A rare case last night of the show being engrossing without being eventful. The good episodes usually have an action set piece, a dying character, or a confrontation with the archvillian du jour to keep them buoyant. When those elements are missing, they tend to sink. Not this time. Lots of small, neat moments in this one, from the first post-apocalyptic cocktail party (with all the weirdness that implies) to Rick gripping his, er, pistol when he sees Jessie strolling with her hubby to that poor horse being turned into zombie chow to that sensational bit between Carol and Sam in the armory. That may be the single best scene this show has produced, with its best actor taking the evolution of its most interesting character to its logical conclusion. In fact, as a microcosm of the overall arc of the series, it beats the pants off that slow, obvious sludge from a few weeks ago when Rick ended up mumbling like a slow-witted eight-year-old that they, not the zombies, are the true walking dead. If you want a metaphor for the disintegration of civilization, it’s hard to top Sophia’s mom warning a 10-year-old that she can bake him cookies if he keeps his mouth shut or she can turn him into cookies for the zombies if he doesn’t. The sooner Papa Grimes goes down and Carol takes over this show, the better.

But maybe there’s hope for him too. I thought Rick was exhausted as a character after eight thousand iterations of the “am I good man doing bad things for the greater good or a bad man trying to rationalize the bad things I do?” dilemma. The show’s verdict was clear: He’s a good, good man. The best! A doting daddy, a man who’s never killed anyone who didn’t need killing to protect the group. But now they’re starting to muddy the waters. Last week’s line about “taking this place” if Deanna and her crew prove too weak was delivered so matter-of-factly that I took it as proof that he’s finally made peace with his impulses towards ruthlessness and is prepared to indulge. The town had just made him their constable, a huge show of faith in a guy they barely knew, and here he was already plotting to liquidate its rulers at the first sign of trouble. Now he’s walking the beat with a stolen gun tucked in his pants, clearly contemplating killing a man in cold blood because he wants sexual access to his wife. I wonder if the writers have the balls to follow through on that or if they’re going to wimp out and have Jessie’s husband meet with a legitimate accident to move him out of the picture. “Breaking Bad” fans tolerated Walter White poisoning a kid (non-fatally) in the name of securing an inheritance for his family. Rick’s living in a much tougher world than Walt was. He has a long line of credit with the audience so long as he retains some sort of redeeming virtue (i.e. he needs to remain a good father to his kids). Let’s face it: Shane would have already killed Jessie’s guy and run his head up a flagpole by this point to show that he means business. Even when Rick’s thinking about honest to goodness murder, he’s comparatively restrained.

You can see by now where the last three episodes of the season will go. Some members of Rick’s gang are starting to adapt to Alexandria and some, hardened by the zompocalypse, clearly never will. (Interestingly it’s the most ostensibly civilized members like former cop Rick and former housewife Carol who are resisting re-assimilation into society while the wild child Daryl seems to be gradually taking to it.) Something’s going to happen to trigger a coup attempt by Rick and Carol and something else is going to happen to trigger resistance by other parts of the group, led by Daryl or Michonne. Am I right in thinking that the last time one member of the Grimes gang killed another in anger (not a mercy killing) was when Rick stabbed Shane? That streak’s going to end sooner or later. Bet on sooner.

Update: Oops, typo in the headline. It’s “Alexandria,” of course, not “Alexandra.”