Emerging from its winter hibernation, "The Walking Dead" returned Sunday night with one of those annoying, run-in-place kind of episodes that I suspect left a lot of fans ticked off.

"After" picked up in the moments following the show's hellacious midseason bloodbath, in which the Governor met his doom and poor Hershel was decapitated, and the prison was destroyed. While the episode did pack some emotional oomph, it failed to propel the plot forward, or answer many questions.

Questions like:

  • What happened to baby Judith?

  • Where is the bulk of our survivor gang, and how are they faring?

  • Whatever became of Carol?

  • Will bratty Carl ever get a haircut?

    Speaking of Carl, this episode was a showcase for Chandler Riggs, whose character is quickly giving Dana Brody of "Homeland" stiff competition for title of TV's most irritatingly petulant teen. We spent a lot of time with Carl, mainly because his father Rick was pretty much incapacitated following his brutal run-in with the Governor. Looking like someone on the losing end of an MMA cage fight, Rick's face was a pulpy mess. He could hardly walk, let alone speak, and every breath he took sounded like utter torture. Of course, maybe it's better that Rick was mostly speechless because the "Walking Dead" writers hardly ever give him anything interesting to say anyway. But that's a complaint for another recap.


    Advertisement

    The episode followed Rick and Carl as they make a post-battle trek through the woods. They've been separated from the rest of the group and Carl is in full, pouty-boy mode.

    After they encounter a zombie in a diner, Carl disobeys Pops and shoots it in the head (Don't waste bullets!). Later, they enter a vacated house and Carl shouts, "Hey, a-hole!" at a zombie (Watch your mouth!). And when Rick wants to fortify a door by moving furniture in front of it, Carl has an alternative plan that involves a sheet and an intricate knot.

    Where did he learn to tie a knot like that?

    "Shane taught me. Remember him?" Carl replies snottily.

    Carl is disagreeing with Rick at every turn, even over whether to eat or save the food they've come across. And then, when Rick falls asleep on the couch, Carl sees it as an opportunity to wander the empty streets of this suburban neighborhood and stupidly taunts a couple of zombies into chasing after him.

    Carl's little game almost goes awry when a third walker grabs him from behind. But after a near-death struggle, Carl emerges victorious ("I win!") and extra cocky. In between another dangerous encounter with zombies, pouty boy returns to the house, where Rick is still out and we finally find out what has been bugging this kid. Predictably, he's mad at his dad for failing to be the heroic leader the group counted on.

    Snarling at a sleeping Rick, Carl blurts out, among other things, that his dad knew the Governor was lurking around the prison and did nothing about it. That he just hid out, played farmer and just stopped caring.

    And then the shocker: "Now, you're nothing! I'd be fine if you died!"

    This kid seriously needs to go eat a great big tub of pudding.

    Later that night comes a very strange scene: Rick has been basically comatose on the couch all day. Is the dude dead? It's dark and we can't really tell. Suddenly, Carl hears some moans and groans coming from Pops. Oh my god, he could be a zombie! Carl grabs his gun and points it at Rick. But he can't bring himself to fire. The poor boy is crying -- and then, Rick murmurs something. He's alive!

    "I'm scared," a remorseful Carl proclaims, realizing, of course, that he still very much wants/needs dad by his side. That he knows he can't go it alone.

    While all this has been going on, Michonne has been dealing with her own cauldron of emotions. She begins the hour by lopping the arms off two walkers and turning them into "pets" on leashes -- just as we saw her when we first met the Katana-wielding warrior. She embarks on a trek through the woods and then has a very weird flashback dream sequence in which she's with two men and a small child. One of the men is referred to as her "lover." But then, both of the guys are armless and the child is gone!

    Huh?

    Clearly, we're being spoon-fed clues about Michonne's past, but we haven't learned much.

    When we catch up with her later in the episode, she is again strolling through the woods and a whole flock of walkers is following her, including one that somewhat resembles her. Suddenly, she goes on a vicious, frenetic head-chopping binge. Ugly zombies are dropping everywhere, including her "pets." At the end of it, she's alone again and following tracks she has spotted in the dirt.

    Michonne eventually makes her way to the diner where Rick and Carl were. Now, she begins to cry and call out to someone named Mike. She misses him, Michonne says and talks about how she missed him "even when I was with you back at the camp."

    "You were wrong because I'm still here and you could be, too. And he could be, too," she goes on to say. "I know the answer. I know why."

    And again, we say, "Huh?"

    Michonne eventually winds up at the home where Rick and Carl are. Reunited and it feels so good.

    What did you think of the midseason opener? We're you frustrated or enthralled by its narrow focus? And what are your predictions for the rest of the group?

    Contact Chuck Barney at Facebook.com/BayAreaNewsGroup.ChuckBarney, or Twitter.com/chuckbarney