In a thrilling return to the zombie apocalypse, Rick and newly-militarized gang of survivors find a walker-infested prison and engage in some forceful colonization
The Walking Dead
Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The Grimes Gang ain’t so chatty nowadays. They spent a long winter homeless, perpetually on the move, searching for food, besieged on all sides by an endless zombie herd. They’ve devolved into pre-agrarian hunter-gatherers. They have no hobbies, unless you count “Amateur Beard-Growing” and “Competitive Zombie Eye-Gouging” as hobbies. They have nothing to live for, really, beyond the vague instinct that being alive is better than being dead. But they did find some totally sweet silencers. So they got that going for them, which is nice.

The season premiere of The Walking Dead reintroduced our happy band of apocalypse survivors in a fantastic, almost entirely silent sequence. They cleared out a walker-infested household with raw, military precision. The size of Lori’s belly indicates that we have timejumped far, far away from the barn-burning season 2 finale. In the process, the show also essentially announced that it has reached the end of its Awkward Adolescence. The characters are no longer debating the meaning of life in a dead world. They’re just trying to stay alive. The new normal was confirmed in the first scene, when Daryl Motherf—ing Dixon found a pretty pet upstairs and committed the Owl Kill of the Week. Then Daryl stood over the owl’s corpse and yelled, “That’s how many licks, bitch!”

There was a nice moment of peace, with all the characters sitting quietly in the living room. The moment didn’t last. Walkers emerged from the forest. There’s a giant herd of zombies circling the Grimes Gang — or it might be more accurate to say that the Grimes Gang is a tiny herd of humans in a zombie world. “It’s like we spent the winter going in circles,” said Rick. Not to harp on a point here, but it was impossible to hear a line like that without getting the meta-message. Read that line as “It’s like we spent [season 2] going in circles,” and the opening minutes of last night’s episode look even smarter. The gang needed a new purpose; the show needed a new purpose. Rick and Daryl set off on a hunt for food — pause to imagine Daryl as the dad in the hunting mini-game of The Oregon Trail. And they accidentally discovered a sanctuary.

The Prison was one of the key settings in the Walking Dead comic book. The basic layout has been tweaked a bit in the adaptation, with the addition of a gigantic fenced-in field out front, which quickly became a killzone. Rick led a strike team of melee professionals on the ground. Daryl Motherf—ing Dixon took out a raft of walkers with his crossbow. Carl is a silence-toting, cowboy-hat wearing enforcer, with long unruly hair that makes him look like the coolest problem child in junior high. Carol — Carol, people Carol! — has become an ace shootist, and took up position in the sniper perch. At a certain point, you have to just start laughing: The Killing Field sequence ended with a long shot showing the walkers slowly being picked off, one by one.

Two of the most adrenalized action sequences the show has ever had– and the episode wasn’t even half over. The characters took a moment to rest. They built a campfire. They played “Never Have I Ever.” Hershel’s youngest daughter — Beth, aka “That Blonde Girl You Forgot Existed,” heretofore best known for her magical powers of Being In A Coma” — treated everyone to a nice, eerie little song. T-Dogg started making plans to dig a well. Hershel noted that the soil would be good for tomatoes, cucumbers, and soybeans. Carol gave Daryl a back massage and asked, “Wanna screw around?” Daryl blushed. (ASIDE: During the Walking Dead panel at this weekend’s New York Comic-Con, Norman Reedus pointed out that his character — for all his white-trash-superhero bluster — has zero game. He can stab a zombie through the eye with an arrow and skin a family of squirrels, but he breaks just like a little boy. END OF ASIDE.)

But Rick wouldn’t let them rest on their laurels. “This was a great win,” he said. “But we gotta push, just a little bit more.” On the Big Wheel of Leadership, Rick’s current governing policy has shifted from “Benevolent Despot in a Feudal Society” to “Coach of a Ragtag Band of Hockey Players from the Wrong Side of the Tracks.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave much time for dealing with the womenfolk. A very pregnant Lori begged Rick to talk to her — to say anything. “You wanna talk, go talk to Hershel,” said Rick. “I’m doin‘ stuff!”

NEXT PAGE: She killed seven with one blow! Elsewhere in what was once America, we met the newest member of The Walking Dead cast. Even if you never read the Dead comic books, you probably know who Michonne is, if only because everyone who read the Dead comic books has spent the last two years saying “When are they gonna add in Michonne, already! GEEK TANTRUM!” At this point, all you really need to know about her is that she is more or less the modern incarnation of everything a fanboy finds awesome: A tough lady with a big sword, Clint Eastwood plus Toshiro Mifune. There were plenty of great walker deaths on last night’s episode, but in light of her rookie status, I’m inclined to award the Zombie Kill of the Week to Michonne: She stabbed her katana through two zombies and then sliced off their heads in one fell swoop. I would imagine applications to fencing teams nationwide just skyrocketed.

