Gene Page/AMC

Inside the Alexandria safe zone, our survivors struggle to leave behind the hard lessons they learned on the road.

March 02, 2015 at 08:10 PM EST

If you liked the hopeful note that last week’s The Walking Dead ended on, I hope you enjoyed it while it lasted. Because this time, when we catch up with our heroes, that warm and fuzzy feeling is gone.

The Grimes Gang is watching as the gate in front of them clanks and slides open, and the tension is insane. When Daryl suddenly lets fly with an arrow, it’s like a gun going off. The target, however, turns out to be nothing but a now-deceased opossum.

“We brought dinner,” says Daryl.

(Sidenote: This is pretty much setting the tone for Daryl’s entire character arc during this episode, which consists of acting like a pouty teenage boy who has been dragged out to a nice dinner by his parents, and who is determined to make it such a miserable experience that they never make that mistake again.)

At this point, the camera pulls back for a wide shot of the whole group, striding through the gate. And in this moment, they’re suddenly not the characters we know and love; we see them as the residents of Alexandria see them, as swaggering, filthy strangers with guns on their hips and murder in their eyes. It’s jarring, because from a distance, Rick and his band of survivors look profoundly menacing—every bit as mercenary and frightening as the gang of Claimers from season 4.

Inside the gate, they’re met by a man who asks them to turn over their weapons, a request at which Rick bristles. The welcoming committee also informs the group that their next step will be to talk to Deanna, and Abraham goes, “Who’s Deanna?” in this hilarious, whiny voice—which I only mention because I had to watch it again just to make sure I wasn’t imagining how weird and awkward it sounded, like Michael Cudlitz improvised a line but didn’t fully commit to it. Also, on the subject of weirdness, I’ll just say now that Father Gabriel is nowhere in this episode. (Did anyone see him? I didn’t. I’m also not sure if this is ominous, or if perhaps Seth Gilliam just wasn’t on set that day and they tried to cleverly conceal it.)

The gate begins to roll shut behind them. As it does, Rick turns, looks through it, and says, “Sasha.” Sasha also turns, and raises her gun, and puts down a zombie from 25 yards away with a perfectly placed bullet.

The message is clear enough: Even if these people give up their guns, they’ll have no trouble taking ’em back.

“It’s a good thing we’re here,” says Rick. The look on the welcoming committee’s face says that he’s not sure he agrees.

Deanna, as it turns out, is Deanna Monroe: A woman who lives in a beautifully appointed house with a TV conspicuously mounted on the wall. (Ohmigod, do they have TV here?) The deal with Deanna is as follows: She used to be a congressperson; now she’s the president, or whatever, of the safe zone they’re in right now, which was a planned, self-sufficient community with its own solar grid, cisterns, and so on. Most of the people in the safe zone have been there since the plague hit, she explains, and Rick and his group are the first they’ve considered allowing to join the community in a long, long time.

NEXT: “Hi, I’m auditioning for a part in your safe, zombie-free zone and I’ll be singing “Knock Knock Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.””

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AMC’s zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.
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