This week, Rick has to deal with an unexpected problem.

Well, readers, I’m having a dilemma. Nothing dire, really, something pretty existential. And that it’s that I can’t find much wrong with last night’s episode. ‘The Walking Dead’ has always had graceful openers and closers, and nothing has quite been able to top that very first episode, ‘Days Gone By’. The show’s main problem has always been it’s meandering, squishy middles, and finding something for every member of the cast to do (other than not die.) So the fact that we’ve had two strong, substantive episodes leading us in to season three is an entirely new feeling, and suddenly, I’m remembering what it was like when this show was, well, good. It’s already AMC’s number one in the ratings by a mile, and it’s starting to slide into being worthy of the brand, critically speaking. One big improvement? The walkers are back, and they are pissed and gross.

So, of course, just because Team Rick has carved out a spot in a (seemingly) abandoned prison, doesn’t meant that they get to relax. Last week, Rick made the split second decision to cut Hershel’s leg off after he was bitten by a walker. For the most part, it seems like there’s no way this is going to work out, and while Carol and Lori pile sheets and towels and whatever they can get on top of the bleeding stump, Rick assigns Glen to be there in case Hershel dies. Glen accepts, knowing that Maggie and Beth shouldn’t have to take care of it. Meanwhile, Rick, Daryl and T-Dog deal with the group of prison survivors they found creeping up on them. It’s a mixed bag of guys, none of them given much in the way of names, other than a guy by the name of ‘Tiny’ (hint: he ain’t) and it’s pretty clear that the head con has the potential to be a troublesome dude. (Of course, anything that threatens the Rickocracy™ is troublesome.) But what was most interesting about this part of the story wasn’t that these guys were diehard cons hellbent on survivial, it was that they had no idea what had become of the outside world. They don’t know about the infection or the walkers, and they’ve basically been hold up in the cafeteria since all hell broke loose. There’s some disbelief, some bad news to give (one of the cons had a mother and kids), but basically, it’s up to Team Rick to make sure these guys don’t try to kill them without totally abandoning them to the apocalypse. It almost works out.

On the other side, there’s a lot of quietly boiling turmoil. Maggie is trying to prepare herself and her sister for what she sees as their father’s imminent death and Glenn is trying to be supportive and realistic but not without hope (because he is a pure and wonderful young man). Lori has lost someone to deliver her baby, and Carol immediately knows she has to step into that position. Carol is quickly becoming Team Rick’s Superwoman. She is brave because she’s hit rock bottom, becoming more and more experienced with skills the team doesn’t already have, and she manages to both basically save Hershel from immediate death and keep the room together while they wait. She also comes up with an ingenious idea- Hershel can’t do anything for Lori, very soon and she’s overdue and will probably need a C Section. Carol asks Glenn to help her track down a female walker so that she can practice on operating on the female body. It’s a cool way to use the zombies for things other than clever, disgusting headshots. After nearly two seasons of miring Carol in sadness, it’s great to see her being so proactive. She doesn’t need to be super badass and violent to be cool, and her attitude on the show is complementary and mature. I’m Team Carol.

There are some great moments in this episode. Some of them are latently funny, like the scene where Rick takes the cons to meet their first zombies, and even after Daryl tries to tell them that headshots are the only way to get rid of them, they rush them, screaming like banshees, and try to shank them and beat them. There are a few horrifying/hilarious fakeouts, where one is waiting with baited breath to see if Hershel becomes the undead and bites off Maggie’s or Lori’s face. The first one doesn’t happen, and it’s almost distracting because it takes place during a really beautiful scene for Lauren Cohan. It’s sweet that she wants to be close to her father, but who isn’t saying girl get away he’s gonna bite your face. The second time, it’s terrifically tense, while Lori is giving Hershel last ditch CPR and he grabs her, not because he’s a zombie, but out of shock. In the end, Hershel actually doesn’t die, thanks to the team’s combined efforts. The moment where Hershel takes Rick’s hand and Rick passes it to Maggie and Beth is sweet, and it was like a breath of fresh air to see family man Officer Friendly Rick to show up for a fraction of a second.

But of course, Rick’s on a bit of a decline. You can debate a lot about how it was probably smart of Rick to kill a few of those prisoners to protect his team, but the degree to which he has become comfortable with killing human beings is getting more and more apparent, and Daryl and T-Dog might have a problem on their hands. A few of the less worrisome prisoners are kept alive, allowed to clean out their own cell block, and of course, they say they’re not dangerous, but they’re not Team Rick and were allowed to live until another episode so, we’ll be seeing them again. This all revolves around two conversations between Rick and Lori that can probably account for more character development than these two have had in awhile. Lori is perfectly aware of the deep rift between her and Rick, and also what she sees as her questionable parenting, and actually wants to discuss this with her husband like a reasonable woman. She talks openly about the things he’s had to do, and tells him she knows he’s a good man (this all after Rick kills the prisoners) and it’s clear that the sentiment, although acknowledged, is not believed. So it’s not certain where these two will end up in the future or even next week, and it feels like progress, these conversations, as opposed to the arguments that last season seemed to favor. “We appreciate what you did.” Rick says before leaving her. Not “I”, “we.” Damn.

Stray Observations:

  • Carl managed to find a whole mess of medical supplies. Good Carl! Using your wandering skills for good. Lori’s not so keen, though, because of the whole zombie-infested-prison thing. She doesn’t seem to know her kid is unkillable little gollem creature, and also almost a teenager, mom, gosh.
  • The moment where Rick kills the head con and runs after the one trying to escape, leaving Daryl with a befuddled con is grimly hilarious.
  • “Today’s your lucky day, fellas, you’ve been pardoned by the State of Georgia.”
  • I do like this kind of triumvirate Rick, Daryl and T-Dog have formed. Rick’s the enforcer and “bad cop”, Daryl’s the backup and, weirdly enough, “good cop” and T-Dog’s the spotter. Y’all, I’m just happy T-Dog has lines.
  • Nothing bad is ever allowed to happen to Maggie and Glenn. Steven Yeun and Lauren Cohan manage that tough spot in between being innocent and amazingly mature without ever being cheesy and I want them around forever.
  • Someone was watching Carol while she practiced her zombie c-section: was that escapee prisoner just faking his gruesome offscreen death? WAS IT MERLE?
  • Lori: “Do I look worried?” Carol: “No. You look disgusting.” Actually, Sarah Wayne Callies is basically the last non-disgusting looking person on this show, I don’t know how she keeps her hair that nice.
  • These zombie deathsquad melees are awesomely bloody and fun to watch. Please keep those up.