Months after the events of the finale, the prison community has established relatively peaceful existence. But you know what they say about all good things...
WTW Walking Dead 401
Credit: Gene Page/AMC

If you read Entertainment Weekly or, commute on a bus or subway train, own a television, or live somewhere in the globalized world, then you’ve probably noticed The Walking Dead has returned. Now in its fourth season — and with its third showrunner — the AMC zombie series has experienced more ups and downs than most long-running series. Let’s see if they’ve learned from the best (and worst) to deliver on a consistently engaging season.

As the gospel standard “Precious Memories” plays meaningfully over the cold open, Rick, still grimy and bearded, walks out of the prison complex to the grounds. (Are we ever going to see Rick clean-shaven again? He’s an objectively attractive man especially without the beard.) Developed as a makeshift farm, the grounds hold several crops and even a lean-to stable and pig pen. Rick tills the soils, stopping to pick up a buried gun. He takes out his headphones, and the sounds of Walkers flailing at the prison fence intensifies. He may enjoy country/ gospel music, but anything would be better than listening to incessant zombies moans as you work.

He notices one zombie in particular with even bloodier orifices than normal. (This is important clue to the season’s mystery antagonist as it’s repeated in the last minutes of the episode.) Rick disassembles the gun and returns to his farm work. Meet Farmer Rick — unlike Sheriff Rick or even the Ricktator — he is uninterested in the life of the Gun and concerned with the life of the Farm. (Symbolism!)

Later, Carl greets Rick at the pig pen after oversleeping from reading comics at night. (As a producer and sometime writer for the show, I’m sure Robert Kirkman appreciates any and every meta comics reference.) They look over at a sick pig, unsure what’s wrong with her. (If a pig is sick and you don’t know how to treat her, wouldn’t you just put her out of her misery? Her meat is probably spoiled anyway. Although, what do I know? I’m less of a farmer than Rick is. Farming-capable commenters, I’d like to hear all of your expert opinions on the skills of Farmer Rick.) Having regained the father-son dynamic, Rick scolds Carl for naming the pig, in this case, Violet. (Carl is so Robert from A Day No Pig Would Die.) Rick and Carl leave Violet be, which is not a good sign. In media, sick pigs equals Contagion viruses and/or swine flu. As someone who has had swine flu, it’s not something people already dealing with a Zombiepocalypse should have to endure. (High fevers, hallucinations involving a strong belief that X-men mutants are real. You know, that sort of thing that happens to everyone suffering from swine flu.)

Back in the compound, Daryl saunters through a group of well-wishers to an outdoor grill where Carol is serving breakfast. We as the audience already knew how much of a rockstar Daryl is, but it’s nice to see him appreciated by those in the new prison community. Daryl/Carol shippers will also be happy to see that even with the addition of new members to the community, Carol and Daryl’s friendship remains strong. (Personally, I’m ambivalent to the Daryl/Carol romantic situation, but I am a big fan of their unlikely kinship.) Carol, who continues to surprise me with her development from a meek wife to a strong leader, hands off the cooking duties to teenage newcomer, Patrick (Vincent Martella, who is also the voice of Phineas of Phineas and Ferb). Patrick thanks Daryl for bringing back a deer to the group and asks to shake his hand. In true Daryl fashion, he licks his fingers and grasps Patrick’s hand, then continues to walk off with Carol. This Daryl may be a lauded member of the group, but he’s still Daryl.

Carol warns him of the increasing number of Walkers crowded at the prison gates with more and more bunching in groups. She can’t spare many people for his impending run that day, as crews work to pick off zombies through the chain link fence. Taking out Walkers at the fence looks oddly satisfying like squashing a mosquito — even if it’s 100 times more dangerous and horrifying.

NEXT: Finding love in a hopeless place. Plus, Michonne is as majestic as ever.

