by Kat Rosenfield
Forget about the high walls of Woodbury and the stifling environs of the prison; this week, "The Walking Dead" took a field trip to the ruins of Rick's hometown, as the erstwhile sheriff returned to his stomping grounds in search of supplies — and had a surprise encounter with a familiar face we've been hoping to see again since season one.
We open with Rick, Carl and Michonne speeding down a country road, a journey that takes them past abandoned cars, depressing signposts left by hopeful survivors, and — surprise! — one lone hitch-hiker, who frantically signals them to stop. But after all that's happened, trust is in short supply, and not even the zombie apocalypse can entirely wipe out the stigma against picking up random dudes on the side of the road. They blow past the hiker, leaving him in the dust, and then deny him again when he nearly catches up to them as they navigate around a wreck — a series of events which Carl observes with the dead-eyed sangfroid of a mackerel. Ugh, this kid is gonna need so much therapy.
The trio's destination: the police station, where Rick is hoping that the cache of weapons might still be intact. But the guns are gone, and as they walk the deserted streets, strange writing starts appearing on the walls — ominous signs that lead them to a pile of burnt bodies, followed by a wacky walker obstacle course strung with barbed wire, sharp points, and traps baited with small furry creatures. The words "TURN AROUND AND LIVE" are scrawled on the street, but Rick pushes on, and soon the man in charge appears: a masked rooftop sniper who orders them to drop their guns and go. A gunfight ensues, in which the mystery man is shot by Carl. And when they pull the helmet from the unconscious assassin, it's... MORGAN JONES! (Who, in case you weren't watching two years ago, saved Rick's life and gave him shelter before he left for Atlanta in search of his family.)
While Morgan sleeps off the gunshot (he was wearing body armor), Carl and Michonne head for town, ostensibly to get a crib for the baby. (For those craving action, this moment includes your weekly dose of walker gore as various dead folks impale themselves on the barbed wire labyrinth in the street.) But Carl, who has ulterior motives, attempts to distract his chaperone and run for the town bar — not in search of booze, but to retrieve the last remaining photo of his family. The place is chock full of walkers, and it looks like suicide to even try. But with Michonne's help, they snag their prize... and Michonne, having proved her mettle and loyalty, earns maybe just a little trust from her small, suspicious companion.
Meanwhile, as suggested by the tinkertoy jungle full of Rube Goldberg booby traps (not to mention the nonsensical graffiti all over the walls), Morgan seems to be a few marbles short of his first-season count — a fact that's confirmed when he wakes up, stabs Rick, and begs for death while accusing him of "wearing a dead man's face". Yep, he's lost it! And no wonder: turns out, he waited around for months in the hope of receiving a message on Rick's walkie-talkie. And while he waited, his zombie wife ate his son! And despite Rick's pleas for him to join them at the prison, Morgan is far too crazy and despondent to be useful; all he wants to do is remind Rick of his impending death, and make his daily rounds to kill, remove, and burn the walkers who end up trapped in his obstacle course.
Which is where we leave him, as the trio make their way back to the car, down the road, and back to the cell block they all call home... stopping just long enough to pick up a bloodsoaked backpack, which is all that remains of the poor hiker from the show's first moments, who is now lying in several pieces on the side of the road.
In their defense, it is a really nice backpack.
Did you like the latest "Walking Dead" episode? What did you think of Morgan's return? Tell us in the comments section below or on Twitter!