SPOILER ALERT: The recap for the "30 Days Without an Accident" episode of "The Walking Dead" contains storyline and character spoilers.
The first lesson we learn in "The Walking Dead" Season 4: Don't get too attached to those new people. Farewell, Zach. You had a girlfriend (Beth Greene), and had even made a buddy in Daryl, but we hardly got the chance to know ye before ye was gobbled up by a walker.
And Patrick, sweet, enthusiastic Patrick, teen friend to Carl, dispenser of "ma'ams" and "sirs" (and referring to Daryl as "Mr. Dixon"). We would have liked to get to know you better, too, but your sudden illness, blood-covered face, and zombified eyes mean: 1) Goodbye, Patrick, and 2) Next week's episode is going to find the prison dwellers confronted with a whole new threat.
How we got there in this season premiere episode, which is full of foreboding of the new troubles the "TWD" survivors are going to face in Season 4…
Rick Grimes, Devoted Daddy
Carl's decent into sociopathy at the end of Season 3, and Rick's own mental breakdown, have led to a very different Rick Grimes when Season 4 opens. He's up before everyone, spending his morning working the prison's new garden; all those Woodbury transplants may provide more safety in numbers, but they also necessitate a bigger food supply, and Rick is on the job. But two ominous findings interject themselves into his otherwise zen (relatively speaking, of course) morning of getting his farmer on: He finds a gun buried in the garden (which he breaks apart and throws into the garbage), and he notices the rowdy walkers at the chain link fence are bleeding from their eyes.
Rick's soon joined by Carl, who also seems calmer. Rick has removed himself as the prison group's leader — a committee, which includes Daryl, makes all the decisions now — and is focusing on fathering Carl and Judith and keeping the food supply replenished. Rick and Carl are eschewing activities like supply runs and anything violence-related, and instead focus on chores, reading comics, and raising pigs. Rick does remind Carl not to get too attached to Violet, the pig languishing in the pen. She's food, not a pet, Rick reminds him, before referring to the swine as Violet himself. Speaking of Violet, she seems to be sick…
Rick's Big Adventure
Rick's new food guy duties includes checking snares he's set around the prison to catch more protein. Before he leaves, Hershel tells him that the rest of the leadership council implores him to start taking his gun with him when he ventures outside the prison fences. Rick reluctantly agrees, despite his new commitment to more peaceful living.
And it's a good thing he does; just as he happens upon a boar in the woods, a woman swoops in on the animal. He hides, but she spots him and begs him to help her. The woman, who's clearly physically and emotionally fragile, says she hasn't eaten in days, and asks Rick to help her carry the boar back to her husband. Rick hands her a packet of food from his bag, and she asks if he has a camp. When he says yes, she asks to join him there. He says he'll have to meet her husband first, and they'll have to answer three questions before he'll consider taking them home.
On their walk, the woman tells Rick she and her husband, Eddie, were headed for their honeymoon in Puerto Vallarta when the turn happened. They were with other people at various times, but now it's just the two of them. She talks about the things they'd have to do to survive, haunting things, and she asks Rick, "Do you think you get to come back from the things you've done?"
"I hope so," he says.
Once they reach her camp, the woman tries to attack Rick, and admits Eddie has turned. She stabs herself with a knife, and after asking Rick not to stop her from turning so she can join Eddie, she asks him what three questions he would have asked the couple to determine if they could join his camp.
Rick answers: 1) How many walkers have you killed? She says Eddie did all the killing. 2) How many people have you killed? "Just me," she says. 3) "Why?" Rick asks. "You don't get to come back," she answers.
A shaken Rick looks at Eddie — or whatever's left of him, inside a burlap bag — and leaves the woman to die, and turn. Later, he talks to Hershel about how close he came to losing himself after Lori died, and how, if anything happened to Carl or Judith, he might find himself in the same state as Woods Lady. Wouldn't happen, even then, Hershel tells him. You do get to come back from the things you've had to do, Hershel says.
Daryl Dixon, Beloved Leader
With Rick putting leadership duties on hold, Daryl has stepped up and emerged as a more confident, even friendly, figure in the prison camp. As he walks to the makeshift cafeteria for breakfast, he's greeted by several people, and thanked profusely by Patrick, who is grateful for a deer Daryl brought home for dinner. Carol teases her friend (and more?!) that he's going to have to get used to all the love.
Carol also points out to Daryl that the walkers, which they've recently cleared out of the area outside the prison, seem to be coming back more quickly, and traveling in bigger packs than they ever have before.
Daryl's got other things on his mind, though, like the big supply run that he, Tyreese, Sasha, Glenn, Zach, Michonne (newly returned to camp, riding a horse, after a road trip to hunt down The Governor), and new guy Bob (a military medic recently brought to camp by Daryl just a week earlier) are taking to Big Spot, a local department store the gang has scoped out.
