Welp, it was a few months of quiet, zombie-less Sunday nights, but now The Walking Dead is back to reel us in and frustrate us endlessly. The half-season split finale was pretty intense, so let’s see what the aftermath has in store for us with “After.” Aw, I see what they did there.
Last half-season on The Walking Dead: A huge plague swept through the prison and killed a whole bunch of people. Carol admitted to murdering Tyrese’s girlfriend in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease, and Rick sent her away. Her young ward/fake daughter, Lizzie, is proooobably a psychopath. Bob, the new guy, totally used to be on The Wire and also has a drinking problem. Oh, yeah, and the Governor took over a new group of survivors and attempted to wage war on the prison settlement but got stabbed by Michonne after using her sword to decapitate Hershel, and also we don’t know what happened to Judy but probably not something good.
We open on an eerily familiar scene (you know, after a weird CGI zoom-in): it’s the prison camp, complete with exploded tank, partially eaten horse, and decomposing Governor. Naturally, it’s swarming with walkers. Michonne is casually slicing her way through anything that comes near her and looking very… off. In shock, still? Convinced that the battle was her fault because she stopped looking for the Governor herself? It sure seems that way, especially when she lures two walkers near the barbed wooden fence and makes them her new armless, jawless security zombies — she’s definitely on her own again. Then, to really nail the symbolism, she comes across Hershel’s now reanimated head and stabs it dead. Aww. No more friends for Michonne.
After the cold open, we find Carl and Rick alone on the road. Carl is still wearing Rick’s hat and walking with purpose, while Rick is straggling along behind him like the useless protagonist that he is. Rick gets all mad that Carl’s walking faster than he is and tells him to stop because they neeeed to stay together. “We’re gonna be fine,” he says. Carl makes this face in response:
Not going to lie, this reaction made me cackle with glee — even more so when he walks ahead again without a word. Guys, do you think Carl’s figured out what a dill weed his dad is?
Eventually, they come across what looks like a dilapidated roadside bar that appears to be called the “Boo Shack.” Okay yes, it actually says “Joe and Joe Jr’s BBQ shack,” but it’s a bar in an apocalyptic wasteland full of jump scares — I like “Boo shack” better. Rick tells Carl, the person who wasn’t beat up within an inch of his life, to stay outside and keep watch while he, who can only barely see out of both eyes, investigates the dark spooky building by himself. Carl calls him out on what a stupid idea that is, and Rick makes this face:
Oh boy, this episode is going to be fun.
Rick gives in to common sense and logic, and the two go in together. They find one walker — I’m guessing it’s either Joe or Joe Jr., because there’s a note from the latter which says, “Please do what I couldn’t,” in very oddly legible handwriting — and Rick attempts to kill it with an axe he finds, but Carl ends up shooting it instead. Rick gets mad that Carl deviated from the plan and possibly drew a whole bunch of walkers to them with the gunshot, but as Carl points out, Rick was clearly losing that fight with the axe. This time, Rick refuses to see reason. “I had it!” He says, his face all covered in blood. Sure you did, honey. Sure you did.
We cut back to Michonne and her new walker boyfriends coming across the same trail that Rick and Carl were just walking. She can see their tracks in the mud and decides to go the exact opposite direction. Aw, baby.
Rick and Carl now officially have a food supply and are on the move again. Rick keeps trying to get Carl’s attention with a very feeble, “Hey.” It’s kind of embarrassing. He says something to the effect of, “Hey there’s a house over there d’you think maaaybe,” and in the next shot they’re breaking in and clearing the place together. Rick still won’t let Carl go too deep into the house without him, and Carl, finally fed up, starts pounding against the wall and shouting, “HEY ASSHOLE, HEY SHITFACE,” over and over again. Of course Rick, like a true Southern gentleman, says, “Watch your mouth,” instead of, “Hey shut the hell up there might be walkers in there,” and Carl says what we’ve all been thinking for four seasons: “Are you kidding me?” Guys, I love new assertive Carl.
