Walking Dead, S3:E4, “Killer Within”

“For the longest time it was all about survival; that was the only thing that mattered. I don’t know what matters now.”

While it’s from season one, it seemed particularly relevant.

After each separate group each getting a solo episode, episode 4 of the season returns to the format of the first, switching between the prison and Woodbury. The episode opens with a mysterious figure using a deer carcass to make a trail to entice walkers into the prison. Presumably, this is whomever was watching Carol practice a C-section on a walker at the end of S3:E2’s “Sick.” The only indicators of this person’s identity are a hatchet and what looks suspiciously like navy blue prison slippers.

The group is shown in another part of the prison, doing further work to make it a home by bringing their vehicles inside the gates. After some lovable double-entendre from Daryl to Maggie and Glenn, who have been caught in flagrande, the two remaining prisoners reappear and petition to join the group. Their story is heartbreaking, reminding that the group has become so cold and clinical that they’ve forgotten what it’s like to really feel, and it calls to mind a question over the episode’s title–is the killer within meant to be a murderer within the walls, or intended to symbolize the ruthless drive to survive that has overruled the group’s sense of compassion?

Rick tries to take a hard line with the prisoners; while Axel (AKA Mustache) pleads, panders, and otherwise tries to ingratiate himself in a heartwarmingly wormy fashion, Oscar continues his stoic refusal to beg, saying the group is “No different from the pricks that shot up our boys.” He’s not entirely wrong, but the group locks the pair away while they have a meeting similar to season 2’s decision to kill or free Randall. T-Dog adds, “Those two might actually have less blood on their hands than we do.” Each person has an opinion and a reason for it, but Rick stands by his original decision.

Carl and Beth exchange smiles and Hershel is given a pair of crutches and taken for his first walk since his amuptation. Everything is going smoothly for the group and everyone is looking forward; Hershel talks about racing Carl in coming days, while Daryl plans to scavenge for more ammunition and Rick plans to burn the walkers so they won’t pollute the land and ruin it for crops.

Suddenly there is a shambling horde of walkers inside the walls of the prison. The group loses composure almost instantly; splintering off into small groups and scattering in different directions. The shortage of ammo has suddenly become dire, and Hershel’s shambling on crutches, while it seemed like awesome progress only moments earlier, now makes him a sitting duck who would have been safer in his sickbed. In spite of their panicked separation each individual party seems to be clear-thinking; they are fighting for their lives with hard-earned skill, and happily the women are no longer weak links in combat scenarios.

I’d say the unthinkable happens, but what follows is hardly a surprise–T-Dog, the unfortunately sidelined and much-ignored token black character in the group, who has enjoyed a sudden sharp upswing in the amount and quality of his screen time this season, is bit by a walker. The bite is to his shoulder/neck/torso, someplace that could never be amputated to save him like Hershel, and it becomes painfully clear that he has been swiftly developed into such a witty, competent character this season so I would scream and throw things at my television when he dies.

Everyone but Carol is oblivious to his plight; Glenn machetes a walker’s head in half and they realize that someone has cut the chains. This invasion is no accident, and Rick blames Axel and Oscar, but as a klaxon wails they have larger problems, like shutting off the noise before it draws every walker from there to the Mississippi. Oscar has a little experience working with the prison’s generators, and is able to lead Rick and Daryl in that direction; suddenly, the disparate elements are uniting against a common enemy.

Carol sticks with T-Dog, prepared to shoot him before he can become a walker, “It’s the pact, remember?” but he says God will provide for him and always has. It is an odd and pretty expression of serenity that is followed by Lori in a different hallway, going into labor with only Carl and Maggie to attend her. Carl’s attention appears sharp and competent as he gets them into a safe room away from all the walkers wandering the prison.

Rick, meanwhile, is shouting himself hoarse for Lori and Carl, reminiscent of his heartbroken wailing in the show’s pilot. The groups split up further still. Meanwhile Maggie is a calm voice of reason, reluctantly prepared to deliver Lori’s baby, even when she sees that something is horribly wrong. Things are wrong everywhere; Carol and T-Dog have become surrounded, and the latter launches himself in a sacrifice charge at the walkers so Carol can escape.

