"The Walking Dead" may have returned from midseason hiatus weeks ago, but after a handful of middling to terrible episodes, the show was officially back this week -- along with Carol's backbone, Rick's sex drive, and Daryl's ability to trust. And there's a near-perfect chance that all three of those things will come back to bite our survivors by season's end.

Once again, I have to give my gold star this week to Carol, who made good on her machinations to infiltrate the Alexandria Bored Housewives Club and uncover the community's secrets, including where they stash all the guns and ammo (and infuriatingly small-portioned chocolate bars; more on those in a minute), and when those items will be left unattended. This leads to her scheming with Rick and Daryl (in what seems to be a now-regular -- and secret from the rest of the group -- debriefing session) to leave the latch to the storage room window unlocked, thus allowing one of them to slip in after hours and make off with a few weapons to keep to themselves, should things go south in the settlement.

It's Carol who does that deed during Deanna's impromptu dinner party -- and she would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for that meddling kid. Sam, the younger son of comely hairdresser Jessie, followed Carol from the gathering, assuming she was off to make him some more cookies. (Carol really aced the whole Susie Homemaker routine, it seems. No one suspects the lady in the sensible floral sweater.) But surprise, she's stealing guns instead, and after Sam says he has to tell his mom what he saw, Carol gives what may be one of the best monologues in "Walking Dead" history, sweetly informing the boy that if he tattles, she'll take him from his bed, tie him to a tree, and let the zombies go to town on him. "All while you're still alive. All while you can still feel it. And then afterwards, no one will ever know what happened to you," she says, her smile becoming icier and icier as she inches closer and closer to the child.

That's some seriously twisted manipulation, but it seemingly works, with Sam agreeing to keep his mouth shut in exchange for an endless supply of Carol's homemade Blackmail Cookies* (*recipe forthcoming in the next edition of Betty Crocker's Undead Cookbook). Good thing she also has unfettered access to all those ¼ chocolate bars.

Rick, meanwhile, seems emboldened by his return to law enforcement, brazenly kissing Jessie on the cheek at Deanna's party and fingering his holster just a shade longer than normal as he later watches the woman walk by with her husband, Pete. Pete's an enigma so far, but his character is becoming more and more complicated by the minute. Last week, he was sitting in the dark on his porch, drunkenly calling out to Rick in a not-so-friendly manner; this week, he's gamely shaking the sheriff's hand, getting him a drink refill, and offering to check him out -- in a medical manner, of course. Turns out, he's the Pete that Aaron mentioned offhandedly a couple weeks ago, a doctor and a supposed "gifted surgeon." I'm not buying that he's as friendly as he's pretending to be out in public; I suspect there's something darker at play inside the doctor, though of course I can only speculate at this point. (I know, I know, my kneejerk reaction to everything this season seems to be "cannibals," but I'm not alone in that theory -- and honestly, expecting the worst from everyone sort of makes watching the show more fun. Maybe little Sam is addicted to cookies because the chocolate chips remind him of the delicious flecks of blood of fallen comrades?)

Regardless of what Pete's up to, it seems Rick has his own evil plans lurking not-so-deeply beneath the surface, as he appears ready and willing to take what he wants -- the guns, Jessie -- and leave the citizens of Alexandria to their own, pitifully-prepared devices.

"They're the luckiest damn people I've ever met, and they just keep getting luckier," Rick muses in his meeting with Carol and Daryl.

"How's that?" Daryl asks.

"We're here now," he says smugly, metaphorically brushing his shoulders off.

Later, he again tries to warn Deanna that people, and not zombies, "are the real threat now." He's right. And if we've learned anything from Rick over the years, Deanna should be afraid.

Other thoughts:

- It was jarring to see our survivors look so much like normal (read: showered) people throughout this episode, free of dirt, wearing matching clothes, some of them even sporting brushed hair. The episode, entitled "Forget," almost played like a flashback in that sense, featuring talk about pasta makers and characters clinking glasses of fancy booze, Deanna's house buzzing with the type of chatter and laughter that would be at home at any real-world cocktail party. That all of our main characters were starving, shooting zombies, and burying their dead friends and family mere days ago only adds to the strange juxtaposition of the scenes at Deanna's with what we've seen within the world of the show, offering a reminder of what was once normal -- and a reminder that "normal" has a very fluid definition on "TWD."

