Some time has passed since the season finale, and many of the characters are in very different places. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is in a much better place but has withdrawn himself from much of the day to day activity. The prison has been transformed in a number of ways. There are a lot more people living there, and Rick tells Clara (Kerry Condon) that “People are the best defense against Walkers.” Rick has retreated from the violence of their existence and Hershel (Scott Wilson) has to insist he take his gun with him when he goes out to check the traps. Rick is more interested in making the prison self-sustaining, nurturing crops and even a litter of pigs. Ominously, Violet the sow dies by the end of the episode. Rick has also become a better father to both Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Judith.
Even though there are now other children in the prison, Carl remains apart from them. He shows greater respect for his father, but he still isn’t like the other kids. Carol (Melissa McBride) has taken the other children under her wing. Given that Carol was the most helpless at the beginning of the series and that she is still marked by the loss of Sophia, it makes sense that Carol would be the one to step up and insure that the kids can take care of themselves. When Carl catches her teaching the kids about knives when she was supposed to be having story-time with them, Carol begs him not to tell his father. It makes equal sense that Rick would try to preserve some of the kids’ innocence, encouraging story-time and condemning teaching them to fight.
Most of the people are those that Rick and especially Darryl (Norman Reedus) have brought back to the prison with them from foraging runs. Darryl has become a bit of a celebrity, in fact, and has taken over a leadership role. The prison is run by a council, however, not one person. There is a rhythm to their daily routine. People have largely accepted that zombies are just a part of their lives.
Michonne (Danai Gurira) has acquired a horse to get around. She has dedicated herself to tracking down the Governor (David Morrissey). While she has somewhat resumed her nomadic lifestyle, she has clearly established ties with Rick (whom she brings a razor) and Carl (whom she brings comics – ironically enough!). She even goes on the run with the others while she is at the prison re-grouping before going out again.
The group that goes out on the run includes Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), Tyreese (Chad L Coleman), Zack (Kyle Gallner), and newcomer Bob (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr). Tyreese has been primarily helping to keep the walkers off the fence, but he tells Karen (Melissa Ponzio) that he wants a change. We also see that they are just starting a relationship. Tyreese still seems to be floundering in this new, violent world, but Sasha seems to be flourishing. Sasha and Darryl lead the group and have done everything right to insure maximum safety as they scavenge an abandoned store and army camp. Unfortunately, once Bob alerts the zombies to their presence by knocking over a liquor shelf, the rotting roof does the rest and it’s soon raining zombies on the group. The scene is a fantastic one, and it’s amazing that the show can still come up with ways to surprise and horrify us.
Beth (Emily Kinney) and Maggie (Lauren Cohen) are both examples of how people have learned to cope. Beth refuses to say good bye to Zack before he goes on the run. When Darryl tells her that Zack was killed on the run, she tells him, “I don’t cry anymore. I’m just glad that I got to know him.” Her reaction is one of the most chilling moments of the series. Death is so much a part of their lives. She asks Darryl if he’s ok, and he says he’s “just tired of losing people.” Rick tells Carl not to name the pigs because it will make it harder to kill them to eat them, but Carl isn’t troubled by it, yet Carl tells the other kids not to name the walkers. Meanwhile, Maggie discovers that she isn’t pregnant as she had thought she might be. Glenn (Steven Yeun) is relieved. Maggie tells him that she would have been ok with being pregnant. She tells Glenn that she “doesn’t want to be afraid to be alive.” Glenn tells her that’s how they’ve kept alive, but she disagrees and says that’s “how we kept breathing.” Beth and Carl have accepted that death is commonplace, but Maggie reaffirms life.
It seems almost shocking that anyone could survive outside of a group and Clara’s appearance is quite shocking. Gimple commented on Talking Dead that there had never been any intention of showing Eddie – and the horror of her carrying around her dead husband’s head and feeding it is complete even without seeing it. The three question test is also a powerful scene and is a good indication of how far Rick and the rest of the group have come in this new world. The first question is “How many walkers have you killed?” Clara answers that Eddie killed them all. It’s a measure of the worth a person might be to the group if they are a good fighter. It’s a miracle that Clara has managed to stay alive with no one to defend her. The second question is “How many people have you killed?” Clara answers “Just me.” Condon delivers a powerful performance and that one line is simply heartbreaking. The third question is “Why?” In this new age, murder may, in fact, be justifiable – something Rick would never have imagined possible when he was still a sheriff. Clara keeps chanting over and over that “you don’t get to come back.” But Hershel tells Rick that Rick has come back – from madness – and so has Carl. But in many ways, none of them will ever be the same, and in that sense, just like zombies, you can come back, but not completely as you were.
The episode ends with the horrific death of Patrick (Vincent Martella). Once again, the show gives us an interesting character played to perfection by a great guest star, only to kill the character off. Just as the characters seem to be learning to deal with the zombies, they are now faced with another terror – what looks like some form of the ebola virus. How many of them are already infected? Is this what killed the pig? Is this why the zombies have been coming to the prison in herds? Did anyone else think the zombies were starting to look especially bad? And what about the one at the fence with the weird eyes? The last shot we see of Patrick is his weird eyes – zombie eyes to be sure, but also bloodier than normal.
I thought this was a great episode, and just as Gimple promised, there were a lot of great potential storylines kicked off. Anybody else love it as much as I did when Carol called Darryl Pookey? What did you think of the season premiere? Will you be watching tonight? Any guesses as to who will survive this season? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.