It’s been roughly six months since we last saw the Walking Dead gang and plenty has changed at Prisonville, where life seems downright cushy these days. There’s a farm inside the fence, a sweet reinforced front gate lined with pointy wooden stakes, and the Woodbury refugees appear to have merged seamlessly with Rick & Co. Michonne has a horse. Glen apparently doesn’t have condoms. Rick has an iPod and a new outlook on life — parenting and peace are in; pistols and hallucinations, out. Although the birds are chirping as Rick tends to his crops in the opening sequence, we know trouble isn’t far away. (We also know that even if you’re on some hippie pacifism kick, it’s just plain dumb to throw out a gun you found buried in the dirt.)
This episode showcased the show’s strengths — suspense, humor, humanity, and, of course, a good old-fashioned undead splatterfest. Before we pull back and ruminate on the episode’s bigger themes, let’s run down some of the new stuff:
Love Is in the Air
The perpetual threat of death and reanimation is making folks especially horny. Glen and Maggie have a pregnancy scare. Tyreese is hooking up with Karen, the brunette who survived the Great Governor Massacre. And Beth has — or, more accurately, had — a new beau, Zach. And once again, there’s a subtle spark between Michonne and Rick when she comes galloping back. As long as she keeps the comic books coming (were they bagged and boarded, too? That will really help keep their value when the collector market finally bounces back), Carl will probably be okay with his dad hooking up with the baddest woman on the planet.
Daryl Is a Rock Star
This is the least surprising development, considering the guy has a crossbow and a seemingly endless supply of leather jackets. Daryl nearly sends new kid Patrick into a fit of fanboy convulsions when they meet at the prison yard’s new café. (The bespectacled kid even calls him “sir.”) Also: Carol calls him “Pookie.” I don’t see that nickname sticking.
Story Time Ain’t What It Used to Be
I would have paid a lot more attention in class if “Cutlery — Choosing the Right Blade for a Knife Fight” was part of my grade-school curriculum. Carol seems to have taken it upon herself to teach the Prisonville kids some real-world skills that directly conflict with Rick’s new outlook. This will become a problem, perhaps when a fifth grader accidentally stabs someone or cuts his finger off trying to imitate Bishop in Aliens.
Like Zombies, Randos Are Everywhere
Along with Patrick the Harry Potter Glasses Kid and Zach, there are a bunch of newbies dubbed “fence cleaners” — folks who cut down the walkers piling up along the chain link. There’s also the kids who attend Carol’s book club/weapons training class, including a young girl who learns Carl is vehemently opposed to zombie names (but enjoys humanizing his future food, like Violet the pig). Then there’s the Army medic (The Wire's Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) who picks a really bad time to consider wine collecting in the middle of the supply run.
Say good-bye to the Ricktatorship and hello to the Council, made up of Daryl, Glen, Carol, Hershel, and Sasha. [Fill in your own government shutdown joke here.] One of their big decisions so far is telling Rick to carry a gun when he goes out alone into the undead-infested forest in search of food. [Fill in your “even Congress could have agreed on that one” joke here.]
Of all the episode’s story lines, two major plots carried the day: Daryl’s supply run to the Big Spot big-box store, and Farmer Rick’s encounter with Clara, the very walker-looking woman in the woods. (She was also reminiscent of the woman who crawls out of the television in The Ring.) At the store, there’s a fun moment as Zach tries to guess Daryl’s occupation before the world went to shit. Then the medic notices a pair of legs on the ground — what he doesn’t see is its wriggling torso on the roof, along with a parade of zombies. The scene as these undead fall through the crumbling ceiling was a blast. It had a little bit of everything — a zombie hanging by its own entrails, a few who landed head-first with a glorious splat, a crashing helicopter, and the very bloody death of Zach, who was actually rather likable.
The zombie air-drop was the action, but Rick’s long walk with Clara worked on a deeper level. (This show isn’t all guts and gore, people, it’s about feelings!) As they head to her camp, Rick tries to make small talk, but that goes nowhere; it’s like he’s talking to himself from last season — Clara is emotionally fried and borderline nuts. The old Rick would never have considered letting her and her mystery husband join the group; Farmer Rick, however, explains there’s now an application process for membership, consisting of a simple three-question quiz. How reasonable. Something doesn’t smell right about Clara from the get-go, and it turns out her “husband” appears to be little more than a chomping head in a burlap sack. As much as I wanted to know what those three questions were, I doubt I’d use my last living breath to ask. But after stabbing herself, Clara does us a solid and gets Rick to explain: He wanted her stats on walker and human kills, as well as a reason why. Clara’s final words suggest that no matter how far one tries to run from the things they’ve done in this apocalypse, there’s no going back to who you were. That pretty much destroys Rick’s plan to build a better life for himself and Carl, and suggests that at some point this season, he’ll be back to his old gun-slingin’, zombie-lobotomizin’ ways.
A third story line also emerges with what appears to be very bad news for the future. Patrick the nerd felt a little barfy at story time; turns out he had something nasty, which he carries into the shower and coughs all over the place before dropping (un)dead. There seems to be a connection between Patrick’s death and Violet the pig, who also mysteriously croaked. One other detail to consider: Daryl licked his fingers before shaking Patrick’s hand earlier that day. Daryl also killed a deer and brought it back for dinner the day before. Could there be a new virus that’s spreading through animals? And can someone please make Purell a priority on the next supply run?
As the episode draws to a close, we get a few hints of things to come — most obvious, that zombified Patrick is going to cause some serious chaos in the prison. We also see Michonne zero in on Macon, Georgia, which could be the next stop on her hunt for the Governor. And although Hershel tries to comfort Rick, he still can’t shake the feeling that Clara was right — they’ll never come back from the very bad things they’ve done. Hershel’s daughter Beth proves that point, when Daryl breaks the news that her beau became walker food. “I’m just glad I got to know him,” she says. But Beth has no tears left to offer. Instead, she simply flips the workplace safety sign — another day, another “accident,” and what vaguely resembles life ambles on.