When The Walking Dead finds a character-based plot point it likes, it pounds them over and over again. (see: characters talking about losing their humanity, short anecdotes about old habits, moral sacrifices made killing dead people). But in well-directed episodes that focus on one of the show’s best performers, I’m all on board for another episode where characters (like Rick, once again) are learning how to let go. While the last few episodes have explored this in and out of the camp from a number of perspectives, “Internment” smartly narrows its focus down to two characters, the single most important factor in making this one of The Walking Dead‘s better thumb-twirling episodes.
Of course, putting Scott Wilson front and center certainly doesn’t hurt: a much more realized character than his earlier, more illogical days, Herschel is both a man of faith struggling to reconcile what he sees with what he tries to believe, and a father who is clinging onto a child (just about the only innocent things in the world Herschel can still protect, as we see in his interactions with the sick children), unable to see her as the strong woman she’s grown into. Wilson captures the weariness of Herschel with ease, quietly commanding the attention of director David Boyd’s camera, as the dust flew from his beard and his eyes revealed just how tired he was of all this shit. The Walking Dead often struggles with emotional weight when it comes to murder, except in rare cases like Herschel: for many, when the script demands the bullets fly, characters often abandon their ways and get to killing as the events demand, without much thought or hesitation. Herschel’s never been that way, unable to separate what he knows (Maggie as a child, the doctor as a living person) with the realities of the world (Maggie should be protecting him, and that doctor needs an ice pick in his dome immediately) – and it makes the character that much stronger in moments that would forgettable elsewhere.
A tired, horrified Herschel killing his own patients is a much more effective use of zombies than the normal, empty thrills: Rick’s shootout with Carl was nowhere near as interesting or nuanced as Herschel, but “Internment” makes enough connections between them from it feeling too much like the other dozen-plus episodes where Rick unsuccessfully tries to protect his son from something. It’s tough being a dad in this world, and Andrew Lincoln’s blank stares at random off-screen objects isn’t really conveying the dramatic weight it could… but by using Herschel and his daughter as an emotional proxy, Rick’s realizing he can no longer shelter his son (in fact, he might actually need his help) is more watchable than one might expect.
Led by Wilson, “Internment” is a well-executed episode that doesn’t need grand narrative ambitions to be enjoyable: it’s simple and contained story about the death that grows inside us (be it our souls, or the prison they live in) works really well when explored through the lens of the old preacher/farmer/weird guy who used to keep zombies in his garage. Will these stronger character bits continue when the craazy Governor arrives back in town? It remains to be seen – but while it lasted in “Internment”, it was fun to watch.
– so Bob has the cure-all? I hope those vague “medical supplies” don’t turn out to be some cure-all for the plague ravaging the cells. I suppose that after tonight, this plot probably has run out of legs, so maybe this could be a good thing.
– oh, the Governor. Let’s hope the second time is the charm.
– another note on Herschel and those two little kids he’s trying to protect: they’re ingenious little parallels to Beth (the little blonde girl who seems a bit off in the head) and the boy (Maggie, the tomboy who doesn’t mind murdering a few dozen zombies with a stick while rocking some body armor).
– Never a subtle show, “Internment” opens with Rick driving by a corpse being eaten by dogs, drawing the easy parallel to the voice over flashbacks that Rick fed her “to the dogs”, as the saying goes.
– Herschel: “A sad soul can kill quicker than germ.”
– Lizzie puts her foot in some blood, and looks at it. crazy girl on the loose!