Cell Division: Politics of Prison Life In Walking Dead’s ‘Sick’ (S3E2)

Tomas - The Walking Dead, Credit: AMC
Tomas - The Walking Dead, Credit: AMC /

On The Walking Dead episode 302 “Sick” prison life isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be and the walls become more than just a safety precaution.

The Walking Dead‘s episode “Sick” is not a simple one.  Prison life offers some unforeseen challenges. In addition to Hershel’s amputation-related health issues, you have new prisoner characters introduced (Tomas, Andrew, Big Tiny, Axel and Oscar).

Regarding them, the big debate is whether they should stay or go.   With Hershel, the issue is merely whether or not he’ll survive the night.

The Prisoner Situation

If the prisoners are to stay, how can Rick — a designated leader — guarantee safety and security for his group?  A whole new range of cell block politics are introduced.  How are resources to be divided?  How are disputes to be resolved?

Well, Rick doesn’t actually give much thought to these issues, knowing that these prisoners may not be entirely trustworthy.  Rather, he thinks on his feet, and does a rather competent job while being forceful and commanding some respect.  While he threatens violence if the prisoners cause problems, it’s one of the few cards he has to play.

In the process, Rick’s crew informs the prisoners of the zombie pandemic, stressing that the old world’s died as the dead have come to live again.  This is clearly a shock to them, as it would be to anyone.  No doubt, this fundamental shift in mood plays a role how the prisoners are to behave.  It is quite a blow, and may have been to Rick’s immediate advantage that he is the one to tell them.  But will he maintain that upper hand, or is it only a fleeting advantage?

Before long, we learn that the prisoners have a bargaining chip, too:  There is plenty of food in the commissary’s storeroom, which they offer to split with Rick so long as they can stay in their own cell block.  While Rick considers killing them Shane-style, he ultimately decides to take the gamble, knowing the risks of letting them stay.

Perhaps he realizes that, if nothing else, they could act as potential foot-soldiers and walker stalkers.  The zombie apocalypse is a bit of a numbers game, after all.  If you have more to your flock, it means you have more fighters.  More cynically, it also means walkers have additional flesh to chase while the core of the group makes a hypothetical escape.  These are quite possibly considerations in Rick’s mind.

Accordingly, Rick and crew teach the prisoners how to fight walkers.  Though Daryl stresses the importance of destroying a walker’s brains, the prisoners are slow learners.  In fact, the cutely named “Big Tiny” makes a huge mistake, and ends up getting stabbed by a walker’s severed limb.  Unfortunately for Big Tiny, survival is not an option.

As he pleads for his life, BT is hacked to death by the prison  gang’s leader, Tomas.  As one might expect, this creates friction to an already hot situation.  While nobody believed Big Tiny could survive the wounds due to their location, Rick would have still been sensitive to the situation, had he had the chance.  That possibility was quickly hacked away, however, so Big Tiny never had a chance to recover.

As their joint walker-clearing operation proceeds, it’s possible that Rick distrusts Tomas’ overall motives.  Sure, killing Big Tiny could be construed as an act of mercy, but the ferocity of the blows suggest other possibilities.  Is Tomas just trying to eliminate walkers, or does he want to eliminate certain people as well?  When they approach a door with walkers behind it, Rick instructs Tomas to just open one door, so the influx can be better measured and contained.  In direct defiance, Tomas lets both doors open, so there is now a full barrage of flesh-eating creeps.

On top of that, Tomas repeatedly tries to kill Rick, though cleverly disguises his acts as mistakes.  At one point he almost strikes Rick with an axe.  Then, after quickly realizing his failure, he haphazardly flings a walker Rick’s way, with the obvious hope that Rick will become a food source.  When that plan fails, and after all the walkers are offed, Rick approaches Tomas about it — by lodging a machete into his thick liar’s skull!

This quick-thinking Rick is faced with another human obstacle:  Andrew, another prisoner.  He doesn’t take kindly to Rick’s machete play, and opts for a spontaneous game of human head baseball instead.

Unfortunately for him, Rick is skilled at this game, dodging each attempted strike and soon pursuing him into a prison courtyard filled with walkers.  Not wishing to be part of Andrew’s batting average, Rick locks him outside, to fend for himself to the extent possible.

Meanwhile, back in the prison, the walkers are no longer such an issue, but Rick must deal with the other prisoners, who can now more rightly be treated as hostile.  In a move that would make Shane cringe (and formulate a coup attempt), Rick still agrees to letting some prisoners (Oscar and Axel) stay in an emptied cell block.

The Hershel & Lori Situation

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Hershel is now a medical experiment of sorts.  While everyone has faith that the amputation procedure can save him from zombie infection, it’s clear that there are nagging doubts.  They are not unfounded, either.  Medical patients are always told that surgery has risks.

In this situation, the calculated odds are even less in one’s favor — perhaps substantially less.  Everyone is bracing for the worst, expecting that Hershel may die and “turn.”  So concerned is Carl Grimes that he actually returns with some medical supplies for the man, even though no one sent him on such a mission, and mama Grimes (AKA Lori) is none too pleased.

Meanwhile, Carol is doing her best to prepare for performing surgery on a very pregnant Lori, in case Hershel in fact dies.  In one of the most awkward medical training sessions ever, Carol and Glenn kidnap a walker from outside the prison fence, and Carol tears that sucker up as skillfully as she can.

Next: 30 most brutal walker kills on TWD

Fortunately, after having nearly died from lack of oxygen (or some such thing), Hershel eventually recovers and is his regular old, un-zombified self.  Although he will need crutches to walk, it is a sign of stability and a fresh new start for the group to overcome such adversity.  Of course, as we see toward the end of the episode, some unknown presence is actually watching the prison, perhaps waiting to break into their world and tear it apart.