Episode 5 of The Walking Dead Season 1 ended on a note of hope: the opening of the doors to the CDC, where Dr. Jenner (Noah Emmerich) can provide a safe refuge from the dead-ridden world outside. But as we’ve learned watching The Walking Dead, hope is a trap. It’s a trick feeling, one which is inevitably followed by danger and, often, death. This is not a happy show.
Sure enough, after everyone relaxes in the comfort of electricity, actual hot water and real books, the bad news starts to arrive. First, Dr. Jenner delivers a large chunk of exposition – his scientific findings into the infection currently undeadifying the human race. Now we know that the virus attacks the brain before reactivating the stem (without the human parts) within minutes, or even up to 8 hours. It’s a rare piece of knowledge, something we’re not used to seeing in a show that thrives on uncertainty and ongoing dilemmas. But don’t worry, there are still a bloody corpse-load of them, from Shane’s shaky relationship with Rick to his even more disturbing relationship with Rick’s wife, Lori. One scene between the two sees him try to assault her, only for her to fight him off – a horrific moment that, you suspect, sets this love triangle in a direction headed firmly somewhere bad.
Speaking of bad, did we mention Dr. Jenner has a screw loose? Sad, lonely and stuck on his own after his loved ones have all been killed, his solution to end the suffering is simple: blow up the CDC. Instigating a decontamination sequence, the group are given minutes to escape if they want to stay alive: hope is literally a trap.
It’s the kind of claustrophobic set-up that The Walking Dead has come to specialise in: characters stuck in a restricted space, with little happening other than a growing sense of dread. While that festers, writers Adam Fierro and Frank Darabont take the opportunity to develop their characters. They even manage to fit in a flashback to before the breakout, where we see Shane trying to save Rick in the hospital. It’s a stark contrast to his gruesome actions in the CDC; a reminder that their ensemble isn’t black of white, but full of shades of grey. And red. And black. And all the other colours of bodily innards.
By balancing past and present, good and bad, husband and friend, optimism and despair, Darabont has created an exceptional piece of television; a zombie horror that’s about people rather than monsters. TS-19 ties that all together with an explosive conclusion that is far from a happy ending, but leaves things on a reassuring note of hope. And, as we all know, that can only mean even worse things are to come. We can’t wait.
The Walking Dead is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
For other seasons, see Where can I watch The Walking Dead online?