Walking Dead Episode 203
The one week every show on TV gives us special Halloween episodes, Walking Dead shrugs and says, “It’s Halloween 24/7/365 around here, bitches.” Instead we get an episode about loss, grief, and tragedy, and how the last casualty of war is hope.
The survivors are surely fighting a war at this point. It’s a strange war, with one side reduced to pockets of resistance fighting against an army with no generals, no political motives, no real goals at all other than the total annihilation of the enemy. In other words, it’s war in which surrender is not possible. Unless you kill yourself, and even then you might end up hanging from a tree, recruited for the other side post-mortem.
This episode featured some tight writing, blending the action with the slower moments effectively. It also played with some different ways to evoke tension in the audience. For instance, we start out seeing Shane at some point in the future, shaving his head (his head wasn’t shaved when we last saw him with Otis at the high school). This would seem to sap the tension from the whole episode, since now we know Shane survives the escape from the school. Yet we know by his drastic head shaving that something traumatic happened. What was it? Did Otis make it? Did they not return with the supplies in time to save Carl?
When we get to the high school and see Shane and Otis fleeing the herd, we’re back to good old white knuckle zombie terror. I’ll admit that, despite all my complaining last week, the character development in this series really raises the stakes for the zombie scenes. It goes beyond simply liking the characters. Everything is so interconnected that we see all the consequences of someone getting taken out by zombies. If Andrea were to die, we worry not just about her but about the pain it would cause Dale. We’re worried about Shane and Otis, but also Otis’ wife and Lori, Rick and Carl.
Lori loses hope in the face of the impending death of her son. Everything she said seemed perfectly logical, from her perspective. I know plenty of people who’ve expressed similar doubts about having children, and they don’t even live in Walking Dead world. Saying it out loud when Carl hadn’t actually died yet seemed pretty cold though. Oh, but he saw a pretty deer! Well, as long as he’s got something worthwhile to live for, by all means, let’s try and save his life.
The remnants of the gang back at the motorhome didn’t accomplish much of note. Sonia cried. Dale was pathetic. Andrea was bitchy. Daryl was awesome. Can we just have a show about Daryl and his travels through the zombie apocalypse, sharing morsels of redneck wisdom? “Don’t wipe your ass with poison oak, son.” The interactions back at the Greene farm were more enlightening — Maggie and Glenn’s chat about prayer gave us some welcome insight into the characters. It’s a tough subject to tackle realistically, because how anyone’s religious feelings change in that kind of situation is not only deeply personal, but also impossible to predict. It seems inconceivable to me that anyone could continue believing in god in the face of such relentless tragedy, but there are plenty of people who’d see it all as direct evidence of heavenly wrath.
Speaking of heavenly wrath, Shane would probably be going straight to hell if he wasn’t already there. Fleeing the high school, he shoots Otis in the leg, wrestles with him for a few precious moments to get the supplies away from him, wastes another bullet on him, then leaves him to an agonizing death, shredded limb from limb by zombies. It was an incredible and stunning betrayal. The problem is, it didn’t make any sense. Otis had just offered to sacrifice himself holding off the zombies while Shane escaped. Why not just take him up on his offer? Or at least just shoot him in the head? No wrestling delay, no wasted bullet, no horrific death for Otis. I just don’t get it.
Before we wrap this up, time for another zombie ecology lesson. The latest issue of Scientific American had a short piece about a virus that infects gypsy moth larvae. It completely changes the caterpillar’s behavior, causing them to hang out on leaves during the day, when they’d otherwise be hiding on branches. It also makes them stop molting and continue feeding while moving up to the top of the tree. There they become, as the article puts it, “virus-filled sacs” that burst and rain virus down onto the leaves for other caterpillars to eat, infecting them too.
Now, many viruses are only transmittable by direct contact with bodily fluids. If it is extremely deadly, the virus’ hosts will tend to die before the virus can be transmitted. The gypsy moth virus has found a way around this by killing the host in a spectacular, virus-spreading manner. The zombie virus in Walking Dead has evolved another solution — somehow animate dead bodies, causing them to become vectors for the disease even after the host has died (how the metabolic energy for shambling around is provided is a question that might not stand up to this kind of scientific scrutiny — photosynthesis, maybe?).
This week’s episode gave us a strange clue to the nature of the virus. Zombies will consume dead flesh (they ate the legs off of the tree hanger Daryl and Andrea found), and a bitten dead body will become a zombie. However, the zombies seem to know when a corpse is already infected, because they don’t stop to eat other zombies that have been felled by gunshots. In other words, the hunger instinct in the zombies is only being triggered insofar as it helps to spread the virus. Interesting.