Note: This recap contains spoilers.

Michonne (Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC) Michonne (Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC)

“The Walking Dead” returned this week with a look back, and a look forward.

Michonne’s television persona has never articulated much detail about her past, and often remains cold and emotionally distant. It is clear, through her quiet actions and her go-it-alone attitude, that she likes to suppress whatever terrible thing brought her to Rick Grimes and his group in season two.

Alone again after the deadly battle, and clearly upset with the death of Hershel and the disbanding of the group, whatever pain and hardship Michonne had been keeping bottled up reveals itself in the form of a nightmare — by far the best scene of the episode.

What starts off as a normal flashback becomes twisted when a knife she is using to slice food becomes her katana and when her boyfriend, Mike, and another man sitting at the kitchen table are suddenly wearing torn, ragged clothing and have only bloody stubs for arms. And remember the tears she shed while holding Judith in the first half of this season? It turns out she has a son of her own, also in the nightmare. Michonne screams herself awake. She’s alone, asleep in a car. By seeing just a short, fleeting moment of her past, we know enough about Michonne’s pain and how it continues to haunt her.

While looking back at the past, the episode simultaneously takes us fleetingly to a zombie world without Rick. Badly hurt from a battle with the Governor, Rick is stumbling along with Carl. As is protocol, they enter several empty buildings in search of food and shelter. Rick tries to temper Carl’s need for a fight, begging him to use his gun sparingly and to eat what they can find. After barricading themselves in a home for the night, Rick stumbles into the bathroom, gasping in pain and examining what appear to be broken ribs.

He’s not in good shape when Carl finds him in the morning. In fact, he’s not even waking up. Is he dead? Is he breathing? Carl doesn’t seem to care, claiming he doesn’t need his father and that he’s mad at him for not fighting harder and protecting his baby sister and Judith. It’s now we see Carl take off on his own, fighting a walker in another house and barely getting away alive. The reward for his bravery? A can of pudding.

Carl does return to his father, who awakens in the night and reaches out to his son in a zombie-like fashion. Did the Governor inflict enough damage to kill him? Thankfully for Carl (who sobs and admits his true fear), Rick is fine. The next morning, he still seems in pain but survived the night. He tells Carl he’s a man and is happy he got away from the danger of his brief, solo travel alive.

Just when everything seemed grim — Rick in seemingly fatal pain and Michonne alone and desperately caught up in her past — things perk up. Having followed a set of footsteps throughout the episode, Michonne smiles to find they lead her to Rick and Carl. The episode ends on a high note when she knocks loudly on their shelter’s front door.

Romance report: Nothing to report here.

More lingering questions: So, where is everyone else that remains alive? By the look of the trailer for next week, we’ll find out.