Back at the prison, Rick led the Melee Squadron into the exterior of the prison. It was him, T-Dogg, Daryl, Glenn, and Maggie. The zombies weren’t too much trouble — until a few walkers in riot gear appeared from around the corner. Maggie almost got bitten, but she managed to stab through to the guy’s exposed neck. This whole sequence was great, crafted with a nice tactical proficiency — at one point, Rick commanded his team, “Don’t break rank!”

They pushed into the prison and spent the night in a cellblock. Glenn and Maggie sat down on their bed, covered in blood, and had the world’s nastiest makeout session. Carl knock-knock-knocked on Beth’s door and said, “Hey there, honey, my name is Carl and I’m very mature for my age.” I have no idea how to feel about the Carl-Beth flirtation. Apparently, Carl is supposed to be 13 and Beth is supposed to be 17. Actually, wait, no, I know exactly how I feel about it:

Meanwhile, Michonne returned to the home she shares with Andrea and her pets: A pair of walkers chained together, mouthless and armless. Let’s call them Tweedledee and Tweedledeath. Andrea has fallen ill, and Michonne is getting worried. They need to keep moving. It seems that the two women have been watching out for each other — Andrea made some reference to “saving your ass all winter.” (Pause to imagine all the wacky adventures Andrea and Michonne had during the cold months. Remember that time Andrea developed a crush on Tweedledee, and Tweedledeath got jealous, and then Michonne killed everything in sight? Ah, friendship!)

Back at the prison, Lori was freaking out. But it wasn’t a normal freak-out: It was about The Baby. She has a very legitimate concern. If the baby is stillborn — a good possibility, given the Cro-Magnon medical supplies they’re using — will it turn into a zombie? And if the baby turns into a zombie mid-childbirth, would that then lead to the grossest labor sequence since that last Twilight movie?

NEXT PAGE: Hershel tries to get a leg up on the competitionThe main problem with Lori’s baby, though, is that it’s pretty much the only member of the Grimes family that doesn’t utterly despise her. “My son can’t stand me,” she said. “And my husband, after what I put him through…” At that point, little Baby Grimes knocked on Lori’s tummy and said, “Pardon me, but I also can’t stand you. Have they invented test tubes yet?” I’m not sure that the show has entirely solved the Problem of Lori yet, but you have to respect what the show is trying to do with her. The writers could have given her an eerily convenient miscarriage, given her some archery lessons, and turned her into another member of the Melee Squad. Instead, they’re doubling down on her main story arc — Pregnancy-as-Metaphor. (ASIDE: Lori is a leading member of the curious sorority of AMC wives. Like Skyler White and Betty Draper, she carries much of her show’s dramatic and narrative weight; like those other characters, she never gets to do the “fun” stuff: Cook meth, screw secretaries, kill zombies. You could also throw in the mom from The Killing, if you ever wanted to talk about The Killing again. END OF ASIDE.)

Morning came, and with hit, more zombie killing. Rick took the Melee Squad into the shadows of the prison. The earlier walker attack sequences were straight-up action, but this final scene was more in the spirit of horror movies, with the team’s flashlights illuminating the dark and dank corners of the prison.

Predictably, everything went to hell. They ran down one hallway and ran into some walkers; they ran back the way they came, and ran into some more walkers. Zombies to the right of them, zombies to the left of them, zombies in front of them. It was a stressful day at the office, is what I’m trying to say, and the anxiety level shot up even higher when Hershel got a walker bite on his heel.

They carried Hershel into a cafeteria. Rick did not hesitate for a second: He tied off Hershel’s knee and chopped off the old man’s leg. He left the knee behind — because that’s what friends do. Hershel screamed and passed out and woke up and said, “Hey guys, what’s happenWHERE’S MY F—ING LEG!” and then he passed out again. At that point, bodies emerged from the shadows. Daryl Motherf—ing Dixon went forward, holding his trusty crossbow Daryl Junior at the ready. Twist: The people in the shadows weren’t walkers! One guy talked, saying what we were all thinking: “Ho. Lee. S—.”

And that, fellow viewers, is how you do a freaking season premiere. It will be interesting to see how the season goes from here. This episode set a new benchmark in pure quantity of carnage; I’m guessing that the show will have to slow down in the next few weeks, if only to conserve our nation’s dwindling reserves of fake blood. And fans of the show know that there’s a major new character appearing soon — a character whose presence promises to radically alter the whole dynamic of the show. Also, lest we forget: We’ve seen the weather reports, and there is a Category Five Rooker approaching from the horizon.

What did you think of the episode, Dead fans? Who was your favorite Zombie Exterminator? Who would you nominate as Most Improved Character? (I’d go with Beth, mostly because I actually remember her name now.) And if you are feeling like you just haven’t can’t get enough Walking Dead, be sure to check out Ken Tucker’s review of the premiere and Clark Collis’ interview with Dead co-creator Robert Kirkman. Also, if you’d like to learn all about those five mysterious people in the prison, Dalton Ross talked to Dead showrunner Glen Mazzara and got the complete rundown on their backstory. Then you can finish off your day by listening to the Dead-centric new episode of the Inside TV podcast. Happy Walking Dead day, America!

Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich

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The Walking Dead

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

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