After a harrowing and emotionally trying hiatus, “The Walking Dead” returned Sunday night with as much jaw-clenching, heart-wrenching tension as you could cram into a single hour.

The opening scene picked up right where the mid-season finale left off, outside the prison that is overrun by zombies, following our favorite katana-wielding heroine, Michonne, as she surveys the scene for signs of her friends. She comes across Hershel’s severed head, now turned into the living dead – his once piercing eyes now glazed and gone, his jaw weakly thrashing. Michonne quickly thrusts her blade into his skull, and the animated head goes still. She holds a bloodied hand on the head for a nostalgic moment, in reverence for one of the show’s most iconic characters.

This short but charged scene really hit hard because it highlights the loss of hope that Hershel’s death represented. Seeing the detached head still trying to get in one last bite was eerie but mystifying. The dead will fight for blood until there is literally nothing left of them. The question now remains: What is left of our beloved survivors?

Some critical information was shared about Michonne. Last season, we saw her break into tears while holding baby Judith, and this episode confirmed it was for good reason. In a dream sequence, it was revealed that Michonne used to have a boyfriend and a child. For the show’s most mysterious character, any small glimpse into her background feels like a feast. I can’t wait to learn more about who Michonne really is, and what made her that way.

The majority of the episode, however, followed our favorite father-son duo. Carl and a badly wounded Rick find a house to stay in temporarily. Rick can barely walk and is covered in blood, collapsing on a couch bolstered up against the door. Carl insists he can take care of himself now, and indeed, the once fresh-faced boy now appears greatly aged. From his significantly deeper voice to his stone-cold glaze, this is a very different Carl to see. He goes off by himself to find food while Rick recovers, and nearly gets killed several times in the process, but he scrambles out alive. In one of the all-time cutest moments of the series, he finds a tin of chocolate pudding and eats the whole thing on a rooftop as a zombie paws at him menacingly out the window. A small relic of a childhood lost.

Carl returns to the house to find Rick unresponsive. He shouts at Rick to get up, and then collapses in the corner, yelling at his seemingly dead father, “I don’t need you anymore. I don’t need you to protect me anymore … You couldn’t protect Judith … or Mom.” And then he said something that made my heart stop: “I’d be fine if you died.”

Later on, Rick moves, falling off the couch, and a terrified Carl points his gun at Rick.

For a show that has no problem killing off major characters, I really believed for a second that Rick had died and turned. My heart stopped. The moment the word “Caahrl” became audible I burst into tears.

What would happen if they killed Rick? Could the show keep going without him? While this show clearly has no boundaries when it comes to murdering off main cast members, are they really going to take it there?

Personally, I think if they are going to continue upping the ante, Rick’s death is inevitable. But we might have to wait until the end of the series to see it.

According to TVbythenumbers.com, 15.8 million people tuned into the beloved zombie-drama, with more adult viewers ages 18 to 49 than the Winter Olympics.

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