We open moments after Rick hacked off Hershel’s leg with a hand axe to theoretically save him from a zombie bite, while a group of five confused and slightly horrified prisoners looked on. After the crew rushes Hershel back to the secure cell block, the prisoners follow along like confused puppies until Daryl levels his crossbow at them, announces that they have all been pardoned by the state of Georgia, and invites the newly free men to explore the exciting world outside the prison. One of the prisoners – the most aggressive one, and naturally the only one with a gun – uses his brain and concludes that a group of civilians breaking into a prison doesn’t bode well for the outside world.
It is soon revealed that the group of prisoners (who are not given names, which doesn’t bode well for their longevity), have been locked in the cafeteria since the outbreak started, and don’t really understand the scope of the situation, i.e. that civilization is over. It’s not unlike the moment when Rick woke up in the hospital, and a lot to take in at once: the loss of the whole world. As much as they are used to being the baddest dudes around, these hardened criminals have nothing on the zombie apocalypse, or the people who have learned to survive it. Honestly, Carl is probably harder than them at this point, which gets sadder and sadder the longer you think about it.
Lori and Rick discuss the options for dealing with the prisoners, and when Rick lists “kill them” as a possibility, Lori immediately responds, “if that’s what you think is best.” Which is Lori’s way of saying “you should totally kill them.” There is a tense territorial negotiation between Gun Guy and Rick, as Rick basically laughs at the idea of leaving the prison but agrees to clear out another cell block for the prisoners – in exchange for half of their food. Gun Guy reluctantly says that they have a deal, but his eyes say something else to Rick, namely that he is totally going to kill him at the first opportunity.
The crew gives the prisoners a quick lesson in Zombie 101, but when actually faced with their first walkers, they immediately ignore every single thing Rick said and rush the zombies prison-riot style, hilariously trying to kill them by shanking them and kicking them in the stomach. When one of the prisoners wanders away from the group and gets bitten, Gun Guy uses it as an opportunity to establish how bad he is and brutally beats the infected man to death. For the record, this is the moment when I turned to a friend and said, “This guy needs killing.”
Meanwhile, an unconscious Hershel is still hovering between life and death. Glenn tries to comfort Maggie, but she has already concluded that her father is going die, and quietly advises her sister Beth to adopt the same attitude. Everyone acts like Maggie’s being really presumptuous and cold, but she makes the excellent point that even if Hershel does live, he’s going to be a one-legged man in a world where the only way to survive is by running all of the time. “Am I the only person living in reality here?” Because listen, when the worst possible thing becomes the thing that always happens, you stop wanting to wait for it and start moving ahead to the moment where you accept it. After the world ends, is optimism really anything but a form of denial?
Glenn and Carol go off to get a female walker so Carol can practice a C-section on it, since Hershel likely won’t be able to deliver Lori’s baby now, and they have “plenty of cadavers” at their disposal. It’s the one and only benefit of the zombie apocalypse, hooray! Glenn assures her over and over that this is a totally sane and practical thing to do, which only underscores how weird and gross it is.
Later, when Maggie takes a moment alone with Hershel, we find out the even sadder reason that she’s already mentally carving his name on a tombstone: Because death seems like a mercy compared with the life they’re living. Pretty much every character on the show is just one bad day away from killing themselves, and that precariousness is exactly why none of them can allow themselves to stop fighting, even for a moment. “You don’t have to fight anymore,” she whispers, holding his hand.
There’s a moment where Hershel stops breathing and it seems like it’s over, so Lori of course does the dumbest thing possible and gives him mouth to mouth resuscitation when he is seconds away from becoming undead. If there is a place where you do not want your face to be in relation to a zombie, it is inside of its mouth, I am pretty sure. But he comes back (as a human)!
As the crew works to clear the new cell block, Gun Guy finally decides to make his move, taking a long swipe at a zombie with a knife that juuust misses Rick in a moment of slow-mo, and then pretty much throws a walker right on top of him. Gun Guy makes a lame excuse when it’s all over, but Rick knows what is up: “I get it man. I get it.” And then he brings a machete straight down through the the guy’s skull, and subsequently locks the man’s accomplice outside the prison to die. The other two prisoners frantically claim to have no affiliation with Gun Guy, and Rick ultimately agrees to spare them as long as they stay away from his side of the prison.
After a brief moment of looking around the newly empty cell block full of the undead corpses of their former friends, this starts to look like a less appealing deal, and one of the prisoners says, “You’re leaving us in here? That’s sick.” To which Daryl replies, “You think this is sick? You don’t want to know what’s outside.”
Welcome to the zombie apocalypse, a painstaking education in all of the things that you will and will not do. If you somehow manage not to die, you will learn every one of them.