Episode 9 - After
13 February 2014
Synopsis: Rick and Carl bicker and stagger to a house for the night. Next day Rick is coma like as he recovers from the stress. Carl goes wandering on his own looking for more food. Meanwhile Michonne is hanuted by memories as she decides whether to walk with the dead or the living.
The Good: I thought this was really good. It was deliberately slow and barren after the adrenaline rush of the mid-season finale but it was character focussed and simple. What really pleased me was the ending. The Walking Dead has been poor at exploiting simple emotions to tell episodic stories. This finished absolutely perfectly with a joyful reunion that we only glimpsed in the eyes of Rick and Michonne.
Leading up to that I liked the two parallel stories a lot. Carl is a strange mix of the worldly and the innocent. The mature and the immature. I thought this was captured nicely in the moment when he sees some kids flat screen TV with games console around it and smiles wistfully for what was. But then immediately sees what's currently valuable about it and rips the cables off to tie the downstairs door shut.
That clash between childhood and adulthood played out in Carl in an interesting way. Apparently he and Rick like to see who can scavenge more from a location, the competition presumably breaking up the monotony of their existence. But this sense that the world is just one big game now gives Carl false confidence. He lures two walkers away from the house so he can kill them where they won't draw more attention and nearly dies for his cockiness. He claims it as another victory. Then again later on as he fritters precious bullets away he writes about his victory in chalk on a boy's door. The imagery of boy's bedrooms and pudding cans were not subtle but they were evocative. The new playground for young teens is far more gruesome and gritty.
Understandably Carl blames Rick for trying to be a farmer and allowing the Governor to destroy their home. But by episodes end he weeps at the thought of losing him and being left alone. He has grown up fast but he has a long way to go. It was simple and effective.
Meanwhile Michonne grew up a long time ago. She had a partner and a child. She lost them both and her brother to this apocalypse. But it seems like it was their decision making rather than loose walkers that cost them their lives. I was delighted to see the surreal dream sequence as a way to get around the show's stubborn anti-flashback stance. Suddenly Michonne's bitter silence becomes far easier to understand. In fact the references to the camp she was living at and how it, presumably, fell to pieces may explain why she was so instantly distrustful of Woodbury. Perhaps she was very aware of how quickly groups of survivors could become corrupted.
Her story was so simple and all the more effective for it. She walks with the dead for safety. She creates two new bodyguards and follows a herd toward their next meal. But as she walks she spots a corpse that looks just like her and she fears she will become the walking dead if she isolates herself like this. So she returns to following the living and is tearfully relieved to find them.
It was Michonne's best episode by a mile. Not only did we get to see real emotion from her but the decapitations were the best we've seen. I wish they had introduced the character in a context where we could have seen her amazing skills. Here watching her calmly negotiate the prison fallout and then execute a dozen walkers in a minute you can really see how cool the character is.
The Bad: The "Is Rick dead?" sequence was too cute. Obviously the show's main character was never going to pass away in his sleep and I'm not sure we needed it to further establish Carl's state of mind.
The Unknown: I can't say Carl really nailed his yelling speech at the sleeping Rick. I always feel bad critiquing young actors who have no life experience to draw on but this wasn't terribly convincing. I felt the sentiment came across just fine though and fitted the narrative so it doesn't bother me.
What did Mike do at the camp? What decisions did Michonne's brother and lover make that cost them their lives?
I wouldn't blame anyone who would like to have seen some of the other characters show up. A chaotic episode cutting back and forth between different groups of survivors could have been very exciting. Perhaps we will get that next week?
Best Moment: The ending, simple and emotional.
Conclusion: A strong return for The Walking Dead. I thought this felt a bit different from previous seasons. Perhaps it fit better with the Carol\Hershel episodes from earlier this season. It seems like Scott Gimple is steering things in a more character-centric way which I definitely favour. However it's too soon to draw that conclusion. The credited writer of the episode was Robert Kirkman, so we don't know who to give the character-credit too or how long it will last.
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