Before a really very good final episode, season 2 of The Walking Dead was shuffling along like, well, a zombie.  With the group stuck on Hershel’s boring farm (more a product of a tight budget at AMC than good writing), Rick was making a series of questionable decisions that were creating fractions within the group.  But the final episode really shook things up.  After Rick had killed Shane, they were forced to abandon the farm after a mass of walkers over-ran it.  There were some shocking (although not unwelcome in some cases) deaths, and it set up a new season with different locations and a different group dynamic after Rick finally made himself a proper leader.

Season 3 begins a few months on from there (you can tell because Hershel has a jaunty beard, Carl’s hair has grown and Lori is very pregnant), with the group sweeping a house for walkers and food.  Carl has gotten used to firing a gun (he takes out one walker with an impressive headshot), while Daryl bags himself an owl for dinner.  They are travelling around, unable to stay in one place for long, looking for sanctuary, and they still (just slightly improbably) have cars and Daryl’s bike.  When Rick and Daryl go hunting, they find a prison.  Upon further exploration, they realise that the boundary fencing offers them some safety, if they can clear the area of walkers, they’ll have a wide open space to stay in for a while.

That’s not enough for Rick though, and he wants them to explore the prison further.  There could be food, ammunition and medical supplies inside if it’s been abandoned, and it could allow Lori to give birth with at least some of the proper equipment and drugs needed to deliver the baby safely.

Elsewhere, we’re treated to some brief scenes involving Michonne, a popular character from the comic book series (which I confess to knowing nothing about) as she ruthlessly beheads some walkers while searching for medical supplies.  She was first introduced in the final episode of season 2 when she rescued Andrea, who had been separated from the group.  Michonne is basically pretty awesome, keeping two armless and jawless walkers on chains, although when we see Andrea again, she claims to have saved Michonne several times since they met.  Andrea is sick and wants Michonne to move on without her, but she won’t do it.

Back at the prison, Rick is leading Daryl, Maggie, Glen, Hershel and T-Dog (who actually has several lines of dialogue) further inside.  They meet more walkers, including some in body armour and helmets, which they eventually manage to kill, even though it takes them several attempts (Daryl fires bolts from his crossbow, T-Dog jabs at their head with a sharpened pipe) before realising that they can’t penetrate the helmets, instead stabbing upwards through the jaw to stop them.  They are able to spend the night inside part of the prison, and during the night Lori needs Hershel’s help with the baby.  She’s still worrying about having the baby at all, questioning if it could be stillborn, or kill her as she gives birth etc, and it’s a big reminder of just how annoying Lori is.  She spent most of season 2 playing Shane and Rick off against each other, and moaning and bitching like she wasn’t living in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.  It makes any scene with her hugely frustrating to watch, and I (and I imagine many other people who watch the show) find myself hoping that somehow, someway, she gets gobbled up by walkers, or is otherwise killed off, as soon as possible.

The next day, Rick leads the same group deeper into the prison.  They need to clear the whole building, and soon find themselves in the dark, exploring cells and wings that are mostly empty, apart from dead bodies or dried blood on the floors and walls.  When they find a group of walkers, they retreat, but find themselves being surrounded by walkers.  Maggie and Glen are split from the group, and when the others try to find them, Hershel gets bitten by a walker that had casually being lying against a wall.  Rick takes immediate action by tying his belt around Hershel’s leg, before hacking it off below the knee to stop the infection spreading.  It’s a shocking and brutal moment and the highlight of a good, but not great first episode.

The zombie action in The Walking Dead has always been great, and there’s a lot of brutal action involving the walkers in this episode (my favourite moment is Rick pulling a helmet off of a walker, which takes its face with it).  The Michonne/Andrea strand of the story could be an interesting one, although it seems inevitable that they’ll re-join the main group and the finale of the episode sets up the arrival of The Governor (another big character from the comic books), played by David Morrissey.  It’s a solid enough start to the new season, and the preview of the rest of the season suggests it will be much better than season 2.