"The Walking Dead" is back from its mid-season hiatus, and I have a review of tonight's episode coming up just as soon as I'm the first brother in history that breaks into prison...

"And I'm telling you, you're wrong on this. You've got to start giving people a chance." -Hershel

When last we left our heroes and heroines, they were in one hell of a violent mess, as their raid on Woodbury hadn't gone exactly as planned, leaving the Dixon brothers to suffer the one-eyed wrath of the Governor. The cliffhanger suggested the non-stop tension of the fall episodes would continue when we returned, but instead, "The Suicide King" offered five or so minutes of action and then a whole lot of talking. (Plus the occasional walker attack, because, hey... check the title.)

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though the timing of it as the first new episode in months could have been better. (On our last podcast, Fienberg suggested that in hindsight, AMC might have been better off making "When the Dead Come Knocking" the mid-season finale so the series could return with the more action-packed "Made to Suffer.") Though season 2 ultimately leaned too much on characters discussing their feelings about this latest mess, some conversation was very much necessary at this point of season 3. The plot has been moving forward so relentlessly that the characters needed this opportunity to catch a breath, talk about where they stand, contemplate new information and new alliances, and prepare for what's next.

So we get Daryl choosing blood over friendship by going off with Merle, and we get Andrea and the Governor having a fairly frank discussion of what's been going on in Woodbury of late — a discussion the Governor can have now because Andrea has gotten sucked into this lifestyle enough that it's hard to fathom going off on her own. We get to hear more from and about Tyreese's group (including the two white guys whose names I imagine I'll master right before one or both are killed in the next few weeks) and have Hershel argue passionately and convincingly for an end to the Ricktatorship. It's gotten them very far, but they need more bodies (particularly with Daryl gone), and we know even better than Hershel that Tyreese would be a trustworthy ally (even if his redshirt sidekicks might not be).

This has been a tale of two dictators season so far, and even though we're rooting for Rick, "The Suicide King" works very hard to keep both men in parallel. The Governor retreats from his subjects in the wake of losing his eye, his hope of curing his daughter, and his aura of invincibility, and he's not entirely there mentally, at the moment. Rick stays alert and verbal longer, because he's out in the open and has to, but he shuts down upon returning to the prison, and his hallucinations of Lori return at a really inopportune moment. I think it's a situation they set up well in the pre-hiatus episodes, but I'm not sure I'm ready to watch Rick talking to thin air for many episodes on end, whether or not the Governor is about to make his move on the prison.

In all, solid, and necessary episode, but maybe not the ideal first hour back after months away.

Some other thoughts:

* Given her lover's adopted title, I liked that Andrea's monologue to the panicked Woodbury citizens played very much like a campaign speech. The Governor has all the guns on his side, but it would be interesting to see a storyline where the townspeople try to resurrect the democratic process and get to choose between the two potential leaders.


* It's the small touches that can sometimes pack the biggest punch, like seeing that the baby's bassinet is a mail carrier with LIL ASSKICKER stenciled on the side.

* Axel lamenting the death of Oscar was the first time all episode I remembered that Oscar was a character who was on this show.

* I did think the later walker attacks were well-timed, particularly the one that Glen winds up stomping out of frustration after all he and Maggie have been through. Now that the show is focusing on human-on-human conflict, the walkers still provide some suspense value when needed.

Once again, let me remind you again of this blog's No Spoiler rule and how it applies to this show, as I've had to delete a bunch of comments the last few weeks that violated it. Basic things to remember before commenting:

1. No talking about the previews for the next episode.

2. No talking about anything else you know about upcoming episodes from other sources — and, yes, that includes anything Mazzara and Kirkman have said in interviews.

3. No talking about anything that's happened in the comic that hasn't happened in the TV show yet. (Or anything that's been revealed, like character backstory and motivation.) As with "Game of Thrones," the goal is to treat "The Walking Dead" TV show as exactly that, and not as an excuse for endless comparisons with the comics. If you want to talk about the comics, feel free to start up a discussion thread on our message boards.

With that in mind, what did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com