That's more like it. "Inmates" was really four minisodes detailing the post-prison escape stories of Beth and Daryl, Tyreese and the Carol Corps, Maggie and Sasha and Bob, and finally Glenn, respectively. And they were all far more engaging than last week's last season premiere.
But we'll get to that in a second. First, the recap:
We begin with Daryl and Beth; specifically we begin with Beth and Daryl running for their lives, inexorably, as the show played an excerpt from Beth's first diary entry upon moving into the prison. It's a little cheesy, but it contrasts Beth's former, almost reluctant glimmer of hope to their current insecurity exceedingly well. Daryl, meanwhile, is defeated. Now, defeated for Daryl is still a default fight for survival, but Beth has to talk him into even looking for tracks in case someone else escaped. They do find some tracks, but only come across a fresh zombie kill, and Beth breaks down. But the most heartbreaking part of the segment? When it's revealed that the two are starting their fires by using Beth's diary pages. There's no mistaking what the characters have lost.
Meanwhile, Tyresse is in full babysitter mode, including both the Carol Corps girl and — wait for it — Judith. She's alive! But holy shit. You don't know what tense zombie entertainment is until you watch this segment where one guy is trying to protect two little girls and a baby from an unknowable amount of zombies. Tyreese is surprisingly parental, but every time Judith cries it's nerve-wracking, because the baby could bring death on their heads at any moment.
Of course, Lizzie, the more psychotic member of the Carol Corps, sees a pretty simple solution to this problem. When Tyreese hears a woman's scream in the distance and leaves the girls together (see Assorted Musings below for more), Judith starts crying and Lizzie just puts her hand over Judith's mouth and nose — she's not upset at Judith, and she doesn't even pay attention to the zombies approaching them (Mika, meanwhile, is freaking out). Lizzie's just having a great time smothering this baby. Tyreese hears Mika shoot at one of the zombies, but can't get away from the zombies he's found, along with some strangers, all of whom get eaten. As soon as he gets a chance, he starts running back to them, panicked, and finds — Carol.
Carol saved them! It's definitely a Carol ex Machina, but she explains that she had returned to the prison (I assume she decided Rick could go fuck himself) just to see it get destroyed, saw Tyreese and the girls run off, tried to chase them but lost them for a bit, and found them in just the nick of time, so I'll allow it. Tyreese, who still doesn't know that Carol set his gal pal on fire, is overjoyed to see her. One of the dying strangers manages to tell this semi-happy family about a community that's safe, they just have to follow the train tracks. Soon enough, they see a sign for a place called — not at all ominously — Terminus.
Okay, Maggie, Sasha and Bob time. Maggie is distraught about Glenn, Sasha is pragmatic, and Bob seemingly accepts that he could die at literally any minute and makes some peace with that. Sasha wants to set up camp, but Maggie just runs off to find the school bus she left Glenn in, forcing Sasha and Bob to follow her as opposed to splitting up. Maggie finds the bus quickly enough, stopped in the middle of a road… and full of zombies. Maggie's ready to jump on in, but Sasha and Bob point out that's stupid. Maggie knows this, but has to see if Glenn is one of them anyways, so Bob convinces her to let them open the back door and let the zombies out one at a time.
This is obviously still a dumb plan, and eventually the zombies overpower Sasha and Bob and flood out all at once, but they manage to dispatch them without too much fuss. Which is when Maggie jumps on the bus to see if Glenn — or what's left of him — is isnide. Sure enough, there's one zombie trapped under another body; Maggie pulls it off, and the zombie leaps at her, but we don't see its face, but he kind of has Glenn's hair and is wearing the same dark sort of shirt as Glenn last had on, and Maggie starts balling immediately after she knifes the zombie in the face, but then she starts laughing. Cut to commercial. And the first shot back is Glenn waking up at the prison.
Let me tell you how good this was. I was genuinely worried here that Glenn was dead. I thought it was entirely plausible that Walking Dead would kill Glenn off-screen, turn him into a Walker, and force Maggie to stab him in the head as an almost involuntary reaction to him lunging at her. That sounded just brutal and awful enough to be right up Walking Dead's alley. Now, I knew the show wouldn't kill Glenn without clearly showing he was dead, and once it cut to commercial without revealing the face of the zombie, I knew Glenn was safe. But for that insanely long take of Maggie where she's crying after the stabbing, I expected to the camera to cut to zombie-Glenn with a knife in his head at any second. Hell, even when she was laughing I thought there was a chance Maggie was just laughing hysterically at the unbelievable wretchedness of what she'd just done.
Anyways, Glenn. If you'll recall, he was barely recovered from being deathly ill when Maggie got him on the bus and ran off to find Beth. Well, clearly Glenn followed and managed to get himself to a safe place before passing out, although there are dozens of zombies who know where he is and want a bite. He returned to the prison where they all lived, first looking for Maggie, and then looking for supplies so he can set out to find Maggie. In what is possibly the smartest decision made by anyone on The Walking Dead, Glenn gets out his riot gear and puts it on.