In real couple news, Glenn and Maggie a.k.a. my OTP (one true pairing for those who unfamiliar with fangirl terms) are still together and awake from their bed. Although they both intend to go on the run, Glenn insists Maggie stay behind at the prison. After all they’ve been through, Glenn is not about to take any chances in losing his fiancee. Seeing how serious he is, she reluctantly agrees. Tyreese visits Karen at the fence, where she is picking off Walkers. Rather than joining her, he decides to also go on Daryl’s run. Killing zombies for survival is one thing, but Tyreese can’t handle looking them in the eye while ending them. Karen understands, giving him a kiss. (New couple alert!) Daryl wannabe Zach (Kyle Gallner) gears up for the run. (To save you from frantically searching the Interwebs for five seconds, he looks so familiar because he played Beaver on Veronica Mars and The Flash on Smallville. You’re welcome.) He says goodbye to girlfriend Beth, who kisses him and walks away without saying goodbye. No longer the shell-shocked, suicidal Beth we met in season two, this Beth lives in the moment, content not to say goodbye to Zach and go on with her day of zombie weed picking at the fence.

Another newcomer, Bob Stookey (played by The Wire‘s Lawrence Gilliard Jr.), offers to join the run and help earn his place at the compound. Daryl found him alone in the woods a week before, and as such, Sasha is unsure how well he’ll work with others. However, he’s a former Army medic and could be useful in determining the best supplies to take back to the settlement.

Meanwhile, Rick and Carl warmly greet Michonne, returning on horseback from a hunt. She presents Carl with more comic books and Rick with an electric razor. She tells Rick, “Your face is losing the war.” (If Michonne wants him to shave, then everyone should want him to shave!) Her temporary return from hunting the Governor does not last long for she volunteers to join Daryl’s run when Rick backs out. (Farmer Rick is more interested in checking on snares for meat than scavenging for supplies in zombie-infested territory. That would be more suited for Sheriff Rick.)

Hershel, walking again with a kick-ass prostethic leg, talks to Rick on behalf of the Council in attempts to persuade him to take his gun while out in the woods checking his traps. So far, we know the Council consists of Carol, Daryl, Glenn, Sasha, and maybe Hershel. But Farmer Rick is anti-gun. Besides he doesn’t need it, a knife should be enough. I don’t care if Rick is Crocodile Dundee, he needs more than a knife. Hershel agrees. For the sake of Carl and Judith, Rick agrees to bring his gun.

Once he’s out in the woods, Rick sees that Walkers got to most of the caught animals before him. One boar is still alive after being caught but a lady Walker gets to it first. Rick stalks away but Lady Walker spots him. “Wait,” she cries out, “Please! Please! Please help me.” She’s not a Walker — just a creepy Irish woman. What could possibly go wrong?

NEXT: It’s raining zombies, goddammit! (Or whatever the opposite of Hallelujah is.)

The new kids on the cell block wave and giggle as they name the Walkers along the gate. Carl and Patrick greet them. But Carl is not one of them. He has seen and done too much to still consider himself a kid. He scolds them, echoing his father in telling them not to name the Walkers. He’s right. Walkers are most definitely not people anymore, but he doesn’t have to be so self-righteous about it. The other kids, all girls and one young boy, walk away. Patrick agrees to see the others later in the day during story time. He may be a teenager, and older than Carl, Patrick knows how to take advantage of downtime. (Would you go to story time during a Zombiepocalypse when almost every waking moment is focused on survival? Discuss!)

Daryl, Michonne, Glenn, Sasha, Tyreese, Zach, and Bob arrive at a Big Spot (Think Big Lots! with less copyright infringement) that was converted into an Army refuge. Sasha distracted the Walkers with a boombox a few days ago, so the team moves into the encampment. Before sweeping the inside of the store, Zach tries to guess what Daryl did for a living before the Zombiepocalypse. He guesses “homicide cop,” since Daryl is helpful but also surly. Daryl tries to play cool, but Michonne breaks out in laughter. (If only knew how much Daryl has grown since the beginning — and not just his hair.) The remaining Walkers inside the store come towards the sound of commotion, and the team rallies to take them out and start their supermarket sweep (or shop ’til they drop. Both ’90s game show references work.) Little does the team know, there is something amiss at Big Spot. A crashed helicopter and a bevy of Walkers are on the roof? But roof zombies shouldn’t be an issue, right? Right? WRONG.

