I imagine it’s far too easy to say that The Walking Dead is a show that has resurrected itself (it’s come back from the dead, get it?!), but I’m saying it anyway. There were times during season 2 where it looked like it was going to die a slow and painful death, with the group stuck on Hershel’s boring farm and Rick making ill-advised decisions. But new show-runner Glenn Mazzara had a lot of work to do to fix the show, and he’s really making a difference now.
The first episode of season 3 was a satisfying blood bath as Rick led the group into a prison, slaughtering walkers with a ruthless aggression, before a shocking finale that saw Hershel lose a calf to a hungry walker (albeit one slumped against a wall) before Rick hacked his entire leg off below the knee in an effort to save him. There’s no messing around in ‘Sick’ either, as we’re straight back to where we left off, with Daryl pointing his crossbow at a group of prisoners, who are understandably a bit stunned by witnessing one man slicing off another’s leg.
The group don’t have time to waste though, and with Daryl keeping his crossbow firmly on the prisoners, they rush Hershel back to the others, hoping that Carol (who has been getting some basic medical lessons from Hershel) can stop the bleeding and keep him alive. But the prisoners follow them, and while Carol and Lori attempt to save Hershel, Rick, T-Dog (who again says actual words throughout the episode) and Daryl show the prisoners what the real world is like now. They’ve been locked up in a canteen area for 10 months while the world has collapsed around them, and can’t believe what they are being told. But while they eventually accept the situation, they are less than pleased by Rick’s insistence that they find somewhere else to stay. Their de-facto leader is a man named Tomas, and it’s immediately clear that he’s not someone that can be bargained with very easily. He claims there is ‘very little’ in the way of supplies left, but he’ll share it in exchange for weapons that will allow them to clear their own cell block.
We’re really seeing a new and improved Rick in the show, and ever since they escaped the farm he’s become far more decisive and, importantly, brutally ruthless. When he’s helping the prisoners clear another block with T-Dog and Daryl, he sees that Tomas is a man they simply cannot trust. After their first attempts to slaughter walkers go poorly (despite being told they need to go for the head, they try stabbing and kicking walkers), they start to kill them off more efficiently, but one of them breaks from the group and is clawed by a handless walker (it was handcuffed but pulled its own hand off while trying to break out of them, exposing a bone). He tries to plead with Rick that he’s okay and should be allowed to live, but Tomas violently attacks him from behind, smashing his head to a bloody pulp. When they then come up against another herd of walkers, Tomas takes a wild swing at one that barely missed Rick, and he then throws a walker onto Rick, knocking him to the ground. Daryl rescues him, and when they’ve cleared the room, Rick wants a word with Tomas. In what might be the best moment EVER in the show, Rick just machetes Tomas in the head, right between the eyes.
He continues this ruthlessness when one of the remaining prisoners runs. Rick chases him down until he runs into a yard of walkers. Instead of helping him, Rick calmly shuts the door in his face, leaving him to his fate. It’s something that the show really needed; Rick was constantly undermined and plotted against during season 2, and it made it very difficult to root for him. But now it’s clear that Rick is in charge and he’s not afraid to do what needs to be done, even when that means sticking a sword in a person’s head. Even more importantly, he could care less what Lori says or thinks, which is great, because she’s still awful.
And I say that even as she does something good in ‘Sick’. When Hershel stops breathing, she tries to resuscitate him, and there’s a brilliantly done tease where Hershel suddenly bursts back to life, seemingly ready to bite her face off, but instead he’s just been saved and is still alive. Having said that, she still tells Carl off when he returns from a trip on his own to find the infirmary (in fairness, he just suddenly reappears in the episode with medical supplies claiming he killed two walkers, with no scenes showing him doing so), and has a couple more ‘I know you hate me’ scenes with Rick, as if the writers of the show have been reading all the forums and reviews online that are screaming ‘WE HATE LORI PLEASE KILL HER!’ and written lines for Sarah Wayne Callies to say that feel like they’re apologising to the viewer for her existence.
So overall, this is an excellent episode of The Walking Dead, and as my terrible opening to the review suggests, it’s a sign of a show that’s getting better and better. There’s no shying away from the bloody ‘reality’ of a zombie apocalypse, with almost every kill shown on camera in all their splattery glories, and the writing is much better too, making the characters much more likeable (except Lori of course) and easier to root for. There’s no Michonne or Andrea, or even The Governor yet, but the show being able to focus solely on Rick and the rest of that group without it being boring is a very positive step.