SPOILER WARNING:

If you haven’t seen last week’s episode “The Suicide King,” turn away now! We’ll be talking about major plot points and revealing the events of this episode.

After a distressingly-long mid-season hiatus, The Walking Dead is back, bringing with it a fresh new wave of horror, drama, and zombie-infused kick-assery.

S3E9 “Suicide King” continues right where the series left off, with Merle and Daryl in Woodbury’s bloodsport ring, and the entire town screaming for blood. The Gov certainly knows how to incite his people, and announces terms for their brother-on-brother melee: Merle and Daryl must fight to the death, and the winner goes free.

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“You wanted your brother…now you can have him.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the bonds that tie Merle and Daryl together, Activision is releasing a video game next month that chronicles the two Dixon brothers’ brutal struggle in the zombie-infused South before they came across the original group of survivors back in season 1.

The game, known as The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, focuses primarily on the bloody bonds that tie Merle and Daryl Dixon together as they enact the old proverb of “two against the world,” forging strong ties that even death cannot break.

So it should be no surprise that Merle doesn’t want to kill Daryl, nor does Daryl want to take out his smart-assed (and quite racist) brother. For the sake of the horde of townspeople, Merle decides to play along and urges Daryl to follow his lead–but things change when biters are introduced into the mix. The Dixon brothers go back-to-back and do what they can to fend off the biters, but things are looking grim.

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And that’s where Rick’s rescue party comes in: with a few well-placed shots, Maggie headshots a few of the biters, and Rick tosses a smoke grenade into the huge group. The townspeople panic and scatter from the gunfire, but the Gov shows no signs of fear.

Back in the “Made to Suffer” mid-season finale, the Gov lost his dear zombie-child Penny, which indubitably hardened his resolve and made him into quite the sadistic and cruel bastard that we know and love today. As the smoke pours in and the remaining biters run amok, the Gov doesn’t even flinch as he blasts a walker to oblivion. No, he just watches, taking it all in, storing the justification for his brutal and unwavering retaliation.

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Merle and Daryl are saved, and while they escape Woodbury, Maggie and Rick inadvertently attract walkers with the gunfire. If that wasn’t enough, they break open a hole in the town’s fortifications in an effort to escape, letting a few biters in to mingle with the good ole’ townsfolk.

When the rescue party meets up with Glenn and Michonne–who were staying back due to their injuries–Glenn goes batshit and instantly wants to kill Merle for what he did in the last episode. Michonne feels the same way, holding her deadly blade at the racist foul-mouthed southerner, but Daryl and Rick argue against killing Merle. Despite Lorie’s death Rick is holding onto his “good-guy” sentimentality.

The argument leads to a fracturing of their group, as Glenn continues to argue about bringing Merle back to the prison. Rick knows what kind of man Merle is, and doesn’t trust him either, so he agrees. If anything they had gone back to Woodbury to save Daryl, and saving Merle was just an extra bonus.

Daryl isn’t one to argue or fight. He promptly opts to go with Merle and leave the others behind–even Carol, Daryl’s love interest.

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“No him, no me. That’s all I’m saying. It was always me and Merle.”

It’s here we see the strong ties that bind Daryl and Merle together. Despite all of the things that Daryl has been through with Rick’s band of survivors, siding with Merle isn’t even something he thinks about. This leaves the audience to wonder just what Merle and Daryl have been through, and we’ll most likely find out next month in Activision’s Survival Instinct shooter.

Also, in the earlier episodes when Daryl learned Merle was alive, he instantly wanted to track him down. Whatever Daryl has been through with his current family, it seems he’s been through even more trials with Merle, despite his brother’s harsh personality.

Glenn, Maggie and Rick try to make a compromise, but they are unwilling to let Merle near the other survivors, and Rick doesn’t trust him around Judith or Carl. In the end Daryl and Merle walk away into the woods together, fending for themselves just like old times.

