Despite the agonising wait, it was probably for the best that The Walking Dead had a break from our screens over the Christmas period. It took at least a month to calm down from the chaotic drama of previous episode Made to Suffer, whereby Rick's group stormed the town, the Governor lost an eye (and a zombie daughter), and brother Merle and Daryl were finally reunited. What The Suicide King showed us was that the explosive events of the mid-season finale have left lasting damage to both Rick and the Governor's groups of survivors.
Daryl and Merle are given no time to catch-up, as the Governor places them in a gladiatorial contest where there can only be one survivor. "Brother against brother, winner goes free, fight to the death," he mercilessly declares to an audience of townsfolk desperate for revenge for the attack on Woodbury. When the 'biters' are let loose on the two of them, they decide to team up to try and desperately fight off the undead hordes.
Luckily for them Rick's group come back to save the day. A rain of gunfire on the arena sparks pandemonium, and Merle and Daryl manage to escape from the carnage. Whilst the others are pleased to discover that Daryl has been saved, Merle's appearance is understandably a lot less welcome. "Do you really want him sleeping in the same cell as Carol and Beth?" Glenn cries, aghast that the man who tortured him could be let into their camp.
Rick knows that Merle is a loose cannon far too dangerous to stay with the group, but Daryl has no plans to abandon his brother again. "No him, no me, that's all I can say," he tells Rick before promptly leaving with Merle into the woods. Whilst Daryl's departure is a sad loss for the show, his popularity means it's unlikely he'll be absent for long.
In the meantime his exit is a killer blow for the group. After Shane's death, Rick and Daryl had formed a strong team that spearheaded the group, the former police officer's leadership combined with the redneck's survivalist knowledge. With Daryl gone, and Rick's leadership under question, the group at the prison find themselves more vulnerable than ever.
"Don't disappear on me"
The traumatic experiences of the conflict have put a strain on the group's relations, especially between Glenn and Maggie. The two aren't talking to each other, and Glenn seems to not want to even look at Maggie. While Maggie must have told Glenn that the Governor did not rape her, his powerlessness to stop the way she was treated by him account for his anger at Rick for not assassinating the Governor when he had the chance.
In this dire situation, it's up to Hershel to try and patch things up among the survivors. Using his avuncular charm, he tells him, "You're like my own son Glenn". He also cares for the new band of people who were locked up by Carl, though tells them he can't promise sanctuary. "I wouldn't get too comfortable here. It's not up to me."
Woodbury at war
Woodbury is also in disarray, with residents trying to flee the town en masse. The militant rulers of the town have no intention of letting them go, with their warning shots to the crowd drawing the attention of zombies to the walls.
The blissful community of picnics and barbecues a couple of episodes ago has been transformed into a nightmare, as the undead have infiltrated the streets of the town. While anarchy unfolds, the Governor sits in his ivory tower and does nothing. He appears briefly to put a bullet into the brain of one of the survivors bitten by a walker, before retreating wordlessly to his home.
As he informs Andrea, "I'm through holding their hands; we're at war". His actions, or inaction, have made the people more fearful than ever. It takes Andrea to step up and bring the group back together. In a clichéd speech she calls for the people to, "dig deep and find the strength to carry on," riling the townsfolk into believing that despite the setbacks they can prevail.
Ten little Indians
The people of Woodbury are now on the road to recovery, but Rick's group remains fractured. When Rick finally does agree to meet with Tyrese's group he refuses to listen to their pleas, insisting, "I can't be responsible". Hershel in vain tries to steer Rick towards the light, but upon seeing a vision of Lori in the prison he goes berserk once more, yelling, "I can't help you, get out!" The prison is fast becoming a sinking ship, and its inhabitants will need to band together and help Rick out if they do not wish to drown.