A review of tonight's "The Walking Dead" coming up just as soon as I feel less like a lobbyist...

For much of this season, we've wondered when and where the Woodbury storyline is taking place relative to Rick and company in the prison. One popular theory I heard was that all the Woodbury scenes were set earlier, which would allow Merle or the Governor to be the mysterious figure in the woods watching Carol as she practiced her C-section technique.

"Hounded" makes it clear that this isn't the case, and also that Woodbury and the prison aren't that far apart geographically, since the strip mall with the baby store is within limping distance of Woodbury and a reasonable drive of the prison. And the episode provides our first crossover of the two storylines, as Merle abducts Glenn and Maggie to find out more about their cozy living situation, while Michonne delivers the baby formula to the prison.

We're closing in on the end of this half of the season (two more episodes to go, then another break until sometime in early 2013), and it's definitely time to start mixing and matching the two storylines, especially since what's been happening at the prison has, so far, been more compelling than the action over in Woodbury.

This week, for instance, we got Rick's Breakdown 2: Telephone Boogaloo. It turns out the mysterious phone call from the end of the previous episode was a gentler part of his psychotic break(*) in the wake of Lori's death, filled with voices from the past (all of them, not just Lori, played by former "Walking Dead" actors like Emma Bell as Amy) forcing him to confront his feelings of despair while requiring him to ultimately get back to the reality of protecting his surviving family members. When the show just steps back and lets Andrew Lincoln emote for a while, good things tend to happen, and these last two episodes have done a good job of giving Lori's death the weight it deserves. We may not have liked her as a character, but she was Rick's wife, and Carl's mom, and her passing isn't something they or the show should be shaking off easily. (For the same reason, I quite liked Daryl's attempt to bond with Carl with the story of his own mother's sudden death, and ultimately recognizing how much worse Carl's story is.)

(*) Something seemed hinky about the call from the start, and I like the way Scott Wilson played Hershel's reaction to this news, particularly after he listened for a dial tone on the phone. Hershel knows this is Rick having a crazy moment, but Rick is his friend working through a tragedy in his own way, so Hershel doesn't try to shatter the illusion for him. He just offers to stick around and provide company

The Woodbury half of the show has its charms, certainly, but we're still getting to know these characters and why they act the way they do — why, for instance, the Governor would feel the need to send a hunting party after Michonne rather than let her go, why Michonne would attack Merle and friends rather than waiting them out, or why Merle winds up at the strip mall rather than turning around and returning to Woodbury upon killing Neil for the sin of suggesting they should keep hunting.

Yet this crossover of the two groups has promise. Maggie and Glenn aren't going to get the royal treatment from the Governor and his friends that Andrea has, which should give us a better idea of the lengths to which this guy will go to strengthen his kingdom. And Michonne will be with a group where she'll have no choice but to open up a bit if she wants to be trusted, and one that's in a lot of turmoil now, between Lori's death, Carol's unexpected resurrection(**), and now the abduction of Glenn and Maggie.


(**) Very glad Carol is alive, not so much because she's one of my favorite characters (though the writers have done much better by her of late) than because the idea of her having died off camera after T-Dog sacrificed himself for her would have felt very anti-climactic and off-style for this show.

Two hours to go this fall. Very curious to see what happens now with the two groups.

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. 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