This week’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Internment,” was an emotional rollercoaster that had me on the edge of my seat for the entire hour. The episode was written by Channing Powell and directed by David Boyd. For her first episode, Powell delivered plenty of action, but also displayed a nuanced and sensitive appreciation for what makes these characters tick. Boyd’s directing experience provides the support for the actors to deliver some extremely powerful performances, but Boyd is particularly known as a cinematographer and this episode is beautifully shot.
The opening scene is on dead leaves being blown around on the road by the passage of Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) car – this is a wonderful symbol for the death of his connection with Carol (Melissa McBride), her humanity having essentially dried up and blown away. Most of the episode takes place deep within the prison with the members of the group in quarantine and these shots are beautifully dark and atmospheric, relying heavily on lighting from lanterns and the play of light and shadow. These scenes are contrasted with the end scene between Rick and Carl (Chandler Riggs) in the garden. This scene is bright and sunny as father and son share a quiet moment in Rick’s version of Eden – an idyllic place of peace. It’s significant that they share peas out of a pod as father and son are becoming as alike as peas in a pod. It is also significant that Rick has retreated to his sanctuary, perhaps one last time, to avoid having to confront Daryl (Norman Reedus) with the truth about Carol. Even more telling, is the switch from the garden to a shot of the Governor (David Morrissey) lurking outside the prison walls. A nice move from heaven to hell, if you will. The episode under Boyd’s direction also makes powerful, lyrical use of music throughout the episode, but notably in the opening shot which begins with just the rustle of the leaves, Hershel (Scott Wilson) killing his first zombie, and finally, the scene in which Hershel breaks down.
I think it may be impossible to find words sufficient to describe the performance given by Wilson in this episode. He is simply magnificent in each and every scene, delivering a master class in acting. The episode is centered on Hershel’s journey as he tries to save as many as he can. His basic philosophy to keep everyone focused and busy comes into play again in this episode and really seems to be what gets Glenn (Stephen Yuen) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) through. There’s no doubt that without Hershel going in, they would have been dead. Hershel’s job for Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) is to read Tom Sawyer. The choice of book is ironic and represents an idyllic American past and a coming of age story that none of them will ever see again but the climax of the book with Huckleberry Finn saving the town from Injun Joe resonates with Lizzie’s attempt to save Glenn from Henry. Lizzie, like Finn, is also an orphan in need of adopting. Lizzie objects that she won’t be able to finish the book and Wilson’s subtle reaction is wonderful as Hershel misinterprets her meaning. Lizzie doesn’t mean that she will die before finishing it but that it will get dark first. Lizzie still retains her innocence at this point, but by the end of the episode, it seems that she may be beginning to accept that the zombies are not still human. In fact, this is a wonderful parallel for Hershel’s own journey – both within the episode and for the series as a whole. In season two, on the farm – an idyllic setting – Hershel keeps the zombies in the barn because he thinks they can still be saved. I was pretty shocked to learn that Hershel still hadn’t killed one of the turned zombies at the beginning of the episode. Did anyone else feel like Lizzie was Cindy Lou Whoo watching the Grinch stuff the Christmas tree up the chimney when she turned up and saw Sasha and Hershel removing the dead body to kill it? This theme of hope is central to both these stories. The Whos in Whoville still believe in the meaning of Christmas even with no outward signs of its existence after all. And it's this faith that causes the Grinch to regain his own humanity.
It is fitting that Rick bears witness to Hershel’s first kill. Lincoln and Wilson’s scene is another powerful one. Hershel explains that he doesn’t want them to see the dead being killed. He relates a Steinbeck quote told to him by the dead man: “a sad soul can kill quicker than a germ.” Hershel is concerned with keeping their hope alive. Rick assures him that Hershel does this by letting them simply see how strong and positive Hershel is himself. The quote comes from Steinbeck’s novel Travels With Charley which was an account of his traveling across America and the people he met and what he called the “New America.” Certainly this “New America” is something that resonates with the series. I wonder too if this isn’t a hint that the group is about to go back on the road. Rick tells Hershel that he knows things can’t go back to the way they were, and Hershel confirms it saying that they’d all been lucky to have had a break from the violence and horror and that now Rick would have to come back to being a leader. Hershel tells Rick he still believes there’s a plan. He still has his belief. Rick asks if he thinks it was a test, and Hershel doesn’t hesitate in responding that “Life is always a test.”
Hershel’s hope and faith are contrasted with Dr Subramanian’s (Sunkrish Bala) scientific pragmatism. He came into the quarantine armed to ensure that the zombies didn’t get out and he clearly accepts when he has passed the point of no return in the end stages of the disease. I was disappointed to lose Bala and get so little of his character.
Wilson also has two powerful scenes with Lauren Cohen. Maggie is her father’s daughter and is strong even when she is breaking. The scene in which Hershel is determined to keep Maggie safe delivers possibly the best performance yet by Cohen. When they tell each other they love each other, it’s a very powerful moment. She has learned hope and faith at her father’s side, but when it comes down to the reality of possibly losing Glenn or definitely losing her father, she trusts her skills and takes the shot that saves Hershel. She also explains to Hershel that she had to come in to save them for the same reasons that Hershel had to. The scene with Sasha also plays on this theme. She tells him she thought he was stupid for coming in to save them even as she’s grateful that the IV he just gave her saved her life. She tells him, “I don’t believe in magic or luck. I do the math. I don’t gamble.” Like the doctor she is a pragmatist; she doesn’t have the same belief system as Hershel, but she’s gained strength and hope from him and she believes in him.
The weight of his responsibility to the group and the burden of being that light take their toll on Hershel. Having to kill the doctor to save everyone else, weighs especially heavily on him, as now he is once again the only medical personnel they have to rely on. Although Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr), who ironically also has a drinking problem like Hershel, also seems to have some medical training. The scene in which Hershel retreats to the doctor’s cell to close his remaining eye and read the bible over him is telling as Hershel breaks down and is unable to find the immediate comfort in the Bible. This scene contrasts sharply with the next scene in which we see him, finally back into the light of day, almost light-heartedly agreeing to go with Michonne (Danai Gurira) to dispose of the zombie corpses. It’s good to be busy. Unfortunately, as we know from the end of the episode, the Governor is outside those gates...
I was particularly satisfied that Rick told the truth, the whole truth, about what happened to Carol to Maggie immediately on returning. She vindicated his choice, agreeing it was the right call. I’m certain that even though we don’t see it, Hershel would have also agreed with the decision. The final thing that really had me howling at the television though, was the cheat on getting to see Daryl’s reaction – because we all know he’s on his way to talk to Rick...
In large part, the end of the episode sees the group come back together. Tyreese (Chad L Coleman) comes back to Sasha, Michonne says she’s staying, Maggie and Glenn are reunited, and Rick and Carl have become a team. Anybody else think that Chandler Riggs must have a ball on that set? What did you think of the episode? What do you think Daryl will do? Do you think the Governor is going to pose an immediate threat – to Hershel and Michonne? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!