Irked by Daryl’s abandoning his group, Rick also tells Michonne that she’s not welcome, and that after they take her to the prison and bandage her up, she has to leave. Michonne doesn’t seem to care one way or the other–she’s a tough one, and if anyone can survive on her own in the wilderness, it’s her.

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They make their way back to the prison with a warm greeting from Carl and Carol, who soon turns a worried at a Rick when she realizes Daryl’s not with them. But Carol is a strong woman, and even though Daryl has chosen Merle over her, she still admires him and doesn’t break down into tears. She moves on, because that’s all she can do.

Meanwhile, back at the friendly neighborhood town of Woodbury, the townspeople are panicking and are trying to escape. They no longer feel safe, and the veil that the Gov has placed over their eyes has broken apart–they see the danger of their situation. After they’ve seen how easily a few outsiders gained access to the town and wreaked havoc, killing and wounding their folk, the people feel as if they’d be safer on the outside rather than in Woodbury.

The Gov is nowhere to be found as the town pretty much starts freaking out, and it’s left to Andrea to regain some semblance of control. The main gate is still holding, but the hole that Rick and the others made in the fortifications becomes apparent as a few denizens are chewed on. Andrea rushes over and dispatches the biters, but the unlucky man who was chomped on is still alive, begging for help.

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The Governor answers the man’s cry with a bullet, then turns his back on the onlooking crowd, walking away to the seclusion of his apartment. When faced by Andrea for what he just did, the Gov seems not to care about it, nor does he seem to care about the panicked state of the townspeople.

It seems he has his eye only on revenge.

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Andrea returns to the crowd and does her best to reason with them, telling them that the fortifications have been secured and that the walkers were now dead. She maintains control and calms the people down, but the town is used to looking up to the Gov for security…yet Andrea does a decent job. She may very well have prevented an all-out riot, and she knows just how dangerous a group of scared, panicky people can be.

At the prison Rick soon learns of the new additions to their group–Tyreese, his daughter, and two others–but he doesn’t want any newcomers. Rick is much more hardened now, and Herschel tries to consult him, saying that these new people would definitely come in handy when it comes to general maintenance and help against the Governor should he strike.  Herschel also wants to make up for the loss of Daryl, who was an important part of their group.

Despite this, Rick is having none of it. He disagrees completely. But during the argument, something strange happens: Rick’s mind is betraying him once more with visions of his dead wife.

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Throughout Season 3 both Rick and the Gov have gone through a metamorphosis, one that has changed each of them into something different. Something more cruel. A world where the dead walk truly hardens a man–and a woman–and can effortlessly turn them into a shell of who they once were. Rick is hanging onto his resolve by a thread for the sake of Carl and his newborn Judith, but it’s getting harder and harder for him to hang onto his sanity.

We’ve seen Rick in a deep dark hole of depression during his zombie-slaughtering frenzy upon Lorie’s death. He didn’t mourn her properly, and her loss broke something deep inside of him. The imaginary phone call he received from Lorie and the others who had died is proof of this, and now we see his psychosis hasn’t let up. It’s getting worse.

Lorie stands mute, a ghostly apparition that only Rick can see, halfway obscured in shadow and looking up him with a chilling glance. Rick starts to lose it, waving around his magnum and screaming: “WHY ARE YOU HERE? GO AWAY! JUST GO!”

The group looks on in helpless, fearful shock as Rick’s mind slips, and naturally they think he’s screaming at Tyreese and the newcomers, who are just as scared as the rest. The apparition of Lorie remains, looking on with a deadpan stare, a hallucination made real by Rick’s guilt and unresolved pain.

With the Gov out for blood and revenge, and Rick losing his grip on reality, things aren’t looking so good for our rag-tag band of survivors…

If you want to watch the episode again, it’s currently available on AMC’s website, but only for a limited time.

For more information on The Walking Dead including a preview of the upcoming episode, photos, and more, please visit the show’s official website.