Warning: spoilers from the "Walking Dead" season four premiere ahead!
Well, so much for peace-time.
"The Walking Dead" returned for its fourth season on Sunday, with an action-packed episode called "30 Days Without an Accident." The story picked up months after the end of season three, with the prison now a robust civilization complete with community-wide barbecues and thriving agriculture, thanks largely to ex-leader and current-farmer Rick Grimes.
But it didn't take long for the bloodless happy-times to get very, very bloody indeed. Rick encountered a disturbed woman in the woods, an extreme reflection of the man he almost became after Lori's death. Daryl led a supply run that went horribly wrong and claimed the life of one of the show's newest characters. And at the end of the hour, yet another newbie — the geeky Patrick — died in the shower from some unknown illness ... and returned as a walker, ready to devour the whole damn prison.
The premiere gave us lots and lots to chew on. Let's dig in with five of our most burning questions.
How Did Rick Get An iPod In The Zombie Apocalypse?
I mean, I guess Hurley had the walkman on "Lost," so it's not too much of a stretch. More importantly, Rick listening to music, plowing the farm-like fields of the prison, was perhaps the most jarring image of the entire hour: this is the same man who just one season ago was driven completely mad by the death of his wife, the same man who buried a machete in a renegade prisoner's head, the same man who killed his very best friend all those episodes ago. And here he is, toiling away like a good little worker-bee, cracking jokes with his son, about as happy as we've ever seen him. Good for Rick, but savor the flavor: that smile won't last long.
Who Watches the Watchmen? With Rick out of the leader role, we're looking at a new council of survivors as the prison's de facto government: Hershel, Glenn, Carol, Sasha and Daryl. It's an interesting group. Hershel's place speaks for itself, and Daryl served as Rick's number-two for so long that his involvement doesn't raise many eyebrows either. Sasha spent time in Woodbury, making her a viable representative for her people. Carol survived through so much hardship that she's certainly earned a little bit more responsibility. But, uh, doesn't anyone remember how awful Glenn was at decision-making back in season three, when Rick was out to lunch and Daryl was off in the woods with Merle? His style is too aggressive and self-important, as much as everybody loves the guy. Perhaps he's grown somewhat in the months since season three ended, but I remain unconvinced.
How Can I Get An Invite To Daryl's BBQ And Butcher Shop?
Looks like the writers are taking a cue from Norman Reedus' real-life popularity, as Daryl himself has become something of a celebrity within the world of "The Walking Dead." He's one of the group's leaders, he's their chief hunter, and he's the man who brought in most of the recent refugees like Bob Stookey. (What is up with that guy, anyway?) All of that makes him a hot-ticket item around the prison, with folks like Zach asking him endless questions, and Patrick requesting to shake his hand. It's not Daryl's comfort zone, but as Carol says, he needs to get used to his new star-power; he's earned it. Still, I can't shake this nagging feeling: are the writers building up Daryl even more than ever because they plan to rip him away from us this season? I hope I'm wrong, but I'm getting a bad feeling about the last remaining Dixon brother.
How Much Bad Stuff Can Happen At Once?
"It's a zombie show. There's supposed to be violence. What are you complaining about?" I'm just anticipating your reaction to what I'm about to say next: I didn't love the everything-hits-the-fan-all-at-once feel of last night's premiere. Thirty days lapsed without a single death, right? Then, all in the span of one day, Rick goes off into the woods and nearly gets killed by a woman who promptly commits suicide in front of him; zombies attack Daryl's crew and kill one of their newest and most useful soldiers, Zach; and Patrick suddenly drops dead of a mysterious illness, only to rise again as the first walker within the prison walls in who knows how long. That's a whole lot of completely unrelated bad stuff to happen all at once after such a great stretch of quiet normalcy. Just one of those things would have been enough to kick "The Walking Dead" back into higher-gear. All three at once? It's a stretch.
Who Will Die Next?
We already lost two in the premiere — rest in peace Zach and Patrick, we hardly knew ye — and based on the way the episode ended, it won't be long until the next round of casualties. Smart money says some of the other new characters will buy the proverbial farm next. But this is "The Walking Dead" we're talking about — the same show that killed off its female lead out of nowhere in the fourth episode of its third season. I think the show will stop short of killing someone as high-level as Daryl or Rick in its second season-four episode, but don't be surprised if someone else we know and love — the Carols and Hershels of the world — meet their maker when "Infected" hits next Sunday.
What are your burning questions from the "Walking Dead" season premiere? Sound off in the comments below!