This week’s episode picked up at exactly the moment the last one left off, with Hershel bleeding out in the cafeteria and the sudden appearance of the group of prisoners. The prisoners and Rick’s group are naturally pretty wary of each other, but the priority is getting Hershel back to the C block for some medical care, so Rick and the crew get out pretty fast.
The prisoners naturally follow them back to the C block, and the leader immediately faces off with Daryl, who’s keeping guard while the others tend to Hershel in one of the cells. Carol is actually the one to take control of the situation (apparently Hershel was teaching her medical skills during the hiatus), which is fabulous character growth from her. Remember when she was so incapacitated by Sophia being missing last season? There’s no sign of that Carol now.
Rick steps in to break up the masculinity contest going on between Daryl and the leader of the prisoners (Tomas, according to AMC’s website), but not before getting Glenn to agree to take care of Hershel if, you know, he wakes up a walker instead. Steven Yeun does a great job with the acting this episode, I have to say. He does a great stricken-but-stoic face.
In talking with the prisoners, we learn how uninformed they really are about the worldwide walker situation. They’ve been holed up in the cafeteria for ten months, expecting official rescue crews from the National Guard. They even ask for cell phones to call their family members, but Rick tells them there’s nothing like that anymore; half the population is gone, maybe more.
Rick, Daryl, and T-Dog show them the yard where they massacred the walkers to get their way inside, and the prisoners relish the sun on their faces. It’s really the little things in life when you’re living post-apocalypse. Rick surprised me by explaining to the prisoners about everyone being infected, considering he took an entire season to explain it to the people he actually cares about keeping safe.
Tomas starts to get possessive of the prison, asking Rick when he’s planning on moving on. Rick says they earned their cell block by walker conquest, but Tomas is claiming first rights to the place considering those were their cells before. I’d be trying to team up with the first humans I’d seen in ten months who knew what was going on with the walkers, but hey, I’m not Tomas. They end up reaching an agreement: Rick and the others will help the inmates clear a cell block for themselves in exchange for half the remaining food and each group keeping to their own space.
Carol and Lori, meanwhile, are doing their best to tend to Hershel’s leg, but it’s not going to work out too well unless they can get their hands on antibiotics and sterile gauze. And then if he survives, they’ll need crutches. Or a peg leg, I guess, though that seems like a difficult thing to make properly. Carol points out that Lori must be worried about delivering her baby in a medically deficient situation like this. Lori lies and says she isn’t, but we all know that’s not true.
Rick and the others return with half of the food stores from the cafeteria, and he gives Glenn his handcuffs to use on Hershel in case he doesn’t pull through. Glenn’s been doing his best to comfort Maggie about her father, but Maggie’s having none of the optimism today, not even from Beth, who’s sweetly trying to shorten one leg of Hershel’s extra pants for when he wakes up and starts walking around.
Lori pulls Rick aside for a chat about the prisoners (hey, at least it’s more specific than “things” from last episode). He thinks one of his only options might be to kill them before they get the chance to hurt the group, and she tells him to do what he has to do. “I know I’m a shitty wife and I’m not winning any mother of the year awards,” she says, but he should do what he needs to to keep the group safe. As harsh as her self-criticism is here, I am glad to see Lori be somewhat self-aware. Remember all those times Carl wandered off on the farm? But at the same time, it’s not fair that she’s blaming herself for Rick’s behavior towards her. At least both of them have the sense not to delve into the tangled web of their relationship problems at the moment, and Rick goes off with the inmates, T-Dog, and Daryl to clear another cell block.
They equip the inmates with hand-to-hand weapons, since all they have is Tomas’ gun that was left them by the guard who closed them into the cafeteria. The guys explain the finer points of walker combat: gun noise attracts them, go for the brain, and stick together. The inmates throw this mini-training session out the window as soon as they’re set upon by their first walkers, and they fight them the same way they would’ve fought them as fellow inmates: noisily, and with blows to the stomach.
Back in the C block, Maggie asks for a minute alone with her dad, and I think this is the best “quiet” scene from the whole episode. Laura Cohen delivers a beautifully tearful monologue as Maggie gives Hershel permission to stop fighting and finally be at peace if it’s his time to go. She promises she and Beth will take care of each other, and she thanks him for everything before kissing his cheek. Poor Maggie is so torn between wanting her father to stay alive and wanting him to be at peace, no wonder she’s been lashing out at Glenn and Beth all episode.
Carol and Lori come back to check on Hershel, and Carl brings them a bag full of medical supplies. He went and found the infirmary on his own and brought back everything they had left. He even killed two walkers, he announces proudly. His efforts are appreciated by all, but Lori is furious that he went off on his own into a dangerous situation. Looks like he hasn’t learned much from his farm wanderings last season after all. Carl storms off to sulk because he’s a teenage boy now, and Carol starts wrapping Hershel’s leg in bandages. Carl’s got a Shane-esque rebellious streak in him; it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out over the course of the season.
