The Walking Dead is back from Wintermission -- where Season 3 split itself over the holidays -- and the pace is picking up a little. Rick is off the reservation, wandering outside the prison's perimeter, sorting out "stuff." The problem is, now he really sees dead people, notably, an apparition of his late wife Lori. The Dixon brothers, Merle and Daryl, are reunited, but they're wandering the forest. The prison gang has been overrun by zombies, and they're sitting ducks for a retaliatory assault from the Governor.
"Running is not an option," Glenn insists. "With Daryl gone, and Rick wandering CrazyTown, I'm the next in charge," Glenn tells Hershel.
Walking Dead executive producer and creator, Robert Kirkman appeared on AMC's Talking Dead after tonight's episode, to offer additional commentary.
When he spoke at UK last fall, Kirkman told the crowd his original inspiration was George Romero. He said then that exploring the character of Rick Grimes as small-town law enforcement was "more interesting," to him, "than a war-torn superhero." He told fans then, "anything can happen; ANYone can die." He was pretty adamant.
Shortly after that, Lori died by gruesome c-section and then had to be shot in the head by son Carl to prevent re-animating as a zombie. Very Romero. (Of course, the gunshot happened off-camera as fans constantly point out, so...)
So he wasn't kidding.
Tonight's sudden death of a semi-regular (one we knew better than to get attached to) was Axel. He was obviously not long for this season as soon as he started telling Carol a little more about himself. (When T-Dog was suddenly and inexplicably given a backstory to explain to Carol after two full seasons of just taking up space, he was dead by the end of the episode last fall.) Hershel's other daughter, whats-her-name, the not-Maggie daughter, is always an obvious choice. But she's an obvious choice at the beginning of every single episode. No one knows why she's lived this long.
But before anyone can get killed off, the governor makes up with Andrea, making an effort to convince her that he's abdicating, and she could lead Woodbury.
Glenn tries to work things out with Maggie, but apparently she blames him for her topless humiliation with the Governor. Since the Governor told her to take her top off or he'd amputate Glenn's hands, she didn't have much choice. At least she wasn't raped, Glenn seems just a little relieved to discover.
Daryl and Merle happen upon a family under siege by walkers. Daryl's instant inclination is to help -- getting in one of the series' best kills ever: smashing a zombie head in the hatch of a Subaru Outback. Merle's instinct is to try to take their food. After Daryl has restored peace and sent the family along, the brothers hash it out. We see Daryl's emotional and physical scars when Merle tears his shirt. They were both whipped by the same father, but Merle left. He's a leaver. Daryl, on the other hand, has become domesticated. He has a Family now -- just as Rick and Glenn have told him -- and that family is back at the prison. Merle is still a thug. As True Blood's Joe Manganiello puts it on the Talking Dead aftershow, Daryl is a house cat now. He wants to go home. Such as it is.
Rick's busy explaining his need for space to Hershel. Everyone else is out in the Cell Block C yard, catching some rays. Axel and Carol are having a pleasant conversation about Axel's brother. "One time, that son of a..." and kapow, his head explodes. At the other end of a sniper's sights, it's The Governor. Maybe he wasn't serious about abdicating. He's strolling around in a hail of return fire like Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now, impervious to bullets, and lost in delighted reverie.
With a sniper rifle, why wouldn't he have taken out Michonne or Rick, whom he has real problems with? Well, anybody can die, sure, but not just anybody.
A potato chip truck comes barreling through the gates and into the yard. Is it Daryl?! Is it Andrea?!
Nope. It's a truckload of zombies. The governor drives off, satisfied. He doesn't even bother to stop and kill Glenn, who's returning from his recon mission.
Rick is pinned down. He's out of ammo. The zombies are at his throat. Could any one really die?
Not as long as Daryl Mthrfckin Dixon is around, to shoot an arrow through a zombie's head. One Walking Dead tumblr fan put it best, "I was never so happy to see a redneck in my life..."
On the aftershow, Kirkman defends the prison gang's helplessness. "They're dealing with a lot. What could be done in this world to prepare for an attack like that? Are they going to be building another fence?"
Lori is not a ghost, he explains. "She's a vision."
Near the end of the show came one of the darkest fan questions posed so far to the series creator:
"Robert, every boy needs a dog. Could you give Carl a dog on the show? Hershel is a vet. So he could take out the dog's voicebox, so it would not attract zombies."
Even Robert Kirkman was clearly unprepared for that turn. "Get eaten by zombies, or remove a dog's voicebox? That's a hard decision."
And then the lightest question: "does Robert Kirkman know he's the sexiest nerd on the planet?"... from @BigMarcus.
Kirkman laughed, "I do now!" he answered.
Next up: Kirkman will be judging the Walking Dead fan contest. "Fans make videos trying to prove that they are the ultimate Walking Dead fan. And then I'm going to be judging those things." The winner gets to attend the Season 4 premiere party.
Next week's Sneak Peek. Merle tells Hershel what to expect when the Governor returns:
"He's gonna kill me first. Michonne. My brother. Then your girls. Glenn. Carl. The baby. Whoever else is left. He'll save Rick for last. So he can watch his family and friends die ugly. That's who you're dealing with."