A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ can.” (John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America)
** SPOILERS AHEAD **
Steinbeck, one of the greatest novelists America has ever produced, was right on the money when he penned those words in 1962, a man who knew that the loss of hope is far more corrosive to the soul than a virus could ever be to the body.
He likely didn’t have a zombie apocalypse in mind when he released the novel but its message that hope abandoned is a cause lost, were uppermost in Hershel’s (Scott Wilson) mind as he single-handedly battled to keep the ailing survivors in the isolation block hydrated, breathing and believing they would survive the hell of the epidemic.
In the first slow boiling, ominously simmering third of “Internment” it was very much Hershel against the world, with some help from a clearly exhausted Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) and seriously ailing Glenn (Steven Yeun) as he raced from one call to another, intubating here, uplifting spirits there (though Dr. S had already thrown in the towel, his soul beyond salvation) and powering on like a man possessed.
And in some ways he was.
Determined that the virulent sickness would not claim anyone under his watch, and ignoring Dr S. aka Caleb Subramanian (Sunkrish Bala) who urged him to lock the doors and leave people to their fates, he was consumed by an unstinting, though, risky optimism that he could, by dint of sheer force of will and ceaseless action, avert the inevitable.
The power of his belief was admirable, and his heroism unstinting and undaunted by circumstances, proof that the nobler parts of the human spirit have survived the corrosive misery of the end of the world, but his all-consuming belief that he could out-run the gathering storm was almost his undoing.
True to Dr S’s predictions that one by one the lights would go out, and people would fall one after the other like dominos, turning the subdued agony of the block into a walker-filled hellhole, one death too many at the one time overcame even Hershel’s Herculean efforts to cope.
Were it not for the timely intervention of Maggie (Lauren Cohan), who with Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) blessing left him reinforcing the soon to be overrun fences, smashing a window and leaping into action, the isolation block would have been a bloodbath of epic proportions, and all of Hershel’s frenzied devotion, laudable and inspiring though it was, would have come to nought.
In the end, the cavalry in the form of Daryl (Norman Reedus), Michonne (Danai Gurira), Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) and Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr) arrived back in the nick of time, meds were dispensed, and lived saved – though many more were lost in the horror of the human dominos falling one by agonising one – and Hershel, the hero of the moment and a man whose selflessness made such a difference, was allowed a moment to reflect, ponder the scriptures and weep, with the haunting blues of British singer-songwriter Ben Howard’s “Oats in the Water” lending an appropriately sorrowful air to proceedings.
There were no great character revelations, and no major plot advances to speak of but there was a memorable exchange between Rick, fresh back from the Carol-exiling run to the nearby small town, and Hershel, who wavered for a moment in his ceaseless optimistic zeal after having to stab another deceased soul through the brain away from the gaze of those who might be infected with incurable sadness.
Without sounding cloyingly sentimental or corny in any way, Rick assured Hershel that even though the sick and dying had witnessed another of their number succumb to death, they more importantly had also seen Hershel effortlessly toiling to save them and that would have a far greater impact on them than the onward march of the disease.
Accepting this without an ounce of ego, Hershel stepped back in the “ward”, suitably armed to face the onslaught that followed.
Hershel was unquestionably the hero of the hour, testament to the fact that not all the better angels of human nature have fled the earth and that hope, perseverance and belief in positive outcomes still have a place in an arguably almost-terminally blighted world.
There were other acts of heroism on display in an attempt that went from zero to narratively explosive one hundred in a matter of moments.
Rick and Carl, in a father and son bonding moment par excellence, fought to buttress the outer prison fence with logs until their cause was lost, and narrowly escaping to the relative safety of the inner yard, they surveyed the ravenous horde of walkers shambling towards them.
Grabbing machine guns – thank god Carl is a quick study when it comes to guns! Whoever thought we’d say that – they mowed down the walkers till there were none left, their battle to hold the outer ground mirroring Hershel and Maggie’s fight for the inner sanctum.
It was tense, action-packed, but ultimately triumphant, especially as it marked a further cementing in the renewed and re-strengthened bond between father and son.
Lizzie also had her brief moment of glory, luring a newly turned resident out from the cell in which a prone Glenn laying close to death, her heroism tainted only by her enduring and now creepy belief that walkers are still people in some way.
Perhaps it’s her way of coping with a situation which seems to have already done her considerable psychological damage but it almost came unstuck, with Hershel the only thing standing between her and being a walker herself.
“Internment” was at heart an episode about the heroic ability of people, and one person in particular, to rise fully and completely to the occasion when needed, a sign that humanity isn’t completely done fighting for its survival just yet (although as the final frame made clear, with the unnervingly silent appearance of the Governor outside the prison walls, it may be forced to fight on another terrifying front again, a scary prospect when the group are already at breaking point).
And here’s the promo for next week’s episode “Live Bait” …
And a sneak peek from the episode …