Rick and the survivors find unlikely sanctuary in a prison. But it may prove to be even deadlier than the outside world.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Episode Title: "Seed"

Writer: Glen Mazzara

Director: Ernest Dickerson

Previously on "The Walking Dead":

Episode 2:13 "Beside the Dying Fire"

Someday, when we look back at the history of “The Walking Dead” TV series, we may point to “Seed” as the moment that the show finally escaped the shadow of Frank Darabont.

Darabont was unquestionably the driving force behind this series in the first two seasons before his unceremonious removal by AMC. “The Walking Dead” is Robert Kirkman’s creation, but Darabont brought it to life. After a very strong first season, “The Walking Dead’ stumbled a bit during the second season, particularly with some pacing issues in the first half.

Part of the reason that fans of the “Walking Dead’ comic were so impatient for the Farm storyline to end is because they knew that the prison storyline was right around the corner. And we are now entering some of the best parts of the overall saga. This is also the first season without Darabont’s direct involvement.

“Seeds” quickly serves notice that the pacing problems may not be an issue this season. Kirkman has stated several times that the creative team doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. The opening sequence in which Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), Daryl Dixon ( Norman Reedus), T-Dog (IronE Singleton) and even Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) cleared a house of zombies was beautifully executed and not just in the way that the walkers were dispatched.

My particular favorite moment came when Carl started opening the cans of dog food and we caught a glimpse of Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson), Lori Grimes (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Hershel’s daughter, Beth (Emily Kinney). The look of sad disappointment on their faces said everything about what their lives have become. Rick may have transformed them into an effective team of survivors, but their lives are in a constant state of desperation and despair.

Rick’s angry reaction to the dog food was also intense and conveyed his emotions without a word. That sequence had great scripting and excellent performances from all involved. Screenwriter and “Walking Dead” executive producer Glen Mazzara seems to have found a good balance between delivering character moments and zombie kills. Just the scene with Beth and Maggie singing to the group during their camp fire did more to cement their bond as a family than almost the entirety of last season. At this point, the entire group is like an extended family and even Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) has a grudging respect for Rick.

It was also pretty hilarious to see that Carl is now obviously infatuated with Beth; a fact which she and her father seem well aware of in this episode. Without Sophia, it makes perfect sense that Carl would gravitate towards the closest girl to his age, even though she seems to have at least five or six years on him. The evolution of Carl into an effective zombie killer is also welcome. Note that in the opening sequence, Rick and the others trusted Carl enough to clear rooms on his own… and he appears to be a pretty good shot.

While the group is closer than ever, Lori and Rick are clearly distant from each other and they seem to avoid making eye contact in several scenes. Lori also seems more self aware this season as she apparently realizes that she set Rick and Shane against each other… and she may very well be carrying Shane’s baby. It’s a little ambiguous on that front, but the Grimes are barely speaking to each other.

On another front, Carol seems to be getting more aggressive in her pursuit of Daryl. Now we know what Norman Reedus meant at New York Comic Con when he said “It’s love, man! Not some owl you can shoot!” Daryl just doesn’t seem to be ready for that kind of relationship and he may even be a little freaked out by how forward Carol is about it.

“Seed” also had some of the best action sequences of the series to date once the survivors discovered the prison and began the dangerous process of attempting to make it into their new home. And it seemed to be going well… right up until it isn’t. It’s almost a good thing for Dale that he’s dead, because what happened to Hershel in this episode is something that would have happened to him. It’s a clever way to shift that fate onto Hershel because it calls his survival into question. Kirkman and Mazzara aren’t afraid to make radical changes to the story along the way, so Hershel could live… or he could die here.

The other closing moment shocker was the appearance of other survivors in the prison, namely Big Tiny (Theodus Crane), Oscar (Vincent Ward), Axel (Lew Temple), Andrew (Markice Moore) and Tomas (Nick Gomez). Of that group, only Big Tiny is an original creation for the TV series. But if events stick closely to the source material, then Rick and company are going to have some new problems dealing with a separate group of survivors in the weeks ahead.

Meanwhile, we finally get to see Michonne (Danai Gurira) in action and she kicks just as much ass as we always wanted to see. Michonne doesn’t have enough dialog to really give us a feel for how Guriira is going to portray her. But Gurira is very convincing with Michonne’s physicality.

It’s a little bit of a cheat that we don’t get to see how Michonne and Andrea (Laurie Holden) became so close. But apparently Michonne feels so strongly about Andrea that she risks her life to get her aspirin for her fever. One of TVLine’s columnists made a point asking Mazzara if there is sexual tension between Michonne and Andrea. Really? Does every relationship have to sexual? Mazzara played coy with his answer, but I didn’t see a sexual aspect in their brief interaction with each other.

What I did see was that the writers still have a hard time making Andrea likable. Her speech to Michonne may have been an attempt to make Andrea appear selfless by telling her friend to abandon her. But the way it was delivered by Holden made Andrea seem selfish and petulant. I don’t understand why this character has so much trouble clicking on the TV series. Is it Holden’s performance or the writing that keeps Andrea from being fully realized here?

That issue aside, this was an exciting hour of television that offered nearly everything I have ever wanted from “The Walking Dead.” It may have finally become the show that we always hoped it would be.