The opening of this week’s episode, “‘Hounded,” takes its name to heart. Merle and a group of merry men from Woodbury are chasing Michonne through the woods after they allowed her to leave. Clearly, one cannot simply “come and go as they wish” from Woodbury and bit by pain-painstakingly slow bit we are beginning to see the truth behind the facade of safety. After a good fight, we see a taste of the old Merle as he utters the words “are we having fun yet?!” As if the zombie apocalypse could be anything but.
Last week’s cliffhanger question (who was on the phone?) is answered when we hear a woman’s voice on the other end. Rick pleads with her to help them, claiming to have a son and a newborn which are words he has trouble saying without “and a wife.” The woman claims she will call back after she has talked to her group and Rick pleads with her, whispering, “you don’t know who died. We’re dying here.” As he rejoins the group, putting up a front for someone whose insides are waging war, he claims he wanted to check on Carl. No one seems to buy it. He doesn’t even acknowledge his daughter (if he even knows he has a daughter.)
While Merle tries to make a man out of Neal, Andrea and The Governor are certainly getting chummy. He allows her to work the wall when she expresses interest. We finally get a glimpse into another woman working the wall in Woodbury as both share a moment and in a surge of power, Andrea leaps from the wall to knife a walker. Suddenly, her new-found friend is no longer so friendly. While this act would likely garner her a scolding by The Governor, it instead turns into a drink and a booty call. Who didn’t see this coming?
Outside the walls of Woodbury, Michonne is hunting and being hunted. While she takes out several of Merle’s men, the definitive gross-out moment comes when a Walker attacks her and she slices it open, only to have its innards spill all over her. Good for her. Merle decides to leave her for dead before doing away with “Neal” whose name he can’t seem to pronounce. Traces of the old Merle suddenly come to light when he is in his element. Does killing Walkers suddenly make one immune to killing the living?
In the bowels of the prion, in what is now his wife’s grave, Rick sits guard by the phone that could be his ticket to finally finding safety. When he gets the call he has been waiting for, a man is on the other end. He asks how many people Rick has killed and pushes him to talks about how he lost Lori. When he won’t answer, the line is cut, causing Rick spiral into a fit of rage. When Hershel hobbles into the room (having to remind Rick that he is crippled and needs a seat) he tells Rick that Lori was sorry for everything that happened, and that she wanted to tell him. Rick tells him about the phone calls and asks him to keep it from the group. Good plan, considering these phone calls could simply be the hallucinations of a man in the throes of grief. Hershel offers to sit with him, and Rick, ever the martyr, refuses his company.
Across the prison, Daryl, Oscar and Carl are clearing out the last remaining Walkers in the prison. Daryl takes a moment to talk to Carl, and we see a bit of a father figure in him as he tells Carl the story of how his mother burned to death in a house fire that she caused. After saying that it was almost better, it made it not seem real, Carl responds, “I ended it. It was real.” While Daryl is trying to make sure the kid if okay and find the boy he once was, Carl has clearly changed from this experience, and his childhood has gone up in flames.
Out on a supply run, Maggie and Glenn arrive at an abandoned town just as an injured Michonne covered in Walker bowel also arrives. Michonne watches them enter a building looking for supplies, having figured out that Walkers pass her by due to smelling like them (we found this out in season one when Glenn and Rick cover themselves in walker guts to get to a truck that will free them from Atlanta.) As they leave, Merle sneaks up on Maggie and Glenn, taking Maggie hostage and forcing Glenn to take him back to Woodbury. Michonne can only look on, unable to do anything to help. However…there is hope.
Back in the prison, Oscar gets excited about some old slippers while a Walker takes them by surprise. Upon slaying it, Daryl recognizes Carol’s knife sticking out of its throat. In his own fit of rage, he stabs the floor, stabs the wall, kicks like a kid having a tantrum and then swings open a door only to find Carol. Having thought she was gone for good, he touches her face in relief before scooping her into his arms to carry her out of the darkness.
Rick’s final phone call comes with a camera pan showing us that the Walker who ate Lori is still sitting lifelessly on the floor of this utility room. The voice on the line calls him by his name and he asks how they knew his name. The response? “Because we know you.” It takes him a moment, but he and the audience soon realize that this is Lori’s (Sarah Wayne Callies’) voice. Clearly his sanity is at stake here. With heavy sobs, he breathes into the phone, “I loved you. I couldn’t put it back together.” The symbolism behind that line, the double meaning of not being able to fix their relationship or the world is a heavy weight that he has been struggling with since before he lost her. As he continues to talk to the ghost of a memory of his dead wife, he says, “I made a deal with myself. I would keep you alive. I’d find a place. I would fix that and…”And? Was his insanity brought on by the fact that he could not accept that he couldn’t make everything right again? The choppy connection as Lori tells him that he has the baby and Carl and that she loves him could be sanity forcing its way back in. The light in the darkness should be this child that he has yet to acknowledge, and somehow his wife knows this from beyond the grave.
As if having an epiphany, Rick enters the cell block, walks over to Hershel and finally holds his little girl. He cradles her with tears in his eyes that matched mine. As he walks her outside to greet the world that she has been birthed into, the whole group at his back, we see his focus shift. He hands her off to Carl, and in a twist that is beginning to merge the two worlds of our universe, Michonne stands among the walkers at the fence, her dark eyes staring at him with so much knowledge of things that he needs to hear.
While Lori’s untimely death will likely still be a topic of discussion, Rick has turned a corner to begin his ascent out if the darkness. There may not be a place that is truly safe but, like Hershel said, the prison is safe enough.
Tune in next week as we see the old Merle take on Glenn and Maggie, who seem determined to keep their group safe at all costs and what, exactly, Michonne has to say to Rick.