Inside, the team spreads out to grab certain supplies. Michonne reminds the audience that’s it’s Halloween season — beheading a “monster” savings cardboard figure. (I sense a Walking Dead/ Sleepy Hollow mash-up on the horizon). In his new protective suit, Glenn has baby on the brain. We know this because he stares meaningfully at photo studio with a baby announcement poster. And Bob — oh Bob — makes the right decision for himself that turns into the worst-case scenario for everyone else.

Bob starts off innocently enough, admiring a shelf of untouched wine. He grabs a wine bottle and almost stashes it in his jacket but stops. No, that wouldn’t be good for him. I’m assuming the former Army medic is an alcoholic. He puts the bottle back on the shelf. (Good for you, Bob! He’s sticking to his principles even after civilization has ended!) But the shelf — and the ceiling above it — has water damage and the force of putting the bottle back, topples the shelf on top of him. He’s lucky — he isn’t cut or knocked out, but his foot is pinned under the shelf. The squad rushes to help him, but the zombies up top also rush above to where they heard a noise. Water damaged ceiling + plus shuffling zombies = Zombies falling into the store. Greg Nicotero, who directed this episode, has said that this season, he wants to make the Walkers a threat again. Well, a zombie hail storm sure seems like a viable threat to me. (Can a Zombienado be far off? Syfy, take note!)

The squad fight off the falling zombies, but it’s tough going. As soon as one falls, one or two more drop in (literally). Meanwhile, Bob is still pinned and now the rest of the ceiling starts to buckle underneath the helicopter. Zach lifts the shelf to free Bob but before he can make a run for it, a Walker grabs his leg and bites into his calf. The team hesitates one second too long before the Walker rips out his throat. With no hope for Zach left — and a helicopter barreling through the ceiling — the rest of the team scrapes out alive.

NEXT: Rick takes A Day No Pigs Would Die too literally, ignores a strong sense of Stranger Danger.

The Irish non-Walker Woman begs Rick to help her get the boar to her husband for they haven’t eaten in days. (According to Talking Dead, her name is Clara, but I don’t remember hearing her actually say her name in the episode.) Instead, Rick offers her his foil-wrapped lunch. Creepy Clara asks if she and her husband, Eddie, can join Rick’s camp. (Side note: Creepy Clara is trending on Twitter!) Before she is brought into the fold, Rick must her husband and ask them both three questions. The Three Questions test is the new community’s Litmus test for bringing in new members. She agrees, allows Rick to frisk her for guns, and leads him to her camp.

(Aside: is Rick really going to leave that poor boar in the snare? Can’t he kill it and come right back for it? I doubt a captured dead boar would attract anymore Walkers than a captured live boar.)

Creepy Clara explains that her and her husband were en route to Puerto Vallarta for their honeymoon when the Zombiepocalypse hit. They stayed in the Atlanta airport for four nights before Walkers broke through. She credits Eddie for saving her and teaching her to be willing to do “things” to survive.

Creepy Clara and Rick arrive at Clara and Eddie’s camp. She rushes off-camera, over to Eddie, thanking God “he’s still here.” She falls to her knees and soothes Eddie — but where is Eddie? Something definitely isn’t right. Rick looks into Creepy Clara’s tent and sees only one sleeping bag.

Surprise! Creepy Clara is nuts! She pulls out a machete and lunges at Rick, who easily dodges her attack. She falls to the ground and Rick whips out his “unnecessary” gun. Creepy Clara tearfully admits that she needed something “alive” for Eddie to eat. (Unlike her and Rick, Eddie is most certainly not “alive.”) Unable to let go to her husband, she kept him after he turned and now pleads Rick to let her “be like him.” She pulls out her knife and stabs herself in the abdomen, zombie seppuku-style.

