This show is all about death and the two ways in which we cope with it. Accept the weight of it or pretend it did not happen. “Hounded” focuses on how Rick denies Lori’s death so much that it breaks him.  We also see how Andrea denies all that has and is happening. Michonne continues to accept reality but her ‘out for number one’ philosophy costs others their safety.

There is no denying that Michonne is in tune with what is really going on but she only copes through violence and solitude. She is not flawless, however and she fails to see that her intimidation tactics don’t work on Merle. He and others from Woodbury have been sent to catch her. She is awesome and therefore kills everyone but Merle and a poor redshirt. Merle is too much of a sociopath to be intimidated by Michonne and after she is wounded in the leg, she does the only thing she can do against a sociopath – run.

The core drama of “Hounded” comes from the hallucinatory phone calls Rick receives in the prison. Rick is desperate. He’s never let his desperation show as sadness. It’s always been through determination and alpha male posturing. Losing Lori has broken him, a break that started when he killed Shane last season. Crying scenes aren’t easy for actors to pull off. They frequently look melodramatic but Andrew Lincoln’s tears resonate as much as Hershel losing his leg or Carl shooting Lori. Every scene with him on the phone is as tragic as it gets.  These scenes are a window into the psychotic war in his mind – the decision to cope or to deny all of this death. The first phone call is denial and wishful fulfillment. He is told of a safe place. A place where everyone is careful and “away” from the devastation. There is a dreamland where there is no death.

Each phone call Rick receives is his mind leading him to reality. The callers ask him about his wife and how she died, forcing him to confront the truth he is desperate to avoid. The last phone call is from Lori and he finally faces everything that hounds him. He finds his sanity through this rabbit hole of insanity. He has done what many people on this show need to do – feel their despair and internalize it, in order to let it go. Now that he’s done that, he can hold his daughter and even find joy in her existence.

It cannot be stressed enough how brilliant Andrew Lincoln is in this episode.

Andrea is less than brilliant and her denial does not break your heart. It makes you want to shake her and say “Why are you making such horrible choices, you idiot!?” Her desperation causes her to sleep with the enemy, literally. She behaves like a teenage girl who has a crush on the high school quarterback. She trades her morals for false security.

The Governor is a master manipulator and understands that if the apocalypse hadn’t happened, Andrea would have been reading 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight in her pajamas drinking white wine on a Saturday night. He plays her perfectly. He tells her she’s dark. She’s complicated. He woos her in a way that’s more effective than offering security. He makes her feel like she is more than she is. And she is more than happy to give in.

‘Hounded’ gives us some backstory on Merle and Daryl, as well. In an attempt to bond with Carl, Daryl tells him how his mother died. She was a horrible drunk who fell asleep while smoking in bed. Daryl says that she was burned beyond recognition so it was like her death never happened. It was never real to him. Carl then says one of the most poignant lines of the episode:

“I shot my mom. It was real.”

Unlike his father, Carl immediately accepts the tragedy of this world and his place in it.

While hunting Michonne, Merle finds Glenn and Maggie, who are out getting provisions.. After a few trust games, Merle takes Maggie by gunpoint and forces Glenn to drive them to Woodbury. Michonne witnesses the whole thing but does nothing. She can’t be faulted for that. She doesn’t know Maggie and Glenn and Michonne is not one to adopt the ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’ attitude.

Two other pivotal events happen at the end of this episode. Daryl finds Carol alive! She looks near death but like the white knight he is, Daryl carries her to safety. The episode concludes with Rick seeing a horde of walkers descend upon the prison fence but they aren’t alone. Michonne is with them, walking as though she is undead. The episode closes with her wordlessly asking Rick to let her into the prison.

Rick may be out of his psychosis but things are not going to get better for the gang. One can only imagine what kind of torture Maggie and Glenn are going to face at the hands of Merle. Actually, I’d rather not imagine, but we’ll find out in the next episode.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays 9/8c on AMC.

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