Rick and crew find the generators and Oscar begins shutting them down. The mysterious figure appears; amazingly Andrew, the prisoner Rick left for dead in “Sick,” has survived and returned for revenge. While Daryl maintains his usual level of badassery to keep the walkers from overrunning the room, Oscar proves himself by grabbing Rick’s gun and shooting Andrew. As Daryl creeps up from the side with knife at the ready and waiting for Rick’s signal, Oscar hands the gun back to Rick and it seems an understanding is reached.

Lori, in a strikingly similar position to T-Dog, finds serenity in willingness to sacrifice her life so another can live. It is perhaps the first genuine and selfless emotion we see from her in the entire show–a last frantic attempt at redemption before she dies. Among her last words to Carl, she pleads, “Promise me you’ll always do what’s right. It’s so easy to do the wrong thing in this world.” She adds that the easy thing is not always right, and vice versa. Maggie, with her own businesslike serenity, performs the C-section with as much grace as could be expected from someone who had only been taught by description, and my hopes for a zombie baby were dashed as the infant lets out a gasping wail of life.

As Carl stands poised to kill his mother before she can become a walker, there is a flashback to him sitting with Rick in the barn as his father tells him there will be “no more kid stuff.” He shoots Lori off-camera, and as Maggie holds the infant he is shown hard, expressionless, like he thinks that to be a man means he is not supposed to show feelings, pain or compassion.

Returning from the generators, Daryl finds Carol’s headscarf by T-Dog’s mutilated corpse and assumes she’s dead–an amazing turnaround for the man who searched for Sophia with such fervor. The group has begun to reconvene in the yard, and the baby’s sounds draw everyone’s attention. Rick looks stunned, gun hanging at his side and fire axe dropping to the ground. Now that the crisis is over Maggie breaks, holding the baby still as Glenn comforts her. Rick rolls around on the ground in his grief, and Carl sheds a silent tear while the group stands stunned around them.

Meanwhile in Woodbury, Michonne refuses to be seduced by GOV’s cunning manipulations. He is deft, complimenting her skill as a warrior and appealing to her pride, but she is neither stupid nor willfully oblivious, and notices the bulletholes in the National Guard trucks, knowing walkers did not kill those men. He lies with ease and has an answer for everything, but she is not convinced and is prepared to leave.

Andrea is still reluctant; she wants to stay with Michonne but it is evident she’s longing for the companionship and peace Woodbury is offering. Michonne insists, “I’d rather take my chances out there than in here,” and the important thing is they’re choosing between the devil they know and the devil they don’t.

Andrea shares what little information she has about Daryl with Merle, who is suddenly forced to choose between his desire to find his brother and his commitment to a ‘good man’ who rescued him when he was in bad shape. GOV is shown practicing his golf swing, and banters with Merle about ladies being allowed at Augusta. Merle notes that “some things are worth holding on to,” and while he might be talking about sexist practices at the Masters, he might also be referring to the hope that his brother is alive. GOV is reluctant to let Merle leave to look for Daryl, but is it out of self-interest as he suggests, “this whole place would fall apart without you,” or does he not understand family because he is a complete sociopath?

Later that day Andrea has one last talk with GOV, talking about Michonne’s plan to reach the coast. He senses her reluctance and plays into it, pushing liquor (after the heavyhandedness with the tea and the aquariums full of heads, everything here is suspect) on her and giving their talk an intimate feel. He is like Professor Marvel, fishing for information he can use to make her believe in him because she so desperately wants to. He talks of his losses, the family he used to have, that aside from a framed photo in his creepy man cave might not matter at all. In another deliberate move he says his name is Phillip, a radical turnaround from his insistence in “Walk With Me.” He is enticing, and Andrea is buying into it; she wants a return to a life of worldly comforts, one where it is safe enough to take a moment and practice your long game. Her sudden reluctance leaves Michonne angry, and while it is probably not what Lori meant, we are reminded that what is easy isn’t always right.

