Hershel was bleeding out through his leg-stump. A walker was beating down the door. And there was a sweaty dude wearing a wifebeater and a mullet and a mustache — looking for all the world like a corrupt cop in a ’70s porno — screaming “Who the hell are you?!” This is how Rick Grimes and the Melee Squad was introduced to the last living tenants of the West Georgia Correctional Facility — the first un-undead survivors we’ve seen since the arrival of the Michael-Raymond James Gang midway through season 2. The Man with the Mullet was flanked by four other men: A gentle giant named Big Tiny, a measly man named Axel whose blonde facial hair made him look like the hobo grandson of Colonel Sanders, and two other guys who looked like they’re currently tied in the “Who Dies First?” competition.
It was a high-stress situation. But Rick focused on Hershel. He hoisted the three-limbed old fella up onto a makeshift gurney and pushed him back to the cleared-out cellblock, where he had to explain to the Women and Children that Hershel’s new nickname was Ol’ Stumpy. The prisoners followed them home, staring straight into Daryl’s crossbow the whole way. They explained how they had managed to live so long: Locked inside the cafeteria for ten months, with all the miserable prison food they could handle, and a tiny room in back that stank of a year without plumbing. They had only a vague notion of what afflicted the walkers in the hallways; they didn’t know anything about the outside world. Rick gave it to them straight: “There is no army, no government, no hospitals, no police.” They asked if they could borrow a cell phone to call their parents. “There are no cell phones,” said Rick. They asked if they could borrow an iPad, so they could check in to “The Prison” on Foursquare. Rick refused, because he was just two check-ins away from being named Mayor and getting a two-for-one deal on leg-stumps.
The Man with the Mullet — henceforth Tomas — finally got the message. He was the de facto leader of the prisoners, which also meant, in his mind, that he owned the prison. He was kind enough to offer the Grimes Gang a spot of land in the field outside. Rick offered a counter-argument: “We took out these walkers. The prison is ours. We spilled blood.” Before things turned violent, the two gangs came to a compromise. The Prisoners would grant half their food to Grimes & Co; in return, Rick would take the Melee Squad through a neighboring cellblock and help the prisoners clear out their own home. “You pay, we play,” said Rick. In the abstract ungoverned world of the post-apocalypse, this amounted to a social compact. Rick has turned his ragtag team of survivors into a specialist strike force. They have no material wealth — no food — but they have a very specific set of skills. In a funny way, Rick was making a mafia deal with Tomas: Offering him “protection,” with a price.
Inside the cellblock, the Women and Children were gathered to help Hershel through his sudden-onset bout of Stumpitis. “Boy, I sure am glad that Hershel has been teaching you some of his doctorin’ stuff!” said Lori to Carol. Hershel’s children reacted to his newfound Stumpitude in different ways. Maggie figured that the old guy was as useless as a pretty horse with a broken leg. “He can’t even walk,” she said, “And all we do is run.” Beth gamely started cutting the bottom off his pant-legs. Rick was unsentimental: He handcuffed Hershel to the bed and left Glenn behind, in case Zombie-Hershel required a mercy kill. “Do you mind? I know he’s your girlfriend’s dad!” said Rick. Glenn: “He’s my girlfriend’s dad! Of course I don’t mind!”
NEXT: Lori knows that she’s awful, but she won’t let that stop her from being awful