By Kat Rosenfield
Aaaaand we're back! The dead were up and walking again on Sunday night, as we rejoined the cast of "The Walking Dead" in their prison-dwelling, zombie-slaying lives of leisure. It's been six months since we watched Woodbury go down in the big finale of Season 3, and about as much time has passed in the Walking Dead universe — giving the remaining survivors plenty of time to make friends, build a community, and possibly become a bit too secure in the ability of their barbed wire and big walls to keep the dangerous world at bay. Here's what went down in the long-awaited premiere of Season 4.
To begin with, things are pretty hunky-dory at Chez Survivor. They've got al fresco dining, a robust garden, even a working iPod with which to drown out the gnashing of walkers whilst you hoe a row. And whatever early (off-screen) growing pains the prison community might've experienced, everyone's getting along famously now: there's a council in charge of decision-making, there are romances blossoming left and right, a hyper-eager bespectacled young man named Patrick is calling Daryl "Mister Dixon", and everyone who was on the verge of madness last season seems to have conquered their demons. Even Carl has traded in his cold stares and killing sprees for comic books (although he still turns up his nose at joining the rest of the kiddies for story time.)
Still, the prison isn't entirely self-sustaining just yet, and a team of folks are gearing up for a supply run — giving us a nice, quick character development showcase as we see each one getting ready to go. There's Sasha, who's clearly stepped into a leadership position over the past few months; Glenn, who doesn't mind risking his own life but doesn't want Maggie in harm's way; Tyrese, who's found love with Karen (the sole survivor of the Governor's roadside massacre last season); Zach, a newcomer to the show who is apparently Beth's boyfriend; and Roy Stark, who exposition (and the original comics) tells us is a former Army medic with a charming demeanor but a troubled past. They're joined by Daryl and Michonne — the latter having just returned from an unproductive mission in search of someone referred to only as "him". Hmmm. This "him" wouldn't happen to be a handsome one-eyed Governor with an axe to grind, would it?
The group leaves in search of supplies while Rick makes a solo trek out into the forest to "check the snares". But instead of an ordinary walk in the woods, he encounters a surprise guest: Clara, a filthy, crazy, haunted woman who needs help carrying a dead boar back to her husband at their camp… that is, unless Rick would take them in? It's been so hard out here, just the two of them! She's had to do such terrible things!
And speaking of character development: the cautious-to-the-point-of-paranoia Rick of last season would have probably put a knife in her eye by now, but instead, he cooly informs her that he'll ask Clara and her husband three questions — their answers to which will determine their eligibility to join the group. (Oooh, let us guess: name, quest, and favorite color?)
There's just one problem: Clara's husband is actually a zombie in a burlap sack, and Rick was supposed to be his dinner. But when that doesn't work out — her attempt to off Rick is half-hearted at best, really — she stabs herself, instead, so that she can join her man in zombieland, whispering as she dies that "you don't get to come back" from the brutal edge that all the survivors have had to live on. Last season's Rick would have probably agreed with her; here's hoping the new and improved Rick doesn't think that way anymore.
Meanwhile, back at the prison, we meet a few of the new kiddie additions to the community — and Carl rolls his eyes as a self-righteous tween informs him that the walkers aren't dead, they're just different. (See? See?! This is what happens when every kid gets a trophy just for trying.) But when the rest of his cohort duck out for "story time", Carl curiously creeps after them… and discovers that Carol, charged with reading fairy tales to the prison's younguns, has instead been secretly using the opportunity to teach the kids all about survival skills. Today's lesson: knives and how to use 'em! Carl is upset by this, for… reasons? Carol begs him not to tell his father, and he runs away in a huff.
And at the local grocery, the group has split up in search of supplies. The problem? Roy Stark, who seems to be having a personal crisis in the wine aisle, wins the day and puts the bottle back — but then manages to topple the entire display, trapping himself underneath it and making a noise that unsettles the horde of walkers above him, where a crashed army helicopter has weakened the building's roof to the point of collapse. The structure begins to crumble, and you knew it was coming: a big, bloody battle with undead enemies galore! Highlights include a zombie dangling from the ceiling by his intestines, multiple zombies making big, red SPLATS as they plummet into the store, and Roy, who is still pinned under the shelves, peeling open the head of a gnashing zombie and trying to dig its brain out with his bare hands.
The good news: Roy escapes unscathed, along with all the rest of the major characters, before the whole building collapses.
The bad news: buh-bye, Beth's boyfriend. (Her reaction upon hearing the news: "I don't cry anymore," and a cold-as-ice shrug as she resets the count on her Days Without an Accident plaque back to zero. Ouch.)
And the very bad news: Patrick, the squeamish milquetoast teenager who we got to know just enough to know that he's not exactly cut out for life after the apocalypse, stumbles into the shower in the middle of the night with some kind of nasty, sweaty, flu-like bug — and then collapses to the floor, where he lies for awhile in a pool of water and then reopens his eyes as a member of the living dead. Start placing your bets now on next week's body count!
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