Now that the inmates are facing their second wave of walkers, they’re following Daryl’s commands now and staying in formation. Tiny, though, backs away from the group and gets scratched by a walker who’s twisted one of his own hands off in an attempt to get out of handcuffs. Gross. Tomas shoots the walker, which earns him a dirty look from Rick. Tiny insists that he’s fine despite the scratch, that he’s not changing, but Rick and the others know how this ends. Tiny’s terrified insistence that he’ll be fine is the most haunting part of this episode for me, especially because Tomas doesn’t hesitate to take him down immediately. Rick notices this bloodthirstiness as well, and he isn’t comfortable with it.
Carol pulls Glenn away from the group in Hershel’s cell and leads him outside. She wants to practice a C-section on a walker because she thinks Lori’s definitely going to need one to deliver her baby. She had to get one for Carl, after all. If Hershel dies, then it’ll be up to inexperienced Carol to do it, and she wants a cadaver to practice on. In fairness, this is a smart idea on Carol’s part. It’s just really creepy. With Glenn’s help distracting the other walkers, she kills a female walker and drags her back inside the fence.
The guys make it to the prison laundry room, their last stop before the cell block. Rick tosses Tomas the keys to open the doors to the hall, specifically asking him to open one to control the walker flow. Tomas naturally takes this opportunity to fling both doors open and flood the room with walkers, even flinging one straight at Rick to take him down. Thankfully the group can handle this wave of walkers, but Rick isn’t standing for Tomas’ murderous intentions and he machetes him right in the brain. Just straight up kills him, right there. I’m not saying it wasn’t a good idea—Tomas was definitely dangerous—but it was shocking. Andrew takes the opportunity to run away, and he ends up in a courtyard full of walkers. Rick closes the gate and advises him to run before shutting the inside door, which does little to muffle Andrew’s anguished screams.
The story hops back to Hershel, who has officially stopped breathing. Everyone panics, but Lori administers some quick CPR and mouth-to-mouth. Hershel grabs her as she’s breathing into his lungs for a second time, and everyone (myself included) thought he was a walker trying to get her. Seriously, I jumped about a mile, but he turns out to be okay, even opening his eyes for a minute.
Axel is busy insisting he didn’t know anything about what Tomas had in mind. He says he and Oscar aren’t in prison for murder or anything, they’re good guys. Tiny was his friend, he says, they just want to live. Oscar, calm and collected, says he isn’t going to start pleading for his life today and Rick can do what he has to do.
They set Axel and Oscar up in the cell block they cleared, which is full of executed prisoners, all facedown with zip-tied hands. Daryl says if they think this is sick, they don’t want to see what’s outside the prison. He also apologizes for the loss of their friends, which is a new step for Daryl, considering he doesn’t usually express sympathy (except for Carol, of course). T-Dog simply advises them to take the bodies outside and burn them. I get why Rick doesn’t want Axel and Oscar in the C block, but it seems almost cruel to leave them here alone after what just happened to the rest of their group.
Rick and the others come back to the C block to gather around Hershel, who opens his eyes for real. Rick uncuffs him from the bed now that the danger has passed, and Hershel smiles gratefully at him. Everyone else grins their faces off as well, even sullen teenage Carl, and it’s a shiny, happy moment in an otherwise dark episode.
Carol’s the only one not there, because she’s about to perform a practice C-section on the walker. The shot of her shifting the walker’s dress up feels really invasive, even though the walker’s no longer alive. It really is just a cadaver, but it feels like a violation anyway. The camera angle switches to someone out in the trees watching Carol’s dissection, a someone who’s smart enough to duck behind trees for cover (basically, not a walker’s point of view). Who that is, we’ll have to wait to find out.
Lori and Rick go outside to talk, the physical distance between them reflective of the emotional distance they both feel, and Rick says he doesn’t think Lori’s a bad mother. She notices he doesn’t say anything about her track record as a wife, and cracks a joke about hiring lawyers for a divorce. Rick reaches out and grabs her shoulder from an arm’s length away, almost as if for support, and says everyone is “awful grateful” for what she did with Hershel before heading inside. Lori buries her face against that shoulder, and no matter how you feel about her character, it’s sad to see her clinging to the smallest gestures of affection from her own husband.
The ending of this episode was several dozen notches less climactic than “Seed,” but it’s not a disappointment in the slightest. I can’t even wish there was more Michonne and Andrea, since the promo for next week promises plenty of delivery on that storyline.