Rick and the gang have apparently been spending the whole winter wandering around the area, trying to avoid zombie herds and getting nowhere fast, other than really skanky-looking. Rick and Lori are barely talking to each other and her baby is clearly due soon, while Carl appears to have undergone some kind of metamorphosis of his own by becoming somewhat competent and mature, even though he's still wearing that stupid hat. The group's about at the end of their rope when they run across a prison. Too bad the yard's full of walkers, though, right? Well, it's bad, but not too bad, as Rick leads the group in a successful operation to clear the yard and seal it off from further incursion. Everyone figures this grassy area inside the chain link fence is their new safe haven, but Rick isn't satisfied; he wants them to force their way into the prison itself, so they can get at the food, medicine, and weapons the place no doubt contains.
So he, Daryl, T-Dogg, Glen, and Maggie fight their way through the inner yard and into one of the cell blocks, which appears safe. There they marshal their resources, explore Rick and Lori's ongoing marital dysfunction, and speculate on what happens if Lori miscarries or dies in childbirth, given the latent zombie plague in all of them. Also, Carl seems to have a bit of a crush on Hershel's youngest daughter Beth, because it's not like he has a lot of other options.
Rick still wants to press on, and he leads all the men and Maggie deeper into the maze of corridors within the prison. Here's where things go wrong, as the claustrophobic hallways remain heavily infested. Soon their retreat is cut off, they're briefly separated from each other, and Hershel is bitten. The group manages to barricade themselves inside a large room, but it's safe to say the mission has gone pear-shaped.
In a desperate move to keep Hershel alive, Rick hacks off the man's leg below the knee. It remains to be seen whether that's going to work, but I don't know if Scott Wilson would have grown his beard and hair out like that if he was going to have to rock that look for more than a couple of episodes. But there might be another cast infusion soon, as the operation is witnessed from behind a grate by five or six humans who have survived inside the prison.
Meanwhile, Andrea isn't alone. The sword-wielding, zombie-keeping figure who rescued her at the end of last season's finale is still with her, which is lucky for Andrea, given this woman's skill with a katana. The bad news is that Andrea is deathly sick, but with walkers accumulating around their small-town hideout, they have little choice but to clear out.
So yeah, remember how irritated we used to get with this show when it was all talking and no zombies? For tonight, at least, that appears to be fixed.
Okay, listen up, The Walking Dead. I watch you so I can learn how to survive a zombie apocalypse, not whether to. Do a better job of remembering that this season than you did the first two, and you and I will get along just fine.
We begin with a slow zoom out from an eye like the beginning of Lost, but this is the spoiled-milk, postulant eye of a walker, standing with one of his fellows in a house. Not sure this film-school crap is a promising start -- but then Rick and T-Dogg bust in and quickly take both of them down with a silenced handgun and fireplace poker, respectively. So far, so good, but then Carl follows them in, his hair shaggy under Rick's hat that he's still insisting on wearing. He's got a weapon of his own, also with a silencer the size of his shin. As they move through the house, Rick makes a big suspenseful production of opening a hidden door deep inside a closet, only to find Daryl on the other side. Carl shoots down a zombie granny without wasting any time teasing it or throwing rocks at it or engaging in any other actions at all that will result in it killing one of his friends later.
Glenn and Maggie come in the back while the house is still being secured, and the last kill is Daryl's, as his crossbow claims an owl nesting in one of the bedrooms. Now the rest of the party can come in with their meager supplies -- Carol, Beth, a visibly pregnant Lori, and Hershel, who is apparently the only person in the group to have realized that in the zombie apocalypse, shaving is for chumps. Indeed, why risk needless scratches in this environment? Carl scavenges in the kitchen and finds a couple of cans of pet food, which he brings into the living room to share out with everyone while Daryl plucks his owl. Rick takes the open can and throws it against the wall, which makes this just about the most awkward housewarming ever. They wouldn't have had time to enjoy it anyway, as a pack of walkers is already coming up the front yard. The group gets right back up and back in their vehicles outside, with nothing to show for their stop but an axe that Maggie nabbed from the woodpile. And no, nobody spoke a word of dialogue in that whole opening. Which is a little contrived and derivative, yes, but under the circumstances, it's the best possible sign.
Hey, new opening credits sequence! I approve.
The group stops on a road to reassess. Rick puts Carl on guard duty while they use a car hood to spread out a map they've been using to plot the movements of various herds they've encountered, trying to find a way out of the area. Apparently they've been hemmed in all winter, going house to house, although Rick's still looking for a place they can hole up for a few weeks. And maybe grab a shower, going by how these people look. Don't ask me how they've been keeping gas in the cars and Daryl's motorcycle, either. Most of the group goes to collect water while Daryl invites Rick hunting. And that's how they happen upon the prison, which is visible from the railroad tracks they've been walking on but not on their big, detailed map for some reason. "That's a shame," Daryl says, looking at all the walkers drifting around inside the fence, which would otherwise be a nice safe little human-paddock. But Rick looks at the place as though it's ten acres of uncut porn.