The Walking Dead Review: "Sick"
If the writers spent as much time working on character development as they did on conjuring cool-looking ways to kill walkers, then the The Walking Dead would undoubtedly be great.
The Walking Dead continues to disappoint. It opened with a wonderful premise that seemed to promise the kind of existential dilemmas and taut storytelling that has been the fodder of AMC’s heavy hitters. Indeed, sharing its network with shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men suggested that TWD might lift the horror genre to new heights. And the first mini-season seemed to make good on that promise. In season 2, however, the show really “Pulled The Zombie Out of The Well” (TWD’s own version of “Jumping The Shark”). In a scene that was completely pointless from a plotting standpoint, since the group had two other un-contaminated wells available, The Walking Dead revealed itself to be a show that was really only about one thing: the gore. If the writers spent as much time working on character development as they did on conjuring cool-looking ways to kill walkers, then the The Walking Dead would undoubtedly be great. The problem, in a nutshell, is that we’re now into three seasons with these characters, and their struggles conjure little emotion in the viewer. It’s all just buildup toward the next inevitable death.
“Sick” opens up right where “Seed” left off. After chopping off Herschel’s leg in an attempt to stave off infection, Rick and the group discover a handful of prisoners who have been locked up, and are unaware of all that has happened on the outside. They quickly rush Herschel back to their new home on the cell block, with Carol and Lori attempting to dress the wound. It’s unclear whether or not Herschel will live; he spends the majority of the episode unconscious. Meanwhile, Rick and the group have a new problem: the prisoners want their cell block back. After some tense back and forth, the two groups strike a bargain: Rick and co. will help the prisoners clear out their own cell block in exchange for half of their food supply. They give the men a quick walker-killing lesson (“go for the brain”), and set out.
It becomes clear that the leader of the prisoner group has it in for Rick. He attempts to kill Rick by throwing a walker toward him, but Daryl comes to his aid. The episode’s darkest scene follows, with Rick telling the man, “I get it. Shit happens.” Then, in what has to be one of TWD’s goriest deaths, he thrusts his machete into the prisoner’s skull. Rick’s devolution from the ethical leader of the group to a nihilistic killer may be the most believable theme The Walking Dead has going. Given the circumstances, Rick has had to adapt to survive–and that’s involved killing several people. Andrew Lincoln has done fine job depicting the toll that these actions have taken on Rick’s soul.
Rick’s devolution from the ethical leader of the group to a nihilistic killer may be the most believable theme The Walking Dead has going.
The episode’s best scene saw Maggie comforting Herschel, telling him it was okay to let go. The fact that he had been handcuffed to the bed, in the event that he did turn into a walker, made the scene all the more chilling. It was truly scary to watch, and a commendable use of tension rather than gore to advance the plot. Herschel’s injury introduces another problem for the group, as he was the only one capable of delivering Lori’s baby. And, in a short aside, Carol kills a female walker to practice giving a C-section delivery in the event that Herschel does not live. Fortunately for the group, Herschel wakes up near the end, and it appears, for now, that he will live.
I have not read Robert Kirkman’s critically acclaimed graphic novel on which the show is based. I did, however, stumble upon a great review of the 100th issue by critic Lee Sparks. In the article, Sparks argues that “the fans [of The Walking Dead] are masochists,” and the series subscribes to a formula whereby the “essentially good characters” meet the most tragic ends. Watching or reading, therefore, becomes an exercise in self-punishment. We saw it in Amy’s death in season 1, and in Sophia and Dale’s deaths in season 2. And so, knowing that this is the show’s M.O., why do we continue to watch? Perhaps the recognition of being manipulated contributes to the problems with the show’s character development. The fact that the characters act only as pawns in the show’s attempt to shock its audience undermines any attachment we might feel toward them.