baby, and that she had to deliver Carl via Cesarian. Though it’s disgusting there’s no protesting the cool sensibility of her thought process. “We’ve got plenty of cadavers.” She might as well practice on a walker, and she’s smart enough not to try and catch one alone.
Every small nuance of what happens as Tomas is prying the double doors open is another second of building anticipation for what has to be coming. In the tidal wave of walkers that burst in we see the man grab one and fling him at Rick, cementing his fate. Daryl rescues Rick, they are smart enough to leave him alive until the walkers are dealt with, and we get to endure an anxious moment of worry that Rick’s resolve might waver. There’s a heavy moment of hope; if Rick weakens, will Daryl come through? The signal has already been given! And just when my heart sinks and I think Rick will do something foolish, he cleaves into the man’s head with a machete.
This moment of good sense is ruined almost instantly as he tears off around blind corners chasing the only inmate that sided with Tomas, but we get a good insight into Oscar and Axel as they are stared down by Daryl and T-Dog. Rick and his quarry predictably stumble across an exercise yard of walkers, and with a moment of consideration Rick rolls the gate shut. We hear the muffled screams of the terrified man as we watch Rick’s face and see that in spite of his hard choices he is still very human. It reinforces how he’s capable of doing monstrous things without himself becoming monstrous.
This next bit gets a little muddled, what with all my screaming at the television, so I thought a visual aid was in order:
Translation: Hershel stops breathing, and Lori gives him mouth to mouth. I want to say it’s the stupidest fucking thing on this show, except I was so relieved when it looked like Hershel had turned and bit her, then so bitterly disappointed when she wasn’t dead, then relieved that Hershel wasn’t dead, then relieved when I saw Carl had a gun pointed at his mother and Beth’s father, ready to pull the trigger.
Meanwhile Rick returns to the others. We learn that Axel (I’ve been calling him Mustache, and might continue) is in prison because he “likes his pharmaceuticals,” while Oscar has failed at breaking and entering. In spite of this reassurance that these men are no murderers Rick is unrelenting and determined to keep them away from the others. The escort them to the agreed-upon cell block and we see body after body in front of cells, handcuffed and shot in the head, left to rest in tidy lines of efficient murder. These were clearly men when they were killed, and Mustache is horrified. He knew these men, and vouches for them as good people. Looking more sympathetic than either Rick or Daryl, T-Dog leaves them with a parting thought. “Take those bodies outside, and burn them.”
Hershel has survived, and looks pretty good, considering. He gives Rick the same manner of look that Dale once gave, the one that said he’d rather die than become a walker, a grim reaffirmation that he isn’t yet out of the woods but that he has the utmost faith in Rick.
Meanwhile Carol hitches up the dress on her ‘cadaver’ to reveal its belly and give me an opportunity to yell zombiegina and have it be relevant for once. The camera angle switches to watch her through the fence from the cover of some trees, and from the rustling shift it looks like someone is watching. From that viewpoint the way she has hunkered down with a scalpel could almost look like she was a walker in the midst of feeding.
We return to Lori, leaning on a railing overlooking the prison yard. She is dismissive of her skills at motherhood, saying that clearing the yard of bodies would “give Carl a place to do… whatever he does these days.” She continues to goad Rick about how she’s a bad wife in addition to a bad mother, but he can’t just up and divorce her without lawyers and all. I imagine the bit is intended to seem guilty and remorseful, but she has worn so thin by this point in the show that it seems like nothing more than another attempt to manipulate Rick’s emotions. Still, when he tells her, “We’re awful grateful for what you did,” she looks sincerely emotional, and we get a final shot through a broken prison window that might not seem like much if Carol hadn’t just been spied on from the woods.
This episode gives us a real and serious look at how Rick has grown and matured as a leader. It’s one thing to see him taking a merciless line against walkers and organizing the group, but it’s another entirely to see him pitted against another group of survivors, the leader of whom seems particularly Shane in nature. Though the title of the episode, “Sick,” can easily be written off as the lingering question of whether Hershel will live or change, the notion of sickness is explored in far more detail with the other characters, whose actions bring to mind their mental and emotional wellness.
Lori has continued her manipulations, though they don’t seem as effective anymore. Instead of twisting the others to her own needs and desires, she has forced a wedge between the only people in the world who care for her. Carl, while it seems like he is being realistic pointing a gun at his mother and Hershel, there’s also a hint of Junior Baby Psychopath looming in his disposition. Carol and Maggie have buckled down and are solid and reliable. Daryl, Glenn, and T-Dog are working as a sensible and cohesive group in this happy Ricktatorship. In spite of the majority leaning toward happy and healthy, with his family being the biggest question of mental and physical stability how long can Rick maintain his own wellness?