The season-four premiere of The Walking Dead catapults us about six months into the future, and a lot has changed since we last saw our brave band of survivors. We witness plenty of new changes that have been made between the end of season three and this week's premiere, and it'll definitely be interesting to see how they develop over the course of coming episodes. We're going over the major differences below, and what it could mean for Rick and the others.
1. Rick is no longer the group leader.
At the end of last season, Rick realizes that the way he's been leading the group is inefficient and destructive. In his stead, a new sort of council has formed, consisting of Hershel, Glenn, Carol, Sasha, and Daryl. The new, thriving prison community is a great indicator of this new minigovernment's success. The group is growing crops, hunting, facilitating story time, and protecting against a walker invasion. It's almost enough safety to allow for cautious optimism.
2. Carl has (kind of) recovered.
One of the major themes in this week's episode is redemption. Specifically, can you come back from the horrible things you've done to survive? Rick and Carl both seem to have mended their reckless ways; Rick spends his days gardening, and Carl has taken up an interest in comic book reading. When Rick tries to help the deranged, desperate woman in the woods (who ends up attacking him and trying to feed him to her walker husband), she tells him she doesn't think she can ever come back from the horrible things she's done. Does this mean there's no hope for Rick? Or Carl?
Keep reading to find out what else is new this season.
3. The Governor is still missing.
At the end of the third season, the Governor more or less goes insane, killing off most of his sinister death squad in the process. Then he vanishes. He doesn't really seem like a guy who just lets things go, so it's only a matter of time before he shows up again, right? Either way, Michonne has become more or less obsessed with finding him and exacting her revenge, so it'll be interesting to see when he returns.
4. There's a new "three questions" policy.
A new philosophy has taken over at the prison. Instead of keeping to themselves and trusting no one, the group has begun to take safety in numbers. You can become a part of the prison community, contingent on answering these three questions to the satisfaction of everyone else:
"How many walkers have you killed?"
"How many people have you killed?"
It's the quickest way to find out the most about the person you've just met. It seems like the right answers should include a large amount of walkers, a very small amount of humans, and very good reasons for killing the humans you did. Sometimes, we've seen that killing others is necessary, so if you've killed a large amount of people, then you'd better have a good reason. If you pass the test, then you're in.
5. Everyone's numb to everything.
One cute addition to the cast is Beth's new boyfriend Zach, a young and valuable new member of the prison squad. He goes out on the big supply raid with the regulars (Glenn, Daryl, Sasha, etc.), but things go awry when a huge group of walkers starts falling through the wilted, water-damaged ceiling. The subsequent turmoil affords an opportunity to see lots of awesome zombie guts (yes, we're talking about that walker who was dangling from the ceiling by his entrails), as well as an opportunity to kill Zach off. The saddest part, though, is when Beth hears about his death and tells Daryl she never cries anymore. In a reality where going 30 days without a death is a blessing, it's kind of chilling to see someone react to the death of a loved one with a shrug.
6. We don't name food; we don't name walkers.
To further emphasize the previous plot point about shutting off feelings, a lot of dialogue in the episode centers around personal detachment. Rick tells Carl not to name the prison pig, because they're just going to eat it eventually. Carl tells the other kids not to name the walkers, because they're no longer people, just sacks of rotting flesh. Of course, Carl does have a point, but all these walkers were people once, weren't they? It's disheartening to see kids who are so young and so jaded.
7. Life is a curse now.
In other bleak news, Glenn is freaking out because he thinks Maggie might be pregnant. He breathes a huge sigh of relief when he finds out she isn't. It's obviously a depressing world if you're doing everything you can not to bring life into it, but then again, I can totally understand.
8. There might be a new threat emerging.
The episode ends on a terrifying note — I'm glad they left it on a cliffhanger, by the way — when one of the prison newcomers falls violently ill and drops dead. He obviously wakes up as a walker a short time later, meaning there's an immediate threat inside the prison walls. How does he get so sick so suddenly? The next episode is called "Infection," and I'm worried this disease is going to turn into a dangerous new epidemic and yet another worry on the shoulders of the group members.