Rick finally allows them to split up, and Carl comes across a really cool older boy’s room. Like, for real, this kid had a giant flat screen TV and a separate nook for his bed. Carl is understandably jealous, but then remembers the show that he’s in and takes the set-up apart so he can use the cables from the TV to tie up the room they’re going to sleep in. Rick still insists on barricading the door anyway and then goes to change in the dark. Ugh, come on guys, Shirtless!Rick is the ONLY good version of Rick, and we can’t even make out any details.
Flaskback time! Michonne is making food with her two original walker boyfriends — pre-walker, of course. They’re talking about a museum they just went to and Michonne calls the exhibit “pedestrian.” Her “lover” adds: “The whole thing was like a monument to someone trying too damned hard to be different.” Michonne continues, now holding her katana instead of a knife. “I’m glad I saw it, even though I did not love it.” I’m pretty sure the show is just talking about itself, now.
As the dream continues, she slides her katana into the knife block and picks up an adorable baby. The two men start acting out a conversation that clearly must have taken place post-walkers, in which Michonne’s husband refuses to let them leave the camp for fear of his son’s safety. “Where’s the happy ending here?” he says as Michonne looked on bemusedly, as if they’re still talking about art. “Who’s going to open the wine?” she asks, and when we cut back to the two men, they’re armless and the baby is gone. Michonne starts screaming.
She suddenly wakes up in a car, with her two new walkers tied up outside. Wow, that was easily the best sequence I’ve seen on this show so far. Credit where credit is due, Walking Dead.
Carl is also waking up, and finally picks up the food that Rick had wanted him to eat last night. It’s cereal, and he even puts it in a bowl with a spoon and everything before heading back to that older kid’s room and reading a book. Poor kid just wants some normalcy, man. Finally he gets around to his dad, but Rick won’t wake up. Uh oh, we already know he’s pretty coma-prone. Sure hope he doesn’t die tragically so we won’t have to watch him feel his man-pain anymore, or whatever.
A pair of walkers are trying to get in the front door, so Carl comes around from the back with his gun to investigate. Which, of course, leads me to ask why wasn’t the back door barricaded too, but whatever, I’ve given up on Grimes logic. He leads them away from the door and down the end of the block, which would be a good plan except he’s walking backwards like a college tour guide and another walker gets the jump on him. He’s able to shoot them all, but they also fall on top of him like a college football team. Then he wriggles out and pukes all over the ground like a drunk college frat boy. Hey, that reminds me — this scene is the closest Carl’s ever going to get to being in college.
Michonne is making her way through a hoard of walkers and sees one who kind of looks like her, in that she is dark skinned and wearing thick twist braids (and please tell me if I got that wrong, because obviously I have no personal experience in styling naturally textured hair). We can tell Michonne is supposed to be feeling her feelings right now, because the music is very sad and ominous.
Suddenly she walks forward and when the walker catches up, it’s actually a white girl. How much you wanna bet that somebody’s already writing a 3,000 word Tumblr post about the racial politics of that scene? (Because I would totally read it. Please write the thing).
Carl is now talking to his probably coma’d father. “I killed three walkers,” he says, trying to pretend that it ain’t no thang. “I lured them away. (It was totally the best I’m so awesome do you love me daddy?)” Rick does not move. “I killed them! I saved you! (Please wake up I’m sorry I made fun of your stuff and things.)” Still no answer. “I’M TOTALLY AWESOME AND YOU’RE JUST A STUPID FARMER.” Nothing. “I DON’T NEED YOU ANYMORE. YOU.” Nope.
