Watching Dead... It's a brave move for The Walking Dead to pick up exactly where it left off, mere moments after Rick has blown a zombified Sophia (Madison Lintz) away. The viewer is faced with the full emotional impact of what has happened, as a devastated Carol (Melissa McBride) crumbles...
Moments later, we're treated to a jump scare as one of the fallen zombies springs back to life, before being skewered by Andrea (Laurie Holden). In just two minutes, The Walking Dead has already reminded us of its three core components - strong emotional content, terrific scares and powerfully horrific imagery.
The first half of this show's second season came in for, in this writer's opinion, a rather unfair bashing - the episodes were "slow", some argued, while Andrew Lincoln's Rick was a dull, do-gooder lead. While many of these criticisms were a little unfair, it seems that the series writers have - consciously or otherwise - answered many of their critics with 'Nebraska'.
Take Rick. While Lincoln's performance has always been solid, it's difficult to deny that his internal struggle over leading the group was becoming a little stale and was seemingly headed nowhere. Immediately, this midseason premiere gives the character something different to do - his brief spot of male-bonding with Glenn makes for a pleasant break from the usual well-intentioned brooding...
As the episode draws to a close, Rick and Glenn - reunited with Hershel - come across two more survivors, Dave (Michael Raymond James) and Tony (Aaron Munoz), in a local bar. It's here that the second revelatory Rick moment occurs...
There's a slowly building sense of dread, as it's clear that the awkward encounter with the newcomers is going south, fast, but Rick ruthlessly gunning both men down is still a complete and utter surprise. This isn't just putting down 'walkers' - Rick has committed murder, even if it was vaguely in self-defence.
Is Rick trying to prove that he can be as ruthless as Shane, in order to maintain his leadership? Whatever the reason, his actions lend these final scenes a terrific weight and cast the character of Rick in a far more interesting light than before. Just how far is he willing to go now?
And the shocks just keep coming. Occurring at around the 30-minute mark, Lori's car crash is a real jaw-dropping moment, coming completely out of nowhere. This show has diverted from the original comic storyline before, so could Rick's wife (Sarah Wayne Callies) be dead? And what of her unborn child?
This far into this 'review-cap' and we haven't even mentioned Jon Bernthal's explosive performance as Shane. Following Sophia's death, the majority of the survivors on the farm are left reeling, shell-shocked, and you'd expect Shane to follow suit.
But he doesn't calm down, doesn't recoil. Unbelievably, the bullish former cop just keeps going - he immediately accuses Hershel of hiding Sophia in his barn and rants wildly as he's silently judged by Dale.
It's only when he's confronted by Carol, who's delirious with grief, that Shane finally stops, taking the opportunity while he's away from the group to show 'weakness' and express his emotions in a non-violent fashion. More sterling work from Bernthal.
We're in danger of gushing, but just a few more highlights from 'Nebraska' - Melissa McBride's excellent performance as Carol, as the character's restrained emotion leads to random, sudden outbursts of frustration, and Scott Wilson's equally brilliant showing as Hershel loses his faith, hitting rock bottom and the bottom of a whiskey bottle.
'Nebraska' raises so my questions and leaves The Walking Dead practically buzzing with potential. With Fort Bening gone, what next for our survivors? What impact will Dale's confession about Shane's role in Otis's death have, particularly following Lori's accident?
For those who argued that the first seven episodes of this season were slow, this superb episode goes a long way to addressing their concerns. And for those of us who felt that season two has so far been a deliberately-paced, brilliantly-acted piece of drama, 'Nebraska' simply raises the stakes even higher. Fantastic stuff.