A review of tonight's "The Walking Dead" coming up just as soon as I really like the middle...

Last week's comments were filled with speculation that Bob had been bitten during the skirmish at the food bank, and that Gareth and his cannibal pals had just ingested tainted zombie meat. "Four Walls and a Roof" wasted precious little time confirming that theory, though it didn't do much with the tainted meat aspect (outside of briefly wiping that smug look off Gareth's face right before the opening credits), since everyone who partook of the Bob-b-q was dead at the hands of Rick and company within a few hours.

Overall, though, this was another effective, pulpy episode, and a good illustration of the ways "The Walking Dead" has improved itself over time. At one point, Glenn references how long it took Jim to die after he was bitten when a zombie herd wandered into the quarry hideout in season 1. Jim was one of a long list of "Walking Dead" supporting characters who existed entirely as cannon fodder, and his lingering death had absolutely no weight. But the creative team put in the time to make Bob into someone worth caring about over the past season-plus(*), and to make us care about the relationships he had with others, so the prospect of losing his relentless optimism hit just as hard as Tyreese stepping in to relieve his sister of the burden of preventing Bob's zombie transformation. I'll miss having Lawrence Gilliard Jr. on the show, but the ensemble's gotten pretty strong of late, and Bob's death — particularly at a time when the group is torn between optimism (Abraham's plan to save the world) and pessimism (Rick's desire to just hunker down and stay alive) — had more impact than if it had been, say, Tara or Rosita.

(*) In fairness, Jim was only around for four episodes, but the show had plenty of non-characters like T-Dog who stuck around forever without being given personalities.  

Beyond that, I appreciated both that the writers didn't keep the cannibals around as a long-term threat — and excuse for wallowing in the sadism of what they do (even if Gareth doesn't see it that way) — and that Rick didn't turn out to be nearly as stupid as they wanted him to seem when he led most of the good fighters away from the church when that was so obviously what Gareth wanted him to do. The massacre of the remaining Termites(**) was brutal, and illustrated how cold and rough Rick can be when you push him to this point. 

(**) Including Martin, whose face seemed to be there in Bob's blurry vision last week. I understand the idea that Tyreese still might not be up for killing people after what happened with the girls, but did he simply let Martin wander off after pounding his face into hamburger?  

We close with the extended family split up again, but this time by design, and with a reasonable method for finding each other down the (literal) road. Abraham is enough of a leader type in his own right that the show probably functions better for a while with him in charge of one small group while Rick is with the other. There's still the matter of who's with Daryl — introduced in a weirdly-edited cliffhanger, though I imagine next week will show what Daryl and Carol (whom I'll be very annoyed to see die, if that's what's coming) were up to during the events of this episode — and whether the person watching them was one of Gareth's people or someone else like Morgan. But with the cannibals put down (after conveniently reuniting Michonne with her sword), the season seems to be pivoting into a new direction, and possibly more than one. That's three very solid outings in a row for season 5, with the hope of more to come.

Before we go to the comments, it's time once again to explain how this blog's No Spoiler rule applies to this show:

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 Gimple 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

Alan Sepinwall has been reviewing television since the mid-'90s, first for Tony Soprano's hometown paper, The Star-Ledger, and now for HitFix. His new book, "TV (The Book)" about the 100 greatest shows of all time, is available now. He can be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com