The Walking Dead's mid-season premiere is troubling, but not because of any zombies

Uh-oh.

After a solid first half of season three — really, the best the show has been since the pilot — the mid-season premiere feels waaaaay too much like season 2, in that nothing happened. Okay, a few things happened in last night's episode — and I'll list them below for those avoiding spoilers — but mostly people just shouted at each other, and more disturbingly shouted things we already knew. I thought we were past that, TWD. Season 3's been good enough that I can excuse a stumble, but for the first time in quite a while I have a bad feeling about TWD that has nothing to do with the cast's survival. Spoilers below!

Okay, the three things that happen in the episode:

1) Rick and crew rescue Daryl and Merle.
2) Rick refuses to let noted asshole Merle back in the group, so Daryl leaves with his brother.
3) Rick sees ghost Loree and forces Tyrese and his crew to leave the prison.

That's not nearly enough to fill an hour of basic cable TV, which is why we have all the yelling. Glenn, Maggie and Michonne yell at Merle. An upset Glenn yells at Rick. The people of Woodbury yell at everything, pretty much. Andrea yells the world's most trite ra-ra speech at the Woodburians. Tyrese and Sasha yell — okay, have a heated discussion — with the two white people they've been traveling with, who want to ambush Carol and Carl and steal their guns and take the prison for themselves (ha ha ha ha they think they can beat Carl. Hilarious!). Andrea yells at the Governor when he tells him he had Maggie and Glenn imprisoned, although the news doesn't cause her to actually do anything. Then Rick yells at Ghost Lori and Tyrese's group to get the hell out.

About the only person not yelling is the Governor, who decides the people in his little village can go fuck themselves, but he and his soldiers are going to kill the hell out of Rick's crew for taking his eye, killing his (admittedly zombiefied) daughter, and basically ruining al of his shit. The Guv also kills a dude who was bitten by one of the zombie's Rick and crew's escape let into Woodbury, which Andrea won't do for some reason because Andrea is terrible (seriously, Andrea. Carl had to shoot his dead, cesarean-opened mother in the face. And you can't put a stranger who is clearly in incredible pain and about to become a zombie out of his misery?). Andrea yells at the Governor for doing that, too, although I'd think to most viewers at this point it would seem like the humane thing to do. At any rate, this is pretty much the only thing the Governor does in the episode, and it affects nothing.

Look, I understand we technically needed a break in the action after the assault on Woodbury — and before the Governor's inevitable assault on the prison — but I'd still actually kind of gotten used to TWD actually showing us things about characters than outright telling us. The show is never going to win any awards for screenwriting, but again, the first half of season three the characters were able to do more than yell exactly what's on their minds at people. Without the show's trademark action and without the characters having any kind of growth, all we've done is traded season 2's farm for a prison.

Basically, the whole episode feels like a stalling tactic. We know Daryl isn't really going to be gone forever. We know that Rick will eventually accept Tyrese and his group. So by sending Daryl off and giving Rick a psychotic freak-out at the end of the episode, it feels like we're just wasting time. Perhaps if Rick — or Michonne — or even Andrea were at all likable at this point, it'd be easier to handle these slower episodes, but Rick and Michonne are assholes, and Andrea is just too annoying to make her admittedly hilariously awful attempt to hold the panicking people of Woodbury together enjoyable to watch.

About the closest thing we have to a likable protagonist anymore is Tyrese, who is the only person that still seems to believe that maybe people shouldn't kill every stranger they meet out of fear and suspicion, since that's a bad thing to do. I like Tyrese. I want to see more of Tyrese. But of course Rick has to immediately send him packing, and we're forced to wait for an obvious plot development we know is coming, and watch Rick be terrible in the process. All I know is that if I were a member of Rick's group, I'd much rather go with Tyrese than stay with the increasingly unhinged Rick.

Which is kind of the problem in a nutshell — I'd much rather be watching Tyrese than Rick at this point. Look, The Walking Dead, you gotta give me something. You don't have to make the characters likable, but you need to make them — a few of them — compelling. But if you're not going to make them compelling, you have to make some of them likable so we actually care if they get eaten by zombies (and keep them around, e.g. Daryl and Tyrese. And if you're going to do neither, you have to keep the action up so at least these problems aren't so glaring.

Assorted Musings:

The Walking Dead's mid-season premiere is troubling, but not because of any zombiesS

• That idea some folks had about Merle joining Rick's crew as part of the Governor's plan? Not true, unless the plan involved Merle and Daryl specifically not going to the prison. Which it probably didn't.

• One of Glenn's yelling binges includes him bitching out Rick for going back to save Daryl, since Daryl immediately left with his brother anyways. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that, but he's technically right.

• I hate to speak ill of the dead, but Carol is infinitely more interesting not that Sophia's gone. It's like the writers had to cross-out "mother" on her character sheet and were forced to give her an actual personality.

• I should mention that I also liked the talking scene between Herschel and Glenn. Not coincidentally, it was one of the few scenes where a relationship was actually developed a little bit.

• I'm sorry to get on my "the Governor is technically better than Rick at the zombie apocalypse" train, but until the Guv had his eye-ectomy, both leaders were still going out of their way to protect their group and eliminate threats. Yes, the Governor was far more brutal, sadistic and even probably enjoyed the horrible manner in which he did this, but then again, Woodbury was a hell of a lot nicer than any place Rick has taken his group, and safer too. Still is, attacks by Rick and the zombies he let into Woodbury notwithstanding.

• Say you're a random Woodburian. You have no idea that Glenn or Maggie got captured, or anything about the prison group. You're just chilling, enjoying life in non-zombie-infested Woodbury, when all of a sudden this crazy group of survivors bust into your city and start seemingly attacking for now reason… not once but twice. Rick's group would seem not just like assholes, but terrorists. I'd think that plenty of people would be happy to help "protect" their cushy homes and help invade the prison.

• The bald zombie that I think Maggie shoots once they leave Woodbury? That's former Steelers pro football player Hines Ward, who was also the single football player who survived Bane's football stadium attack. I don't know how many of you care, but it could come up in a trivia contest one day. You're welcome.

• Kudos to AMC for hearing all our relentless bitching and moving Chris Hardwick's head until more appropriate commercial breaks. Or maybe we just got lucky.

• What do you guys think? A mere stumble, or was the first half of season 3 the fluke?