In Slate's Walking Dead TV Club, Chris Kirk will IM each week with a different fan of The Walking Dead. This week, he discusses “Killer Within” with Slate V’s blogger/editor Jeffrey Bloomer.
Chris: Welcome to — sorry. Welcome to Slate's...
Jeff: You OK, Chris?
Chris: Sorry. I'm a little frozen by what I just saw.
Jeff: Get a grip.
Chris: Let's rewind. Glenn's getting laid. Hershel's hopping about. Carl's cracking jokes. Rick and Lori are gazing at each other as if to assure us they’ll rekindle the old flame. OK, fine! We’ve had our fun with the prison and the Governor. Now it's time to scoot back from the edge of our seat and waste a couple episodes watching Rick and friends play house, right?
Jeff: We’ve come to expect from The Walking Dead midseason lulls touting lazy existential ideas and stricken conversations about what “it all means.” Not this time.
Chris: Instead, the nightmare that follows in “Killer Within” has all the game-changing moments of a season finale. A horde of zombies appears within the prison walls. The characters retreat into the compound, where more zombies await. Somebody activates the prison alarm that will attract every zombie in miles to it. Rick’s new home, which is supposed to be keeping the zombies out, suddenly looks like what it really is: a prison, trapping people in.
Jeff: For all the complaints people have about this show, no one has ever said it can't build a minimalist set piece that is totally stunning.
Chris: And a few totally stunning things happen inside of it. It’s the first episode since Season 1 in which T-Dog offers more than a few lines, so, naturally, a zombie gives him one hell of a hickey.
Jeff: The writers dispatched T-Dog at the same moment the show inaugurates another stolid, loyal black character: Oscar.
Chris: Yes, Rick will doubtlessly accept Oscar into the family now. Turns out Andrew, the inmate Rick locked into a zombie-filled courtyard two episodes ago, survived, lured all these new zombies into the prison, and activated the alarm, all to retake the prison. Rick and him brawl until Oscar intervenes, killing Andrew.
Jeff: Then, there’s Lori.
Chris: One moment she’s dodging zombies in the prison corridors. The next, she's having a baby in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people. At her insistence, Maggie cuts her open to deliver the baby. Carl watches his mother’s agonizing death and then puts a bullet in her brain so she doesn’t turn.
Jeff: For that matter, was it tact or a cruel twist-in-waiting to have Carl shoot his mother off screen? It's old hat for the writers to have "deaths" happen off screen, so we aren't sure what happened. Did he really do it?
Chris: The kid is tough. Instead of mewling in the corner, he helped Maggie deliver the baby. He did what needed to be done then, and I’m confident he did what needed to be done after.
Jeff: Whatever the case, the scene shows how much has changed since the early episodes. No escape, no mercy. Lori chose to keep the baby in Season 2. Now, she pays the price for it.
Chris: Carl pays it too. More than the zombies, a son watching his mother knifed open on a prison floor by a panicky, makeshift midwife suggests the world really is ruined. Lori seems to be aware of that. She knows her horrible death will affect him for the rest of his life, so she reminds him to stay true to his morals. “If it feels wrong, don't do it.”
Jeff: Between Lori and Sophia, Carl is having a devastating childhood, and when he and Maggie emerge from the compound, facing the others and the reality of what just happened—I don't think the emotion on the show has ever been rawer.
Chris: The way Rick breaks down is just heart-wrenching. He’s been totally cold to Lori since this season began. But you could tell from the way he yelped her name when the zombies appeared that he still loved her. Now he’ll never get a chance to make amends.
Jeff: At least the baby survived, right? For a few moments, it appears stillborn. I thought for sure they were going to go all the way and have the little guy come out a zombie. Maybe there is some mercy left after all!
Chris: But is it mercy? In Season 2, Lori asked Rick if keeping the pregnancy makes sense in a post-civilization world. The gruesome events of tonight’s episode makes me wonder if they made the right call.
Jeff: Creating new life in that world is, I think, a pretty inspiring thing. If also totally idiotic. But maybe there’s hope for Carl and the baby. Just take a look at Woodbury.
Chris: Ah, yes. Life is tame back in the village. When he’s not staring at zombie heads, the Governor, “Phillip,” is shooting golf, deflecting Michonne’s suspicions, and sharing drinks with Andrea, who's realizing that, though a long life is a lot to ask for in a zombie apocalypse, it's not enough; she wants more than to grow old with Michonne on an island.
Jeff: The respite from the prison hell is nice, and it's also nice to see the show shaping an allegorical edge; the dynamic of fear and power and survival are coming into view, and it makes the best zombie stories thrive. It’s derivative, but I'll take it!
Chris: I expect Rick to upset the Woodbury scene soon. Merle insists on tracking down his brother, so he’ll likely bind the two plots together. But, the way things are going for Rick’s group, will any of them survive long enough for Merle to find them?
Jeff: Seriously: How can The Walking Dead sustain this level of carnage and loss?
Chris: Before long, there won't be many of the original crew.
Jeff: Maybe that's the point.
Tomorrow: What Slate commenters and critics around the Web thought of this episode.