After the violent storming of the prison in the season opener, the carnage continued inside the institution. With Hershel bleeding profusely from his severed leg, and medical supplies lacking, those in the prison resigned themselves to losing the avuncular doctor. And he's not the only one in grave danger, as Rick has to contend with a group of survivors from the jail who could threaten the livelihood of the entire group.
It turns out that the prison was not entirely overrun, as five inmates are discovered by the group to have spent the entire time during the apocalypse hidden away in the cafeteria. They are unaware of events in the outside world, until Rick tells them, "There's no government, no hospitals, no police; it's all gone."
An immediate threat is presented in the alpha male figure of Tomas. He tries straight away to mark his supremacy over Rick by declaring, "This is our prison, we were here first." Rick has seen this all before. After two seasons of unbearable strain from constantly competing with his best friend Shane to lead the group, he knows now that if he does not take charge straight away he'll have to relive the perilous struggle all over again. Looking Tomas straight in the eye, he coldly states, "Let's be clear. If we see you out here, anywhere near our people, if I so much as catch a whiff of your scent, I will kill you."
And he means it. After watching Tomas hack his friend to death once he became infected without any pause for thought, Rick and Daryl exchange wearied looks: they know this one's going to be trouble. In the assault on the second cell block, Tomas deliberately pushes a zombie into Rick's path in the hope of indirectly dispatching his rival. But after killing Shane, the Rick we see now is unforgiving. In one brutal blow he hacks into the convict's head, thus eradicating any challenge to his leadership. Despite battling Shane's views right up until his death, the one thing Rick learned is that the world they now inhabit is dog-eat-dog, and that previous ideas of law and order do not apply.
With Rick busy butchering both zombies and humans, the episode's quieter moments happen back in the first cell block, where the group cares for Hershel as he lays dying. The usual hope vs. cynicism discussion is played out between daughters Beth and Maggie as the older sister confides, "There's a good chance he won't wake up...I don't want you to get your hopes too high". While this moment is hardly original, the scene where Maggie watches over Hershel and says, "You don't have to fight any more...go ahead dad, it's okay, be peaceful," even had my lip quivering with emotion. The usual horror and sadness at watching a loved one pass away do not feature in her thoughts, as she recognises what a blessing death would be; no longer to have to suffer in a world so bitter and cruel.
Kiss of Life
But many in the group refuse to accept that Hershel will soon be pushing up daisies. Carl once again reveals how much responsibility he's now taken on for the group by singlehandedly retrieving medical supplies from the infirmary, much to the obvious anxiety of Lori. She too puts on a fight to save Hershel's life, giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation when he stops breathing. In yet another massive scare, the moment Hershel roars back to life by grabbing Lori had me jumping off the sofa. While Rick took decisive action to end a life, here Lori takes decisive action to save one. It seems that even in this inhospitable place, love and compassion triumph over all else.
A Matter of Life and Death
Rick's idealism versus Shane's pragmatism marked the first two seasons of the show, and another dichotomy has now been created between Rick and Lori. She might tell her husband that, "You're not a killer," but that is the role he needs to play. Rick kills and Lori provides life, visually evidenced by her heavily pregnant figure. Both sides are necessary in order for the group to survive, and it's reconciling these differences that is crucial to the future of the group. At the end of the episode Rick says, "We're awful grateful for what you did," and puts his hand on Lori's shoulder. Though still refusing to maintain eye contact, that one touch is an electrifying moment and provides hope that the divide can be breached between the two.