The Walking Dead looks to be recycling one of its weakest plot lines - an illness outbreak from season 4. Currently in The Walking Dead season 10, Alexandria and Hilltop are inching gradually closer to all-out war against the Whisperers after a gradual escalation of hostilities. Unrest is growing in both camps after last season's community fair incident. Alpha recognizes that certain members of her contingent might have their heads turned by a more conventional lifestyle and needs to wipe the rival settlements out to prevent an exodus, all while ensuring the safety of her daughter, Lydia. Meanwhile, Alexandria and Hilltop are attempting to practice patience with the Whisperers and bide their time, but rebellion is growing among those itching for revenge.
Over the past two weeks, however, a new plot has been bubbling beneath the surface. In addition to Negan's escape, Ezekiel's cancer, Carol's recklessness, Siddiq's PTSD and a number of other stop-start side stories, there's a stomach bug outbreak in Alexandria. This was introduced casually in last week's "What It Always Is," when a throwaway line of dialogue revealed that Rosita had contracted a bug of some kind. No one panicked and not much more was said about the situation, and viewers likely hoped that the story wouldn't be spun out into a full arc.
Unfortunately, everyone in Alexandria is now suffering with the runs. This week's episode showed a still-ailing Rosita becoming progressively more pale with each scene, and the community's infirmary gradually filled up with queasy patients who had been deemed "both ends" ill. The amount of screen time dedicated to the development of this story suggests that the outbreak will become a prominent feature in The Walking Dead's upcoming few episodes and this week's installment ends with Dante and Siddiq stretched to their limit as their mini-hospital fills with green faces. It's possible that this sickness is due to Gamma infecting the nearby stream, but since Aaron spied her doing this, he'd have surely warned the communities to sterilize the water before drinking.
This ilk of storyline is nothing new to The Walking Dead. Back in season 4, when Rick Grimes was still alive and the main group were living inside a prison, a flu-like infection began to spread, and with limited medical resources, lives were at risk and quarantine orders were issued. Carol began setting anyone who sneezed on fire, Rick exiled her for a few episodes and everyone got better just in time for a showdown with David Morrissey's Governor.
Both of these stories are based around a sound concept. In the zombie apocalypse, with doctors and medicine a scarce commodity, previously innocuous illnesses suddenly become deadly, and it would be neglectful of The Walking Dead to ignore this truth. However, the prison infection was undoubtedly the most tiresome story of season 4. No viewer is tuning into The Walking Dead to see people die from a cough; human drama, tension, blood, guts, action and zombies are what made The Walking Dead so popular. Truthfully, it was difficult not to view this season 4 plot as a filler arc, playing for time so that the final Governor battle coincided with the mid-season finale.
The Walking Dead just about got away with an "everybody's sick" storyline in season 4, but there's no reason to repeat the trick in Alexandria during season 10, and substituting flu for a stomach bug isn't enough of a change to warrant a rerun of a very similar sickness outbreak. As in season 4, the issues are the same lack of doctors, lack of drugs and avoiding the contagion spreading and, once again, the audience is more interested in the various other stories at play.
Another similarity between season 4 and season 10's illness outbreaks is their purpose. Just as the prison infection was intended to stall until the Governor fight kicked off properly, so is the current stomach bug delaying the upcoming Whisperer War. After The Walking Dead's season 9 finale, a full-on conflict looked inevitable, but that story is clearly earmarked to run for the entire season and, therefore, additional padding is needed. While this is perhaps understandable, surely there's enough going on elsewhere to avoid having to dredge up another sickness outbreak.
The Walking Dead season 10 continues with "Open Your Eyes" November 17th on AMC.