Tonight, "The Walking Dead" offered up "Inmates," a tremendous episode that finally filled us in on what's going on with the rest of our gutty little band of survivors. It's a handsomely crafted, well-executed hour packed with plenty of emotional oomph, dread, anxiety and, ultimately hope -- all the ingredients that make the show so addictive.
Speaking of hope, we are first reunited with Daryl and Beth -- or who we often refer to as that Forgettable Blonde Woman. They're running through a field and fending off walkers because that's what you do in the zombie apocalypse. There's a voice-over from Beth, apparently taken from a journal entry, in which she described her optimistic attitude shortly after the gang moved into the prison -- a place where she thought they might spend the rest of their lives.
Obviously, that didn't happen, but Beth is still clinging to hope and faith that they'll survive and meet back up with the others.
Daryl, however, isn't so sure. He's in a grumpy mood.
"Faith ain't done s--- for us," he snarls. "It sure as hell didn't do anything for your father."
On that rather unpleasant note, we move on to ...
... Tyrese, Mica and Lizzie, who also made it out safely from the prison bloodbath. And who do they have in their company? Why it's ...
OK, now, a show of hands: Who really thought Rick's baby daughter was still alive? And who was convinced that she had become zombie kibble-and-bits?
It's great to see this foursome again as they make their way through the woods. But you also fear for their safety. Judith, after all, is, quite honestly, a liability out on the open road. She can't shoot or stab, and her wails are basically a siren call to walkers in the vicinity. Meanwhile, Mica is a jittery basket case, who is ready to run off at the slightest hint of trouble. Tyrese has his hands full with these girls and it doesn't help that he's nursing an injured arm.
The odds of survival for this crew would be exceptionally dismal if not for the fact that they meet back up with ...
Yes, we have our first Carol sighting in ages. She hasn't been around since Rick banished her from the group for killing Karen and David to protect the others from the deadly flu. She's a welcome sight. The girls love her and she's got mad zombie-killing skills. Plus she brings an intriguing dynamic to this group because Tyrese does not yet know that she's responsible for the death of his beloved girlfriend. Will she confess, or hold onto her secret?
For now, they're following railroad tracks that apparently will lead them to a place called Terminus. Is it the land of Oz? Another Woodbury? A sign on a power pole reads, "Sanctuary for all. Community for all. Those who arrive, survive."
Sounds good to us. Follow those train tracks.
Now, we move on to Group No. 2 ...
... Maggie, Sasha and Bob Stokely!
This threesome is hanging out by the creek, where Sasha is tending to Bob's injured shoulder (Are their some romantic sparks in the air?). Sasha wants to pitch camp here for the night, but Maggie has other ideas. She's going to go off alone to find the bus that she hopes contains a bunch of prison survivors, including Glenn. Sasha issues a mild protest, but she and Bob decide to accompany her.
Eventually, they come to the bus. Maggie gets a lump in her throat. Is anyone inside? Anyone alive? As they move in for a closer look, they see zombie faces up against the windows. Oh crap. They come up with a sensible plan to let them out the back door one at a time and kill them. But the zombies break through and it turns into a giant splatfest.
As they survey the carnage, Bob notes that "They were good people, all of them."
But, so far, no Glenn. Now Maggie wants to enter the bus and see if anyone else is aboard. You can practically hear her heart thumping as she makes her way up the aisle. There are a couple of squirming zombies apparently trapped under the seats, but we can't see their faces. Maggie moves in for the kill, after which she begins to sob. Oh, no! Was Glenn one of the zombies? Then Maggie's sobs turn into something resembling laughter.
Apparently, Glenn was not on the bus.
Let's just pause here for a second to say that this was one of the most artfully orchestrated sequences the show has given us. You have to admire the way director Tricia Brock steadily ramped up the tension, the way it kept us in suspense and played upon our fears. And the marvelous work of Lauren Cohan. Bravo.
All of which brings us to ...
Yes, we discover that Glenn is, indeed, alive via another fantastic shot. We see him awaken with a brutal head injury that apparently knocked him out during the prison war. The camera pulls back to reveal that he's still at the prison, on what remains of the tower, where a throng of gluttonous zombies has been unable to reach him.
"Maggie!" he yells. "Maggie!"
After walking the darkened prison halls in a daze, Glenn realizes he must snap out of it and find a way to escape the prison through the zombie hordes. He dons some body armor and gets ready to bolt when he discovers another living human. It's ...
Turns out, she suffering from a bad case of Governor Guilt. "I was part of this," she mumbles. " ... I trusted him and he just killed that old man. ... I'm a piece of s--."
Tara seems content to pay for her sins by just sitting there and withering away. But Glenn needs her help to escape the prison and go find Maggie. He gives her a pep talk, channeling Hershel in the process ("All you've got to do is believe.")
Finally, she rallies and the two of them flee the prison, only to run into more zombies outside the gates. In the melee, a woozy Glenn hits the deck and Tara has to save him, taking all her pent-up aggressions out on a walker by turning him into her personal piñata.
And just as she's wailing away, up drives a jeep occupied by some big beefy dude in camo and two gun-wielding sidekicks.
And, yes, they very much look like trouble.
So what did you think of "Inmates'? Did it keep you on the edge of your sofas, or were you expecting more? What do you think awaits our survivors in Terminus?