Then, Carl starts getting really specific and naming all the people Rick couldn’t protect — Judith, Hershel, Glenn, Maggie (Wait, Glenn and Maggie made it out of the camp, right? Right?), Michonne, Daryl, and Lori. And he tells Rick it’s his fault that the Governor found them, because he was too busy planting vegetables or whatever. Boy, Chandler Riggs is really knocking it out of the park with this scene. See what a good show this can be when we’re not constantly cutting back to Rick for reactions?
Finally, Carl gets it all out of his system after calling his father “nothing” and collapses on the floor next to him. “I’d be fine if you died,” he says and gets back up to go foraging. This teenage angst is so wonderful.
Back outside, Carl explores a nearby house for food, but not before picking up a lantern that’s been stuck in the ground on a spike so he can use it to stab things with. Aw, our little baby’s learning! But not too much at once, of course, because then he tries to break open a door with his shoulder and fails miserably,
Next he tries to jimmy it open with the spike, and that works. He is learning!
After foraging, he slowly wanders through each room until he comes across A MUTHAFLIPPIN JUMP SCARE. He tries to shoot it in the head and trips, firing two rounds into the ceiling and finally getting a third into the walker’s head. Hey, people who know guns better than me — how many rounds does that model of gun have? Because he fired four into the last group of walkers and three into this one, so if he didn’t reload back at home then I’m guessing he’s in trouble now.
Oh. Oh yeah, the walker’s not done yet, and he’s coming up empty on bullets. He’s in trouble, now.
Somehow, he manages to get away from the walker and tries to jump out the window, which would also be a bad idea, as he’s on the second story. Instead, the walker catches up and he keeps trying to hit him in the head with various household objects, but to no avail. Is this a super walker, or does Carl just have really terrible aim?
Finally, he traps the walker in room behind him, but not without losing a shoe. Well, it’s better than losing his life, I guess. He picks up a piece of chalk and writes out a message: “Walker Inside. Got shoe, didn’t get me.” Man, Carl really needs some friends to brag at.
Back to Michonne again, roaming with walkers. She sees the Michonne-look alike walker again and, in a fit of confusion and anger, slices its head open. A bunch of other walkers notice and come at her, and she spends the next couple of minutes killing all of them in a Tyrese-style rage, including her new walker security. I could watch her swinging that katana all day and never get bored, but she runs out of things to kill pretty quickly and finally breaks down crying. Then, she makes her way back to the path and goes in the direction of Carl and Rick’s footprints.
Night again. Carl wakes up to the sound of strangled breathing and wakes up to see Rick’s arm looming towards him. He panics and draws his gun (which I sure hope he remembered to reload), but can’t actually bring himself to pull the trigger and throws it down with a sob. “JUST DO IT,” he weeps. “Carl what the hell are you talking about,” Rick says, basically, and then passes out.
Michonne one last time, following Carl and Rick’s trail into the Boo Shack. She sees Joe Jr.’s note and sits down against a wall in anguish, talking aloud to her dead lover, Mike. He was wrong to give up back at the camp, she said. She knows why she has to keep going.
Finally, Rick is all the way awake. Naturally, the first thing he does is tell Carl that he shouldn’t have gone off on his own, because it was dangerous. But, Rick also admits that things are never going to be back to the way they used to be, because Judith is gone and Carl is now a man. L’chaim! And hey, Michonne’s here now! Everything’s gonna be okay, team!
But seriously, I was surprised by how much I liked this episode. I haven’t exactly been discreet about the fact that I’ve dreaded The Walking Dead‘s return, especially after those two meandering Governor episodes. But this was solid, specifically because it focused on exploring character, rather than just setting up those characters for something bigger later on. Both Michonne and Carl got very powerful, very well-executed narrative arcs, and Rick was unconscious for most of the hour, so he didn’t spent the whole time making it all about him. If this is how the rest of the season pans out, then I will definitely be a happy camper.
Meanwhile in related links
- The last part of the season ended pretty intensely with “Killers”
- In “Live Bait,” the Governor pretended that he is not a nutbar
- In “Dead Weight,” the Governor was totally a nutbar