If you read Entertainment Weekly or EW.com, commute on a bus or subway train, own a television, or live somewhere in the globalized world, then you've probably noticed The Walking Dead has returned. Now in its fourth season — and with its third showrunner — the AMC zombie series has experienced more ups and downs than most long-running series. Let's see if they've learned from the best (and worst) to deliver on a consistently engaging season.
As the gospel standard “Precious Memories” plays meaningfully over the cold open, Rick, still grimy and bearded, walks out of the prison complex to the grounds. (Are we ever going to see Rick clean-shaven again? He's an objectively attractive man especially without the beard.) Developed as a makeshift farm, the grounds hold several crops and even a lean-to stable and pig pen. Rick tills the soils, stopping to pick up a buried gun. He takes out his headphones, and the sounds of Walkers flailing at the prison fence intensifies. He may enjoy country/ gospel music, but anything would be better than listening to incessant zombies moans as you work.
He notices one zombie in particular with even bloodier orifices than normal. (This is important clue to the season's mystery antagonist as it’s repeated in the last minutes of the episode.) Rick disassembles the gun and returns to his farm work. Meet Farmer Rick — unlike Sheriff Rick or even the Ricktator — he is uninterested in the life of the Gun and concerned with the life of the Farm. (Symbolism!)
Later, Carl greets Rick at the pig pen after oversleeping from reading comics at night. (As a producer and sometime writer for the show, I'm sure Robert Kirkman appreciates any and every meta comics reference.) They look over at a sick pig, unsure what's wrong with her. (If a pig is sick and you don't know how to treat her, wouldn't you just put her out of her misery? Her meat is probably spoiled anyway. Although, what do I know? I'm less of a farmer than Rick is. Farming-capable commenters, I'd like to hear all of your expert opinions on the skills of Farmer Rick.) Having regained the father-son dynamic, Rick scolds Carl for naming the pig, in this case, Violet. (Carl is so Robert from A Day No Pig Would Die.) Rick and Carl leave Violet be, which is not a good sign. In media, sick pigs equals Contagion viruses and/or swine flu. As someone who has had swine flu, it's not something people already dealing with a Zombiepocalypse should have to endure. (High fevers, hallucinations involving a strong belief that X-men mutants are real. You know, that sort of thing that happens to everyone suffering from swine flu.)
Back in the compound, Daryl saunters through a group of well-wishers to an outdoor grill where Carol is serving breakfast. We as the audience already knew how much of a rockstar Daryl is, but it's nice to see him appreciated by those in the new prison community. Daryl/Carol shippers will also be happy to see that even with the addition of new members to the community, Carol and Daryl’s friendship remains strong. (Personally, I’m ambivalent to the Daryl/Carol romantic situation, but I am a big fan of their unlikely kinship.) Carol, who continues to surprise me with her development from a meek wife to a strong leader, hands off the cooking duties to teenage newcomer, Patrick (Vincent Martella, who is also the voice of Phineas of Phineas and Ferb). Patrick thanks Daryl for bringing back a deer to the group and asks to shake his hand. In true Daryl fashion, he licks his fingers and grasps Patrick's hand, then continues to walk off with Carol. This Daryl may be a lauded member of the group, but he's still Daryl.
Carol warns him of the increasing number of Walkers crowded at the prison gates with more and more bunching in groups. She can't spare many people for his impending run that day, as crews work to pick off zombies through the chain link fence. Taking out Walkers at the fence looks oddly satisfying like squashing a mosquito — even if it's 100 times more dangerous and horrifying.
NEXT: Finding love in a hopeless place. Plus, Michonne is as majestic as ever.