- Sasha seemed most bothered by that duality throughout the hour, appearing at times both manic and catatonic. She can't believe an Alexandrian would dare fret over her favorite food ("That's what you're worried about?!" she practically screams to a fellow partygoer), and later tells Deanna that the picturesque life inside Alexandria "isn't real." Sasha has seen a lot, as have the rest of our survivors -- but right now, she's having the hardest time coping. (And frankly, after the completely senseless loss of Tyreese in the midseason premiere, she has every right to her feelings. The character -- and the viewers -- deserved better.)

- In a true about-face, Daryl decides to try trusting the Alexandrians, turning down one of the stolen guns. His little outing in the woods with Aaron -- and his later, overly-enthusiastic slurping of Aaron's homecooked spaghetti -- seemed to change his mind about the man, who also offers him a heap of motorcycle parts as a peace offering. It's a better option than Buttons, the doomed horse who Aaron and Daryl tried tracking through the woods, before he was downed by a herd of hungry walkers. Poor, poor Buttons. Here's hoping that witnessing the death of a horse doesn't turn Daryl completely soft, though; based on past experience, when Daryl lets his guard down, dangerous things happen. Mr. Dixon would be wise to watch his back as he builds that bike in Aaron's garage.

- Any episode that gives Michonne some light, comedic moments is a winner in my book, and "Forget" had several. First, she checks herself out in the mirror after she dons her new constable uniform, complete with a lace-up back not unlike her favorite leather vest. (The thought of Michonne hunched over a sewing machine, making modifications to her jacket, tickles me greatly.) Speaking of that uniform, Deanna explains to Rick and Michonne their new duties as constables -- simply patrolling the streets and keeping an eye on the kids, as if this was merely Mayberry -- and assures the pair, "People will listen to you." "Because we're wearing windbreakers?" an incredulous Michonne replies. Later, at the party, Michonne stares longingly at a plastic cocktail sword, no doubt wishing she were wielding the real deal. (She later mounts her full-sized katana above her fireplace; at least it will be nearby when she'll inevitably need to take it down in an episode or two.)

- "I am a large man, and I have had many beers to make up for that." -- Abraham to Michonne, after waxing philosophic about how hard it is to lay down one's weapons. I also enjoyed how he and Rosita looked absolutely miserable when they first walked in Deanna's house, until Rosita pointed out that there was beer.

- Deanna admits her dreams of turning Alexandria into "a vibrant community ... with industry, commerce, civilization" sound a bit "pie in the sky." Your words, lady.

- Aaron tries to bond with Daryl by comparing his struggle to fit in as a gay man to Daryl's struggle to fit in as a loose cannon redneck. Sweet, if a bit apples and oranges.

- I loved Carol and Rick's high school-style conversation about the gathering at Deanna's house. ("You heard about the party?" "Everyone's going to be there.") I really relish the moments when these characters can put a pause on their worries and just laugh, tease, and enjoy each other's company.

- Of course, it's precisely moments like that that make me care about them, and we all know that no one can ever truly be happy on "The Walking Dead." For instance, that ominous discovery of the walker with a "W" carved into his forehead -- clearly, nothing good will come of it. And I didn't particularly like it when Sam branded Rick with that similar-looking "A" stamp, either. It gave me a queasy feeling (especially since I noticed Pete had one, too) that I don't think I'll be able to shake until this Alexandria storyline comes to a head.

- Deanna and Jessie both fuss over Judith, who's passed around all night at the party. Perhaps everyone's sizing her up to see whose roasting pan is the best fit?

- The song playing over the final scene is "Spicks and Specks" by the Bee Gees, featuring lyrics lamenting that "the sun in my life ... is dead" and that the past "is gone away." These guys are all screwed, aren't they?

Photo credit: Gene Page/AMC