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After last week’s episode of The Walking Dead seemed to have some logical gaps, it returned last night and mostly righted the ship, making sure to answer those questions and push the story forward a bit quicker than it was going before. The script was actually written by Robert Kirkman, the guy who writes the comic book, and it was interesting how he handled the opportunity. Instead of bringing the story closer to how he made it or even just keep it where it was, he actually added even more new stuff that we hadn’t seen before, proving that the show is concerned with creating its own identity as much as if not more than sticking to the source material. The end of the episode definitely came straight from the books, but we know now that they’re a guide rather than a bible.
We pick up with Rick and the rescue team looking at Merle’s severed hand. His brother Darryl freaks out a bit, but Rick restores order and cooler heads begin prevailing. They wrap up the end, and Darryl notes that the hacksaw must have been too dull to cut the handcuff chain and that there isn’t much blood, which means Merle must have put a tourniquet on first. They follow the blood trail through another door on the roof to a stove where Merle clearly cauterized the stump, and then find a hole in a window where he escaped the building. So Merle was delirious enough to chop off his hand, but thinking enough to keep himself alive.
Glenn then makes a plan to retrieve the bag of guns, giving him enough of an opportunity to get in, grab it, and get out. But it’s botched when they’re interrupted by a few Latinos who seem to be after the same thing. Darryl subdues one and shoots another in the rear with an arrow, but they manage to escape with Glenn in their custody. Rick makes it clear that he’s not leaving the city without him, so they get the guy they captured to tell him where his buddies are. They bring their hostage to the location and we have a good old fashioned Mexican stand-off, with Rick, Darryl, and T-Dog holding guns against a large group of Latinos, who are also armed and have Glenn tied up and ready to throw off a roof. Rick offers a simple man for man trade, but the leader wants more than that, specifically the bag of guns. Rick refuses, and then he backs off.
Later they return with the bag and the stand-off resumes, neither side very keen to back down. But they’re strangely interrupted by an elderly woman, who tells the second in command that someone needs their medicine. Rick and crew follow the guys deeper inside their base, and we learn the truth. They’re not exactly a gang, and this isn’t exactly a gang hideout. It’s a home for sickly old people, and the leader and his second are merely the janitor and a nurse, the only ones who stayed behind when the rest of the staff left during the apocalypse. The other Vatos are family members of the old folks, who tend to stick around at this point with nowhere else to really go. Everybody learns a big lesson about how the world has changed but that doesn’t mean everyone you meet is going to be bad. It’s kind of cheesy, but as a way of introducing the idea of there being other survivors out there, some of whom aren’t going to be very friendly to the main characters. The Vatos give up Glenn, and Rick gives them a few guns and some ammo in good faith. But when they get back to where they entered the city, the van is gone. They surmise that only Merle could have taken it, and he’s probably ready to rain some vengeance on the other survivors.
Back at camp, the trouble this week comes from Jim, who Dale spots up on a ridge digging like he’s out of his mind, refusing to stop or even take a drink of water. It’s scaring the other survivors, so Shane tries to calm him down, but Jim’s pretty out of it and takes a swing at him. He talks about how he’s only alive because the zombies were too busy eating the rest of his family, and later about how he was digging because of a dream he had that he can no longer remember. He calms down while he’s subdued, and later Shane sets him free so he can join the fish fry made possible by Andrea and her sister Amy’s big catch. Ed doesn’t want to join in, and he’s the first victim when the meal is interrupted by a roaming swarm of zombies. They seem to come out of nowhere, and the undermanned camp is a bit helpless as Amy and a few redshirts go down as well.
Rather than grabbing another vehicle, Rick and company decided to hike back, and they arrive in time to help fight off the remaining zombies, but it’s too late for some. Merle’s not around, but several people are dead, and Jim remembers his dream, and what the holes he was digging were for. Andrea is obviously devastated at her sister’s death just one day before her birthday, and it’s possible that the trip to get some guns wasn’t worth the cost. I tend to think otherwise since they’re probably going to come in pretty handy down the road, but it’s a pretty rough and eye-opening way to end the episode. No location is safe from an attack, and nobody is safe from getting killed. This is certainly the worst thing to happen to the good guys since the premiere, and it clues the audience in on what they should really be expecting going forward – a lot of death and misery. Some bits were definitely clumsy, especially the way Kirkman wrote Rick out of a jam, but I definitely have more confidence with the series going forward than I did before.