The Walking Dead has returned, with glimpses of how time has passed since the end of last season, lots of zombie gore, and of course a twist ending. These writers could teach a master class in last-minute shockers, and Patrick on the floor of the shower is no exception.

But I’m skipping ahead an hour and about four subplots.

The cold open for this episode was pretty cool, with Rick taking us on a solo tour through the new and improved prison yard, farming crops against the idyllic backdrop of zombies clawing at the fence. I like the juxtaposition of the fresh new life of all the greenery surrounding the dead “life” of the zombies trying to get inside. We got some great shots of a zombie I affectionately nicknamed Ol’ Dead-Eyes because, well, he’s got blood pouring from his lifeless eyes.

The survivors, who look a lot less old and infirm than they did getting off that bus, have set up a pretty good system of food distribution and walker extermination. Daryl’s getting catcalled by all the young women, Tyreese has Karen, Beth has Zach, and Maggie and Glenn are having a pregnancy scare, so the opportunities for romance plots and exploring the meaning of love in the zombie apocalypse are in good supply. Let’s just hope everyone uses protection – one Lil’ Ass-Kicker is enough for now.

Carl is acting like his old, non-murderous self again, reading comic books and even smiling, though he’s still distancing himself from the other kids. He and Rick even have a nice father and son moment out by the pigsty. One of the pigs, named Violet by Carl, isn’t doing so well. Rick warns him not to name them because they aren’t pets, a warning Carl echoes to the younger kids about the walkers later. He’s clearly on track to turn into a mini-Rick, but I think Rick’s going to be doing his best to steer Carl away from that path.

Or at least, he’ll be steering Carl away from the dark shadows of the path Rick took last season in his vendetta against Woodbury.

The main plot kicks in with Michonne returning from her own outing and joining the rest of the group – Tyreese, Sasha, Daryl, Glenn, Zach, and newcomer Bob (Larry Gilliard Jr. of The Wire) – for their supply run. They head out to a Big Lots-esque store that used to be a safe camp during the initial outbreak. They’ve already lured the walkers away with a boombox, so they make their way to the store with ease. As they draw out the stragglers, Zach makes his final guess about Daryl’s pre-apocalypse identity: homicide detective. I laughed along with Michonne, but really, do we know much about Daryl’s old occupation(s)? He hunted, sure, but what did he used to do for a living?

Things like that stop mattering much once Bob accidentally traps himself under a rack of wine, triggering a response from the crashed helicopter full of walkers on the rooftop no one had accounted for. They fall through the ceiling one by one – the first memorably hanging from a rafter by its own intestines, which is one of the grosser and more awesome things the show has done with their zombies, and the gang has to fight them off.

Predictably, one of the characters we just met has to die, and Bob is being built up as way too mysterious for it to be him right now. So, Beth loses her boyfriend Zach to a walker bite to the ankle, and the rest of the group pulls Bob out in time to avoid being crushed by the helicopter that collapses through the roof a minute later.

We know Bob used to be an army medic, that he was found alone by Daryl, and that he used to have an alcohol problem (why else the prolonged internal struggle about whether or not to take that bottle of wine?) The real question is whether he’s hiding any dark secrets beneath that cheerful smile of his. Okay, it’s probably safe to say he is, considering this is The Walking Dead and Big Dramatic Revelations are one of their favorite things, but I’m dying to know what those secrets are.

The second big plot for the episode is Rick-centric (big surprise). We find out through Hershel that there’s a council leadership in place at the prison that consists of at least him, Daryl, Glenn, Carol, and Sasha. Rick seems to be trying to stay away from leadership and from his gun in an effort to distance himself from the darkness he slipped into last season; too bad his whole subplot is about digging up his guilty past again.

While he’s checking the snares for fresh-caught non-walker-eaten game, he runs into a woman who looks about half-walker already. She begs him for food, and then for entrance to his camp for her and her husband. The husband, Eddy, is back at their camp, so Rick accompanies her to meet him, and I’m sure everyone but Rick was getting the same horror movie “don’t go into the house” vibe at this point.

Over the course of their walk she talks a whole lot about what you have to do to survive nowadays and whether or not you can come back from the things you’ve done. Rick’s internal alarms break through the beginning of his guilt trip when he sees only one sleeping bag in her tent and no sign of a fully formed Eddy in sight. Instead, she’s talking to the remnants of her husband in the box she keeps him in. I’m glad the show left the details of Eddy a mystery to us; sometimes it’s okay to leave it to the imagination, and that amps up the creep factor here.

She lunges at Rick with her knife, intending to kill him to feed to Eddy, but instead turns the knife on herself so she can be with her husband. As she lies dying she asks Rick what his three questions for entrance to the prison camp would have been, and gives her answers:

How many walkers have you killed? (Eddy did all that, she says, at least until he couldn’t)

How many people have you killed? (Just me, she answers, tragically)

And finally, why?

Her answer to the big final question is that you can’t come back from the things you’ve had to do. Rick leaves her and Eddy there undisturbed, and brings his guilty conscience to Hershel. Hershel, wise Santa that he is, counsels Rick that you can come back and that Rick has done a great job of doing just that.

During the final wrap-up, Tyreese tells Karen he doesn’t care for killing walkers on a run any more than he likes killing them through the fence, so it could get interesting in the future if he refuses to partake in zombie slaughter. Carol is secretly teaching the kids weapon skills at “story time” behind all the other adults’ backs, which is my new favorite thing about her. Daryl strong-and-silent-types his way through telling Beth that Zach got killed, and she quietly accepts it and simply resets the “days without accident” board to zero.

We get another lingering shot of Ol’ Dead-Eyes at the fence when we learn Violet the pig is dead, so I’ll buy into the maybe too-obvious theory that there’s a connection there. Can animals carry the zombie disease? Have the new residents brought some sort of weird, eye-bleeding plague version of the virus with them? Can animals become zombies too if they’re bitten? (And is it still too soon to make a swine flu joke?)

Patrick, who excused himself from story time for stomach-related reasons, stumbles his way to the communal bathroom looking sick as a dog. He tries to shower to feel better, but faints and becomes walker-fied in the time it takes for the camera to linger slowly and dramatically on the faucet running out. And, surprise, he’s got the same bloody eyes as Ol’ Dead-Eyes at the fence!

It’s hard to pinpoint a cause for Patrick’s death at this point, though I’m sure next week’s episode will be dealing a lot with figuring that out. For a season opener, “30 Days Without an Accident” was pretty average. We got enough plot development to keep us interested, we met a couple new characters and saw how old ones have been getting along in the season break, and there were a lot of zombie special effects. It was a whole lot of set-up banking on the rest of the season to give us the pay-off. So for a season opener, it was as good as I’d expect, but it’s not the greatest episode the show has ever given us.

At the risk of revealing myself to have zero psychic powers, I’ve got a few predictions for the rest of the season: Michonne is going to split off from the bigger group to pursue her own agenda; Carl is going to get in a major fight with one of the other kids; Hershel will say at least three things that hipsters would Instagram over a picture of space or a blurry field of flowers; Bob’s secret(s) will include being responsible for someone’s death, and Rick will be forced to step up to a leadership role again in a way that triggers his old fears of ending up like the Governor.

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Danielle Gillette is a Blast correspondent

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