Wow. This episode of The Walking Dead blew my mind.
I'm always prepared for premieres to be epic, as they often get packed full of story, action and drama to set up the season and get viewers hooked.
And recalling how last season played out, getting so much zombie hacking and fighting in the first episode meant that the follow up would probably be very quiet and character focused, with plenty of dialogue to talk about big picture ideas.
Except "Sick" carried the momentum of "Seed" and pushed on forward with a ferocity that clearly defined the tone of the season. This is a vastly different feel from the previous seasons - and a welcome one at that.
Surprisingly, there was no switching back and forth with the Andrea storyline, but it didn't matter. I was so caught up in the tension of dealing with the prison inmates, fighting more walkers and the group preparing for an unfortunate Hershel outcome, that I almost completely forgot about the missing characters.
Dealing with the prison inmates was a great and interesting twist for our core group of survivors. Certainly, they reaffirmed that the walkers aren't the only things to be concerned about.
I was shocked when one of the prisoners, Big Tiny, was viciously taken out by one of his own. It seemed inevitable that one of the new guys was bound to be walker fodder and you could tell that despite Rick wishing he could help, there was just nothing he could do. Seeing the blood splatter everywhere as his "friend" smashed his head was quite a shock.
It was clear that the prisoners so-called leader wasn't to be trusted, but hey, he was in prison for a reason, right?
And the guy only reaffirmed his dangerous potential when he kept taking swipes at Rick. That is a definite no, no.
But I wasn't ready entirely for Rick's response to it all. After all, Rick's been the guy that spends his time talking and reasoning. Of course, with the two standing facing each other after and Rick sarcastically acknowledging "shit happens," I kept thinking it would be cool if Rick laid him out with a bullet.
Nope. That swift machete to the skull was unexpected and graphic. Did that actually happen? Did Rick really just do that?
This is not the Rick from The Walking Dead Season 2.
Plus, the fact that he chased the other inmate out into the courtyard of walkers before closing it on him and telling him to run? It was so dark and different for Rick's character, but I loved it.
Rick is transformed into this bad-ass leader and it's great to see Andrew Lincoln portray him with that dark and haunting attitude. You can tell his choices affect him, but he makes his decisions so swiftly and confidently that the change from his past self is that much more noticeable.
But wow. Those three huge moments took me by surprise.
And fantastically, the character driven scenes felt much more organically mixed in, especially in concern to everyone waiting on Hershel.
Maggie, who has always been that strong female character, was ready to let her father go. Not because she didn't want to, but because she was prepared. Watching Lauren Cohan play her with that tearful sadness without overdoing it was great. I felt for her and understood that not only her, but the whole group have come to accept the actions and the consequences in this new world.
Even Carol, who has become one of my favorites with her quick-witted humor, no longer just cries and is mopey over Sophia. She's trying to learn how to deliver Lori's baby if Hershel didn't survive. It was genius and disgusting that she attempted to practice on the walker, but who was watching her from the distance?
As for Lori, she's always seemed like something of a complainer, but I felt sorry for her in those final moments of the episode. Rick and Lori standing so close, but emotionally so far away, captured that somber mood and illustrated the dying strands of the world that they and we once knew.
It was touching that Rick was able to place his hand on her shoulder, and you know that deep down he still has a level of care, but his new outlook on life outweighs it heavily. In a lot of ways watching her tear up at the end made me wish that Rick would turn around or even comfort her, but alas, that bond between them seems like a distant memory. It was a great way to close it all out.
I'm even okay with Hershel surviving, although Lori trying mouth to mouth on a guy who could potentially bite her just seemed stupid. I know it saved him, but as soon as she started, I kept thinking, this is not gonna end well.
That small complaint, along with Carl running off again (that's his trademark move, obviously), couldn't put a damper on the whole. Truly, this was outstanding. It's clear that this season is grittier, bloodier and finding that great combination of pacing when it comes to the action and those character moments. And with the level of suspense and genuine surprises placed throughout, this show is proving all the great reasons why it's so addictive.
The Walking Dead is back in full force and it looks like nothing is going to stand its way.
Sean McKenna is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.