Daryl's Big Adventure
At Big Spot, Daryl and company think they've cleared the store of walkers, and each grabs a cart and goes down the aisles with a shopping list in mind. What they don't know: The roof of the building is littered with walkers and a crashed helicopter that is rapidly weakening the structure.
Inside, Bob steers his cart down the liquor aisle, and looks around nervously before stuffing a bottle inside his jacket. He takes it out and puts it back on the shelf, which then crashes down on him and traps him underneath. As the others rush towards him, a walker falls through the weakened roof, and hangs there by his entrails. Soon, more are falling through, and the scene turns to chaos as the group is trying to free Bob while also fighting off the ravenous zombies that are raining down upon them. Glenn narrowly escapes being eaten, and young Zach helps save Bob, just as a walker whose own foot is attached to his leg by a string of skin is desperately fighting to snack on Bob.
But then a walker jumps out at Zach's leg, bites him, and before anyone can save the newbie, he's walker chow. As usual, there's no time to stop and process the loss, because the rest of the group barely has time to hightail it out of the Big Spot before the helicopter also comes crashing down into the store.
The Rest of the Gang
* Tyreese has a new love: Woodbury transplant Karen. Tyreese opens up to her about the emotional struggles he's having with the things they have to do to survive. The trip to Big Spot didn't help, but he seems to find comfort in Karen's arms. Tyreese is also dealing with the same issues that haunt Rick, which, we're hoping, means these two beloved characters will start to form the friendship they share in the "Walking Dead" comics.
* Michonne isn't planning to stay put at the prison for long. She's planning another road trip to go looking for "him," this time near Macon, Georgia.
* Sasha, Tyreese's little sister, has also stepped up as a leader at the prison — and if we're not mistaken, there's a little hint that a romance could develop between her and Bob?
* Glenn and Maggie are still happily coupled, but Glenn is particularly spooked by a pregnancy scare. Maggie's not pregnant, it turns out, but she assures Glenn she thinks they'd be okay even if she was. "I don't want to be afraid of being alive," she tells him. But a terrified Glenn disagrees, citing Lori and the tragic Big Spot run as evidence.
* Beth Greene has never been the most emotionally stable member of the group, and that continues to be the case. She essentially shrugs off Zach's death when Daryl informs her he died during the Big Spot trip, then moves to change an office sign that reads "30 Days Without an Accident" to "0" days. "I don't cry anymore, Daryl," she tells him. "Just tired of losing people, that's all," he responds.
* Carol has taken it upon herself to teach the children of the camp how to defend themselves against walkers. She leads "story time" in the prison library, and then, unbeknownst to their parents, the kiddies get a quick lesson in weaponry. Carl catches Carol, and she begs him not to tell Rick, who she knows would not only disapprove of her stealth lessons, but would also inform the 'rents what she's up to.
* Patrick, who appeared to be perfectly healthy at the beginning of the episode, began to feel sick a few hours later. That night, he creeps out of his bedroom, leaving a trail of bloody footprints on the floor, as he makes his way to the shower room. He sprays himself with water, but passes out onto the floor, as the camera pans to his bloody face and eyes, which quickly turn to walker eyes. Violet the pig has also died. Coincidence?
* Carol called Daryl "Pookie." Squee!
* Daryl on the goodbye kiss Beth gives Zach before the supply run to Big Spot: "Damn romance novel."
* Zach had been trying on a daily basis, for six weeks, to guess what Daryl did "before the turn." His final guess, which made Michonne break out in laughter: Daryl was an undercover detective.
* Yes, Vincent Martella, the actor who plays Patrick, played Chris's best friend Greg on "Everybody Hates Chris." And yes, Kyle Gallner, who plays Zach, also starred in "Veronica Mars," "Smallville," and "CSI: NY."
* Hershel, as teased in the Season 4 trailer, does indeed have some sort of artificial leg now. No hint about how he got it, yet.
Get a sneak peek at next week's "Walking Dead" right here:
* Michonne returns to camp with a gift for Carl: a stack of comic books she tells him she wants to read after he finishes them. She also has a present for Rick: a razor. "Your face is losing the war," she teases him. It doesn't feel like foreshadowing of a romance, but rather confirmation that the bond Michonne forged with the Grimes men in last season's "Clear" episode has only deepened.
* Just as Rick told him not to name the pig, Carl tells the younger children at the prison not to humanize the walkers by waving at them and calling by name (they'd been calling one "Nick," because that's what his nametag said).
Now share your feelings with the group, "Dead"-heads: Was the Season 4 premiere worth the wait? Were you bummed to see those new guys die so quickly? Are you worried we're going to lose screentime with the core characters now that the prison population has expanded? And what, exactly, do you think is behind the deaths of Patrick and Violet the pig? Are they related? And are they related to the blood-streaming eyes of the walkers outside the prison fences?
"The Walking Dead" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
- Rick Grimes