This most recent episode, “Sick,” explores said title in a number of different directions. Hershel’s shock and near-death resulting in the attack he endured in the previous episode pushes the characters to their limits. Fearful that the amputation may not have been enough to spare him from full-blown infection, Rick has him handcuffed to the bed, and the responses shown in daughters Maggie and Beth show the two different trends emulated by the rest of the cast. While Maggie prepares herself for the worse, Beth is unable to consider the very real possible repercussions. Maggie demonstrates the theme of sacrifice and the ability to let go for the well being of the group, while Beth represents the human weakness that still exists—even if in waning degrees—in all who continue to survive.
“Sick” also symbolizes the sickness of mind and spirit that has infected everyone there. The surviving inmates the group encounters illustrates this in alarming ways. While it is assumed these five surviving inmates are hardened criminals, a theory tested in the graphic novel, the degradation of character seen Rick, Carl, and Carol is profound, and the portrayal of the inmates is just as intense. Rick has grown to the point where he has no qualms about killing, even in cold blood, over the slightest threat to his people. Carl has followed a similar path, being the only person with a gun aimed on Hershel when there is a question as to whether or not he is in the process of turning. While Carl’s actions are as heroic as they are disturbing, Rick’s have grown much more barbaric. When he feels threatened by one of the inmates and an ensuing melee results, he leaves the fleeing inmate to the hands of a yard of walkers. He has, in the deepest sense, transformed into Shane—but his loyalties to Lori and Carl on any intimate or personal level have become questionable. They are now but two members in a group he has sworn to lead and protect, his emotional attachment hardened and cold.
When the inmates enter the next cellblock by Rick’s direction, his attempt at segregating his people from the distrusted “others,” the inmates’ response to the lined up bodies, who had clearly been killed execution-style, shows the greatest level of humanity among the exploring group. According to one of the inmates, “I knew these guys. They were good men.” This begs the question, What makes a good man? Are any of Rick’s men still “good?” Are any of the surviving inmates “good men?” Is there truly any difference between them at this point?
Carol’s decision to begin practicing C-sections on “cadavers”—walkers looming at the gates—is both grotesque and admirable. While her intentions are pure, they also show a macabre side to her character not before shown in the series. The undisclosed onlooker offers an outside glimpse of this, cementing just how grotesque of measures even the most innocent of characters is now willing to take in the name of preserving their small group.
This contrasts greatly to the heartwarming moment in which Hershel wakes, and the high level of emotion shared by Lori, Maggie, and Beth. They now represent the compassion that remains, and with Lori’s pregnancy slowly coming to its end, she represents the hope and the future for that remaining slice of humanity.
Leigh M. Lane lives in the beautiful mountains of Montana, where she writes speculative fiction that spans from sci-fi to horror. All of her writing contains a gritty realism that hallmarks her unique voice, which also often has social or political undertones. Her recent full-length releases are Finding Poe, World-Mart, and Myths of Gods. Leigh’s influences include H.G. Wells, Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, Clive Barker, Edgar Allan Poe, and Stephen King. For more about Leigh M. Lane and her works, visit her website at http://www.cerebralwriter.com.