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After a brief hiatus, we’ve returned for the second half of The Walking Dead‘s fourth season. And, if the rest of the season’s episodes are as measured and well-executed as “After,” Dead will have righted its ship after takings a serious tumble in quality at the end of last year.
The Walking Dead is at its best when the series focuses on building characters with several high octane walker-filled action scenes thrown in for shock value and to heighten the tension. But when one of the two elements is too prevalent, the series flounders (think the largely walker-free foray into the Governor’s travels in the first half of the season). “After” is one of the series’ better offerings, as it strikes that perfect balance between action and character building.
All-in-all, only a handful of words are spoken in the episode, since our two central characters are completely isolated from other people. But it adds to the eery tone of the series as a whole. It also gives both Chandler Riggs (Carl) and Danai Gurira (Michonne) the chance to really sink into the quiet moments each are given. For two characters that have had little to really do throughout the course of the series (which, particularly in the case of the character of Michonne, is criminal), it is great to see both given a chance to shine.
With Michonne, we finally get a look at some of her backstory, albeit in the form of a nightmare. It appears that Michonne had a boyfriend (Mike, who became one of her walker “pets” along with his best friend) and young son. And, from what Michonne says, it looks as if something happened when they were at a “camp” that resulted in the death of Mike and the young child. Whether it was something sinister (such as Mike killing the boy and then himself), or simply the camp getting attacked, isn’t clear. But Michonne continues to hold onto a great deal of pain at their loss- something that we haven’t been truly privy to until now.
Out of the two storylines, Michonne’s is the one with the least true character development. It serves more as a chance for us to see a bit more into who she was before she joined the gang and what turned her into the stoic woman she is today. That strong facade appears to be in danger of shattering, as Michonne is learning the importance of being a part of a group (quite the change from the Michonne we first met last year). Even if she is coming around to the idea of having people by her side, she still hasn’t lost her ability to kick some serious ass.
The bulk of the episode comes directly from the comic, following Rick and Carl’s journey immediately after the pair escape the prison. With Rick seriously injured in the attack, it falls to Carl to keep himself and his father safe. Now, Carl is likely the most polarizing character currently on the series, and I have heard from many a friend that they don’t like the character. But, this episode shows why Carl should (in a world of perfect scripting) be one of the show’s most interesting characters. Unlike the vast majority of the group, Carl is growing up in a world where zombies are a way of life. His worldview is understandably skewed by this reality. Rick is trying to do everything in his power to protect Carl (in contrast to Carol’s idea of parenting in this new world, which might just be better for the kids). So, in addition to being a typical teenager who just wants to be seen as an adult by his dad, Carl is also tasked with proving that he has the skills to survive in this new world.
The constant push and pull between Rick and Carl (and previously, between Lori and Carl) can get quite tedious. But “After” allows us the chance to see if Carl really is ready to lead in this world. And the answer is not really. Despite all of his statements to the contrary, Carl still needs his father. He’s still a boy underneath his faux tough exterior- just as Michonne is not truly the stoic woman she presents herself as to the outside world. Carl has adapted in many ways to this world. He’s done so in ways that are scary to Rick and other adults who haven’t acclimated as quickly themselves. But, at the end of the day, Carl still has some serious growing up to do. Even if Rick declares him to be a man, there’s still plenty for Carl to learn.
“After” is a superb way to dive back into the world of The Walking Dead, easing us into things after the blood bath of the mid-season finale. I hope people walk away from this episode with a better understanding of both Carl and Michonne. And, while I’m sure Carl will annoy all of us again before too long, I hope we can all look back on this episode and remember that he’s still a kid, even if he’s able to put down a walker without too much of a struggle.
— Kudos to Chandler Riggs on a great showcase episode. Child actors are often noticeably the weak link in ensemble dramas, but he hit this one out of the park.
— There’s still quite a bit from Michonne’s backstory to dole out. I’m hopeful will eventually get the rest.
— Once again, RIP Herschel. You are missed.
— One of the best moments of the episode: Carl’s excitement at seeing the TV and video games, only to remember they are worthless now.