After what has seemed like an incredibly long wait, ‘The Walking Dead’ is back. Picking up only a few days after the previous season finale, Rick and the group are ready to move on from Atlanta. The incident at the CDC has broken a lot of spirits and sapped a lot of the remaining hope from the group. Rick recaps a lot in his final transmission to Morgan, and the wagon train of survivors takes to the road.

[Be warned, this recap contains spoilers]

Things have grown tense in the group. Having “rescued” Andrea from the CDC, Dale is worried that she might try to kill herself. He talks Shane into taking away her gun, and Andrea is none too happy about it. She explains that her gun was actually a gift from her father. It was given to her and Amy just before they left on their road trip and the world went to hell.

They don’t get too far out of Atlanta before they hit a wall of wrecked cars on the freeway. Trying to find a way through, their dying RV’s radiator blows. They all stop and take this moment to scavenge as much as they can from the wrecked cars around them. Lori is the only one who expresses any sort of moral reluctance about it. It isn’t too long, however, before Dale and Rick notice a couple Walkers heading toward them. Those few Walkers soon turn into a herd, and Rick quickly gets everybody to hide under the cars and hope that the Walkers will just pass them by without incident. This is the scene that you’ve probably seen over and over again in the advertisements for Season 2, and it is just as suspenseful as you’ve probably come to expect from this show.

If you think they get away scott-free, you’re gravely mistaken. A Walker, showing a bit more intelligence than the others, gets into the RV with Andrea inside. Noticing the Walkers approaching too late, T-Dog panics and slices his arm open on an exposed piece of metal. He tries to hide, but he is leaving an all too tasty trail of blood for the Walkers to follow. Daryl comes to T-Dog’s rescue armed with a screwdriver, and takes out a Walker who has picked up on his scent. Dale, hiding on the roof of the RV, tosses his own screwdriver to Andrea inside, and she is able to take out the Walker after her. Both of the deaths are pretty gruesome, but this is what we’ve come to expect from this show. If you watch it while eating at this point, you have only yourself to blame.

Most of the herd passes, but two Walkers end up finding Sophia, and she takes off into a nearby forest to get away from them. Rick is quick to go after her. Catching up with Sophia, he hides her under a fallen tree by a creek and tells her to stay there while he goes to take care of the two pursuing Walkers. Still adhering to the rule of not firing a gun and risk attracting more Walkers to them with the noise, Rick takes out the two with a rock. Going back to get Sophia he finds that she has disappeared.

Rick teams up with Daryl to track her down. Even though Daryl is a character who was not in the graphic novels, he has certainly become a good member of the team, and added a good dynamic to it. He is a skilled hunter and tracker, and his skills have proven useful on more than one occasion. This is no exception. Daryl notices that Sophia began heading back to the freeway, but she got diverted for some reason. While continuing to follow her trail, they come across a Walker alone in the woods. Daryl makes quick work of it with his crossbow, and Rick sees that it has fresh flesh under its fingernails and in its teeth. Fearing the worst, they cut into its stomach to see what it had eaten. Yes, it’s just as gruesome as it sounds. Daryl determines that it had eaten a woodchuck and not Sophia.

Meanwhile, back with the group, Lori has noticed that Shane has been very distant with both her and Carl. There has certainly been tension between the two of them, given what happened when they thought Rick was dead. Shane has decided to leave the group. Fixing up a car for himself, he plans to take off on his own once they get Sophia back and are ready to move on.

As the sun sets, Rick and Daryl are forced to head back to the freeway. They can’t track her in the dark. Carol is beside herself with grief over that, and acts out on her kneejerk reaction to blame Rick for what happened despite the fact that he had no choice in what happened. Despite everybody rushing to Rick’s defense and convincing Carol that he did the only thing he could, Rick takes Carol’s lecture to heart and is more determined to find her than ever.

The next morning, they all take off to find Sophia. Carl, who has developed a fast friendship with Sophia, insists on coming with them. Andrea finally has it out with Dale over what happened at the CDC. He clearly thinks that he saved her and wants her to show a little gratitude, but Andrea doesn’t see it that way at all. The way she sees it, he forced her to save him by opting to stay with her after she decided to stay at the CDC when it blew up. And in doing so, he took away her ability to choose how she died. Now she is stuck in this nightmare existence because Dale denied her the one way out that she could actually control. Dale and T-Dog stay behind to fix the RV while everybody else heads into the woods.

After a couple dead ends, Sophia’s trail has gone cold. Rick doesn’t want to give up, but it’s looking more and more hopeless. Suddenly, against all odds, they hear church bells off in the distance. Somewhere, somebody is alive. It could be Sophia. It could be somebody who found her. It’s the best lead they have, and they’re quick to follow it.

Back at the RV, Dale confesses to T-Dog that he fixed it the day before. He’s been pretending it was still busted so that the group would continue to look for Sophia. He fears that, if they knew they could leave, they’d start having to discuss making the hard decision of leaving her behind. He’s putting it off for as long as possible, and hoping to buy enough time for them to find her. T-Dog agrees to play along with him.

The group finds the church, but Shane quickly points out that it has no steeple, and therefore no bell to ring. Still, it’s the only church, so they go in. There is nothing in the church except for a few Walkers, and they make quick work of them. There is no sign of Sophia. If the church has no bell, then what was ringing? Glenn finds out that it was a recording of a church bell set on a timer. Nobody rang anything.

Despondent over yet another dead end, Carol goes into the church to pray. Everybody else takes a break from the search while she does so. Lori has another discussion with Shane about him leaving. He’s already made up his mind, and there is nothing she can do to change it. Andrea overhears their conversation and offers to join Shane in leaving the group. Like Shane, she no longer feels like she is really a part of it anymore, and that she’d be better served on her own. Together, the two of them could watch each other’s back.

Rick, convinced that Sophia heard the church bells and is nearby, insists on staying to search the area. Shane agrees to stay with him and send the rest of the group back to the freeway with Daryl in charge before the sun sets. Carl also insists on staying with Rick and Shane. He cares about Sophia and wants to find her. As the group heads back, Lori calls out Andrea and Carol on how they’ve been behaving. She offers Andrea her gun so that she’ll stop looking at everybody who is armed with contempt, and scolds Carol for blaming Rick for Sophia’s disappearance. When the Walkers went after Sophia, the only person who went to her rescue was Rick. She seems to be able to diffuse some of the tension that has been building.

While Rick, Shane and Carl go deeper into the woods, they come across a deer. Carl is mesmerized by it and begins to approach it. As he does, a shot comes out of nowhere, passing through the deer and hitting Carl square in the stomach. Those who have read the graphic novels probably have a good idea as to what happens next. For everybody else…well, I think it’s going to be a pretty long week to find out.

With the change of environment this season from an urban setting to a rural one, the feeling of isolation is growing deeper. The character dynamics that began in the short six episode first season grow in this one. While there are certainly deviations from how the story has progressed in the graphic novels, the flow in this feels just as organic. It is just flowing in a different direction. While I was unsure of the addition of characters like Daryl and T-Dog, neither of them feel shoehorned in, and their place in the group feels just as natural as any of the others. This is a very solid start to a new season, and I can’t wait to see where it takes us.