by Kat Rosenfield
When we last saw our band of merry "Walking Dead" misfits, they'd just hacked their way through a herd of walkers to find safety and shelter in a prison cell block — and hacked their way through a certain someone's left leg in order to save him from zombification.
Also: they're not alone.
The impromptu amputation was witnessed by a group of former prison residents who'd been hiding in the commissary, and they've got a whole lot of questions… but this is no time for hellos! Or goodbyes, for that matter; flinging the bleeding Hershel onto a rolling cart, Rick and company flee the way they came, leaving one severed leg and five gobsmacked convicts in their wake.
Back at the cell block, Rick, T-Dog, and Daryl deal with the curious prisoners while Carol tries to stanch the bleeding Hershel's gaping wound. ("We need bandages!" she says, possibly because she's too nice to point out that they wouldn't need bandages if Rick had stopped his mad ax-whacking long enough to do the basic courtesy of leaving a flap of skin to fold over the stump, and honestly, how are any of these people still alive?) Hershel is cuffed to the bed (just in case he dies and comes back), but Beth gets busy ripping the left legs off all his pants (just in case he lives and wants to be fashionable).
And hey, look! It's Carl! With a bag full of medical supplies! Sometime during the melee, he's taken a dangerous solo trip to the infirmary. Lori, predictably, freaks out, and Carl peaces out in a huff — all of which we've seen before, and we're a little tired of Lori's one-note performance as a helicopter parent, so what happens next is a relief: Hershel stops breathing, and despite the obvious danger of losing her lips/face/life if he reanimates, she revives him with mouth-to-mouth.
Meanwhile, the Jailbird Quintet are confused, hostile, and — it soon becomes clear — totally clueless about what's become of the outside world.
"Well," says one of them, having been informed of the state of things. "Do you have a cell phone?"
It's only after a field trip to the prison yard and a brief tour of the carnage that they begin to grasp the nature of the situation, at which point Rick and the Alpha Convict strike a deal: the prisoners will share their stock of food, in exchange for help in clearing their own secure cell block. It's an uneasy agreement, and Rick doesn't lose the guarded, hardened look that's been his trademark since he killed Shane last season — particularly when Lori fiercely instructs him to do whatever it takes to keep them safe.
Still, it could work, and after a brief lesson in The Exquisite Art of Zombie-Killing, Rick, Daryl, and T-Dog lead the convicts into battle. But these guys aren't the sharpest knives on the cellblock, and instead of heeding Rick's warnings, they end up circling up around the first walker they see and ineffectively whaling on him like a human pinata. It's only a matter of time before someone gets bitten, and the winner is: the big guy! Who is, of course, named "Tiny", and who backs off from the killing only to receive a puncture wound from a walker's bony arm-stump. And while the other prisoners argue about quarantining him, Alpha Convict steps forward… and ecstatically bashes Tiny's head in.
"Did you see the look on his face?" Daryl whispers. And every alarm in the known universe goes off at once, because if it freaks out Daryl Dixon, it must be very freaky indeed. As the group makes its way toward a pair of blocked double doors — behind which lots of ominous moaning can be heard — Rick issues a final warning: open just one, to control the influx of walkers. But Alpha Convict flings 'em both wide ("S**t happens!", he sneers), nearly takes Rick's head off with a wild swipe of the crowbar, and then hurls a gnashing walker right at him. Rick is narrowly saved by Daryl, and the tension is palpable as he gets to his feet.
"He was coming at me, bro," the convict shrugs.
"I know," Rick shrugs back... and splits his skull with a machete.
And splits his skull! With a MACHETE!!!
It's a remorseless, brutal killing, and Rick doesn't miss a beat: when another convict takes a swing at him and then flees, he gives chase and then mercilessly locks the man into a walker-infested courtyard. And though the remaining prisoners are allowed to live, it's clear that the tormented emo Rick we caught glimpses of in season two is gone, maybe forever.
Oh, and lastly, there's this: Carol, knowing she'll likely need to perform a cesarean on the pregnant Lori, needs to practice her cutting technique — and grabs a freshly-killed lady walker on whom to practice. (Because the producers of "The Walking Dead" are kind and compassionate, the zombie is wearing underpants. Small favors.) But as Carol kneels over her cadaver, the perspective shifts: somebody is watching her. Any guesses who? We're thinking it starts with "Merle" and ends with a weaponized hand-stump.
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