On his way out, he spies The Governor's New Wife's Sister — who is named Tara, as I have finally looked ut up since she's clearly sticking around for a while — in a small fenced enclosure, surrounded by zombies. Glenn tries to get her to leave, but she feels responsible for following the Governor and causing all this mess and death. She even mentions "Brian" killing the old man, and that's how Glenn finds out Herschel is dead. But Glenn won't abandon Tara, mostly because he needs her if he wants any chance of finding Maggie. So he rigs a Molotov cocktail to distract the zombies, and runs off with Tara. They get to the road, where Glenn fights off several before collapsing, forcing Tara to wake up out of her stupor and beat some heads in. Which is what she's doing when a truck approaches… and a man named Abraham steps out. Comic readers will know him well.
"Inmates" was a much better episode than "After" for a variety of reasons: 1) There were four stories instead of two. None of them needed to be padded out like Carl and Michonne's were, and I think more happened in these anyways. 2) The zombie scares were actually kind of tense. We knew there was no way Carl was going to die alone during his stupid snit, so those zombie attacks were wasting time. But a few of this episode's action scenes were tense for a few different reasons — like I had no fucking clue how the Carol Corps were going to survive an attack while they were on their own. And when Maggie was playing Die Hard on the school bus I wasn't worried she was going to die, but I was worried about what she was going to find. So well done there. 3) Almost no one did anything stupid. Carl did several stupid things last week, and frankly, these characters have enough problems without their lack of common sense getting in the way. But in "Inmates," Maggie entering the school bus was a dumb decision, but one she emotionally needed to make. Tyreese leaving the girls alone wasn't great, but it was a calculated risk — no present threat in addition to the chance of saving a fellow survivor. He didn't make the call easily.
And now there's this exciting new goal, Terminus, for everyone to get to, implying how everyone will meet back up. There are new characters who are likely going to stick around for awhile and shake things up. Carol's back and hanging with Tyreese, and conflict is a-brewing! Lizzie's last name is Borden, apparently! And no one needlessly risked his or her life in order to eat a million pounds of canned pudding! Good stuff all around!
The girl who plays Beth is not the world's best on-screen crier.
Lizzie also apparently stabs a variety of bunny rabbits to death while at camp one night — clearly not for eating, just for the killing. This does indicate that she's the one who killed the animals at the prison and then left them by the fence, as the most prevalent fan theories proposed. I had resisted this idea, because I assumed the perpetrator was trying to lure zombies to the prison fence. But tonight it dawned on me that Lizzie wasn't doing that, she was just trying to hide the evidence of her serial critter killer career, and thought the zombies would take care of it.
That bunny stuff was set up really well, by the way. Daryl and Beth pass by a log that the bunnies are sitting cozily in. Then there's a brief shot of the same log, with the bunnies still inside, which Lizzie is sitting next to. Lizzie notices something in the log area. Lizzie takes out her knife and starts make bored, dispassionate stabbing motions at this area, while no one is the wiser. It's chilling.
I call them bunnies and not rabbits because they were bunnies, goddammit. They were all so placid and adorable they might as well have been wearing little bow ties.
Seriously, I don't think Tyreese leaving the girls is as insane as it sounds; there are no apparent walkers in the vicinity, but there obviously are by the survivor. Tyreese places them back-to-back and arms them, and tells them if any walkers come to run toward him. Most importantly, the scream could be a prison survivor or just someone to help him protect two kids and a baby, which is worth the seemingly small chance the girls would be in danger (you know, if he thought the world was governed by logic instead of sadistic screenwriters). Again, a calculated risk.
Glenn's pretty badass in the episode. But more importantly, there's some fine acting from Steven Yuen. The range of emotions he goes through in the prison, from comprehension to loss to determination is great. And the way he reacts when he asks Tara if the old man was named Herschel — he sounds like a little boy, which is powerful because Herschel was obviously such a father figure to him.
SPOILER ABOUT ABRAHAM: I'm used to seeing all military personnel in zombie films be evil murderer-rapists, so I assumed that when Abraham showed up in camo we were meeting the next big bad. But about 30 seconds of Googling revealed that's not the case, which is a nice subversion of the trope. Unless the show is fucking with us, which is always a possibility.
BABY JUDITH DEATH WATCH: The other thing that stressed me out about this episode is because I honestly thought the show might have Lizzie kill Judith right there, and let me tell you why: The comic is definitely awful enough to kill a baby. The show has not done anything to make me think that it wouldn't kill a baby, other than not killing the baby… yet. I really thought the baby was dead when we saw the car seat full of blood, so I still kind of think that Judith could go at any time. Baby Judith is a huge narrative anchor that drags down the characters and the narrative while they must deal with her, which is partially why she's gone in the comic — this cannot be lost on the TV writers. About the only thing Baby Judith has going in her favor is that killing a baby would be about the most horrible thing a TV drama could depict, and AMC might not want to potentially alienate a large portion of TWD's already large audience. But the show already killed a 10-year-old girl named Sophia, so forgive me if I don't think Judith is out of the woods yet.
LOOK AT THE STARE LIZZIE IS GIVING BABY JUDITH IN THE PICTURE ABOVE AAAAAAAAA