(I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I miss Lori. Not Ghost Lori, obviously, but the real one. I think she would have flourished in the new prison, taking a strong leadership role like Carol. She balanced Rick. Now, he seems a bit broken and perpetually melancholy and that makes me sad. It’s a good sadness, a testament to the writing and Andrew Lincoln’s performance but still sadness.) Farmer Rick is distraught — he stuck to the farm so he didn’t have to deal with death up close anymore. With her dying breaths, Creepy Clara asks what the Three Questions test is. In return, Rick asks, “How many Walkers have you killed?” Clara replies, “Eddie killed them all until…[he died.]” Then, he asks, “How many people have you killed?” She whispers, “Just me.” The last question he breathes, “Why?” “You don’t get to come back from this,” she answers before she expires. He respects her wishes and leaves her to turn in the company of Eddie — or at least the zombified head that once was Eddie.

The Farmer Rick project is doomed to fail. He can’t come back from all he’s been through — and more importantly — all he has done. Unlike the dead, the living can’t return to their old selves. They must learn to adapt or die (and turn into a Walker). Such an omen in the very first episode back does not bode well for Rick and the others.

NEXT: Because raining zombies from on high isn’t enough of a problem.

Carl sneaks into a session of story time to see what all the fuss is about. Carol reads from the book but immediately stops once another adult leaves the room. story time is really a cover for How to Stab and Slash 101. While I’m all for children experiencing a sense of culture even in these darkest of times, learning how to wield a knife is the more immediate concern. (I got some major Dumbledore’s Army vibes from this scene, and I liked it.) Feeling queasy, Patrick excuses himself from the knife tutorial, leaving Carol to teach the girls defensive skills that she unfortunately could not teach her own daughter before it was too late. As Carl reveals himself from the shadows, Carol asks him not to tell his father. (Farmer Rick still holds authoritative weight even in this post-Ricktatorship republic.) Carl storms out. Don’t ruin this, Carl! Every child deserves to learn to defend themselves as you did.

Back from his Creepy Clara encounter, Rick notices the bloody teared Walker still moaning at the fence. (Hint! Hint!) He also notices that Violet has stopped moving. Today is a day a pig did die. (This can’t be good.) The squad also returns to the prison. Tyreese confides in Karen, saying he doesn’t like going on runs, either. Glenn is relieved to hear Maggie is in fact not pregnant. Daryl tells Beth the news about Zach. She takes it in stride, changing her board of “Days Without an Accident” from 30 to 0. Having lost so much already, she’s just grateful she got to know Zach when he was alive. Daryl, on the other hand, seems more upset than her; he’s “tired of losing people.” Rockstar Daryl is an integral part of the community, and that means he is rocked whenever that community faces loss.

Rick confides in Hershel about his experience with Creepy Clara, seeing himself in her. In moral opposing force to Clara, Hershel affirms that Rick can come back from the brink of madness and despair, establishing Rick’s internal conflict this season. (Side note: Judith is adorable!)

Since not enough of turmoil happened in this season premiere, Patrick stumbles towards the bathroom, sweating and coughing along the way. It turns out he’s actually sick and not just afraid of knives. In the stupidest move a teenager in a fragile post-apocalyptic settlement can do, he coughs all over the shower water supply, cools himself off under the running water, and collapses on the ground. Moments later, he lies motionless on the ground, blood spilling from his eyes. (Like the Walker!) Patrick is gone, which means Walker Patrick is here.

So to run through it: There’s a Walker inside the prison. A disease primed to spread rampant throughout the prison and possibly the world. Plus, dozens of Walkers ready and waiting to pursue anyone who tries to escape. Oh, and if that’s not enough, somewhere in the wilderness is a very pissed off Governor.

What did you think about this action-packed, ominous start to the fourth season?

Episode Recaps

The Walking Dead

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

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