22 thoughts on “Walking Dead, S3:E4, “Killer Within”

  1. Robb Zahm says:

    The title this time around felt a little heavy-handed, in every possible way. The Killer Within… 1) …the GOV’s little town, being the GOV himself. 2) …the jail, being Andrew. 3) …the present world’s human condition, turning everyone – even little Carl – into an agent of death. 4) …T-Dog, as the bite of a Walker is an internalized death sentence, in contrast to Rick’s successful cheat when he saved Herschel. 5) …Lori, being the rugrat who does not merely end Lori’s contribution to this whole mess, but also offers an impending death sentence to the rest of the team, as all it would take is a screaming child when stealth is required.

    But all that aside, I agree with all comments posted heretofore – this episode was a powerful tear-jerker.


    • fissionerror says:

      Good comments all, and I agree about the heavy-handedness; that’s part of why I picked the season one photo for this episode, because the symbolism of that seemed equally heavy-handed. we’re all dead inside, oh no!


      • Robb Zahm says:

        I thought that cover pic was an exceptionally good choice, given the prepositions flying around, both in this episode and in the series generally. The only thing that would have been better is the zombie baby you’d mentioned in your original post latching onto to Maggie’s arm and making her a victim of her own maternal instinct. You weren’t alone in hoping to see an undead bundle of joy as it tried to gum someone to death. I giggled a little at the thought, before the newborn finally let out an all-too-human cry for attention, ultimately dashing both our hopes.


      • Robb Zahm says:

        All I could think of was the little blue nightmare from Dawn of the Dead (2004) – not sure whether it had teeth, but I know I couldn’t stop laughing for a good five minutes after that scene. Regardless, you should be forgiven for suspecting the little ankle-biter might have a means by which to actually tear into an ocassional achilles; it seems far too easy for the geeks/walkers/biters to pull away with a stringy mouthful or two. Not that I’ve ever tried; maybe it’s easier than I would think. Regardless, I don’t suspect it would be out of place for the producers of the show to have a teething, toddling walker.

        FAILBLOG totally forgiven. And hey, if you didn’t give us something to which we could respond, our comments wouldn’t be worth much. Our posts kinda don’t make sense, taken out of context. You keep writing; I’ll keep commenting.


      • fissionerror says:

        It’s a deal! Regarding the flesh tearing thing though, obsessively rewatching Firefly episodes has taught me anything, “We’re fragile creatures, Mal.” I imagine that without the little part of our brain responsible for self preservation by keeping us from destroying our muscles and joints with overexertion we could do all sorts of things. Couple that with an utter lack of morality and drive to do anything but eat at any cost… I guess I’m just surprised zombies aren’t better climbers (Fun fact this time: in a zombie apocalypse scenario where they can climb or use tools Land of the Dead style, I’m opting out. No way.), but I suppose their lack of inhibition is mercifully offset by a lack of coordinated motor skills.


      • Robb Zahm says:

        I’ve never seen Firefly.

        Please don’t hate me.

        I think, for me, it’s the whole, “I don’t want a mouthful of someone else’s fleshy bits” thing that keeps me from learning how realistic the masticatory moments are in this or any other zombie production. But I can grasp how a lack of revulsion, bolstered by a cannibalistic urge, may make it easier for one’s teeth to rip off a chunk of human flesh as though it were being pulled from a giant gummi-bear.

        As for the “climbing zombie” thing, I appreciate the Zombie Survival Guide (Max Brooks, 2003) explanation: the zombie’s primitive brain function inhibits hand-over-hand coordination. Hell, that’s the only reason Rick and Glen get away using the fire-escape in episode 2. But in the same episode, one of the zombies outside the mall picks up a large rock to smash against the window, so they seem to comprehend simple tools, at least.

        Humanity might be in trouble…


      • Robb Zahm says:

        Wow; zombie construction workers. I’m not sure what’s more terrifying – the prospect of getting eaten alive only to rise again as a shambling, mindless corpse, or the reality that the construction on the I-81 is just as likely to get finished in the present world as it is in an undead apocalypse.

        *nota bene: the construction worker is a noble profession, and I would never dream of maligning those who would daily brave the elements, and traffic, to lay the asphalt on which our country runs. I mean the aforementioned comparison to zombies in only the most complimentary way possible.


  2. sj says:

    I was really trying not to laugh throughout Lori’s death scene. I know it probably makes me a terrible person, but it was so over the top and melodramatic that I just didn’t buy it.

    Rick’s grief, though? That I bought. And it killed me.


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