Rick joins the world's worst calling plan in The Walking Dead

I have Walking Dead dreams now.

I didn't before. The first two seasons, I enjoyed - or sometimes endured - but the series never made much of an impact on me other than "a zombie show that continues after zombie movies end." But season 3, while not perfect, has been wavering between not bad and genuinely excellent, and now on Sunday nights after I go to bed I'll occasionally dream I'm in a zombie-filled nightmare world and having to deal with Rick losing his shit, just like all the other folks of Team T-Dog (because you know that's how they refer to themselves).

However, "Hounded" marks the episode where Rick actually stops losing his shit, thanks to the mysterious phone call from the end of last episode. It turns out to be from a member of a group of very secretive, highly knowledgeable, and kind of passive-aggressive people, who have everything Rick wants but doesn't have. It seems to good to be true, which is why it should surprise no one that it is too good to be true, and it's really Rick's cracked psyche calling to chat so he can work through the loss of his terrible, terrible wife Lori and the terrible, terrible relationship they didn't fix before she bought it. "Guy gets phone call from his dead wife" is a pretty goofy idea, but somehow Walking Dead makes it work, against all odds. I can't imagine what a disaster this scene would have been in the earlier seasons, and it's a sign of how much WD has improved that it works at all now.

That's the main plot; meanwhile there are two subplots, including Andrea Does Woodbury, and a new one where Merle and a few of the Governor's finest head out to hunt down Michonne. While the fight scenes in the latter seemed weirdly awkward to me, this story worked partially because Michael Rooker's Merle has turned into one of WD's best characters, and partially because Michonne is basically a katana-wielding Batman, even in broad daylight. While Merle gives sporadic pep talks to "Neil" - a poor guy hand-picked by the Governor for this mission whose name, Guillermo, Merle does not care to pronounce or remember - Michonne Batmans out of a tree, killing two of the Governor's men instantly. This draws Walkers, everybody fights at once, Michonne gets shot in the leg, accidentally disembowels a Walker all over herself, then Batmans the hell out of there, and Merle and Neil live to fight another day. At least until Merle, having reasoned that Michonne is wounded and heading to The Red Zone - a Zone I'm reasonably confident is Forbidden as well - and inevitably dead meat, tries to talk a suddenly gung-ho "Neil" into quitting the hunt and telling the Governor they got her. "Neil" refuses to do this, and in the spirit of compromise, Merle shoots "Neil" in the head.

Meanwhile, Andrea, who is determined to take Lori's place as Most Obnoxious Walking Dead Character, admits she liked last week's zombie fights and then has sex with the Governor. This storyline takes a long time and isn't interesting, mostly because Andrea's "disgust" with the zombie fights last episode was… well, dumb. Andrea - and we viewers - have seen so much horrible shit in WD that watching two people have an MMA match between a bunch of toothless zombies for people's entertainment is positively banal. It might be stupid, but no one's holding a gun to anybody's head to make them fight. Andrea may or may not enjoy the fights, but condemning them for being "barbaric" is asinine, given all the fact that the whole world is pretty barbaric at this point. Seeing how happy the Woodbury residents are compared to Rick's group, the zombie fights actually end up looking pretty useful.

Rick joins the world's worst calling plan in The Walking Dead

Luckily, Merle comes back to save the day, by which I mean "fuck everything up for everybody else." Merle comes across Maggie and Glenn while they're making a supply run; Merle grabs Maggie, and forces Glenn to drive them all back to Woodbury. The wounded Michonne, who has discovered being covered in Walker Body Spray actually disguises her from zombies, watches helplessly, but then manages to find the prison, where a now-sane Rick catches sight of her. Oh, and Daryl finds a non-bitten but barely conscious Carol, so that's nice.

This means five things happen in tonight's The Walking Dead, which makes it a pretty rollicking episode:

1) Rick gets over Lori
2) Andrea boinks the Governor
3) Carol's alive
4) Merle captures Glenn and Maggie
5) Michonne arrives at the prison

Not bad. Add in some genuinely decent dialogue, some brutal zombie (and human!) deaths, and some actual character drama? I bet I have another WD dream again tonight.

Assorted Musings:

• I don't know how you WD comics readers feel about David Morrissey as the Governor, but I love him. He manages to be so simultaneously charming and creepy that I can actually buy him as a beloved fascist despot. I've seen what the Governor looks like in the comics, and I have a much harder believing that anyone would want to stay in a town ruled by Danny Trejo After a Week-Long Bender.

• Speaking of which, as creepy as the Governor is, he's doing such a better job of keeping his people safe than Rick is. I assume the show is doing this on purpose, in order to make the Governor's heel turn more dramatic, but honestly.

• Seriously, all the Governor wants is for you to follow the rules. Sure, he'll kill you if you break them, but with Rick you have a 50/50 shot of being zombie chow no matter what you do.

• Michonne leaves a message for Merle's gang out of zombie parts: a "G," an "O" and a torso with its "back" up. I give her points for creativity, but I feel like she's overthinking things a bit.

• I didn't mention this above, but Daryl finds a zombie with Carol's knife in it, a zombie that hasn't died. Having passed a room that seems to have a zombie in it, but which is blocked by another corpse, Daryl slowly realizes that Carol has almost certainly been turned, and is almost certainly in that room. Watching Daryl angrily, bitterly work up the nerve to open the door is a fantastic scene, wonderfully played by Norman Reedus, and it's surprisingly moving when Carol isn't actually dead.

• I'd kind of forgotten the whole "cover yourself in zombie juice and be totally safe" thing from season one, and obviously all the survivors did, too. Why the hell wouldn't everyone douse themselves before going on supply runs every single time? Better gross than dead.

• Do not trade dead mother stories with Carl. He'll win.