THE WALKING DEAD: “After”

Like a weird therapy session, Carl, Rick, and Michonne face their respective pasts as they look toward surviving their future in The Walking Dead’s much-awaited return.

Hey, we’re gonna be–

–Rick

Months-long waiting for viewers has meant only moments for the characters of TWD as we pick up directly after the prison raid and massacre of last year’s midseason finale. The opening minutes preview exactly what we have to look forward to this season: Michonne walks through the aftermath, the desolation of the first place she has called home since the zombie invasion, cutting off heads of walkers and putting Hershel (spill out a 40) out of his misery. She crafts herself two new armless, jawless zombie-pets and heads down the road. Alone again.

Rick and Carl stumble on a bar and take out one walker in a quest to find shelter and supplies. Amazingly, they are able to gather a sackload of groceries and continue on their way. I say “amazingly” because I find it hard to believe that with all of the raiding the prison camp has been doing for months this public place, so close to the prison, would have anything left. Setting aside story continuity, the Grimes men continue on their way to an idyllic suburb and find a house to camp in for the night. Carl continues to berate Rick in a digression of the character whining, cussing, and repeating lines like “Shane taught me, remember him?” to remind us all he’s still a kid, handling all this horror the best he can. It’s a coping mechanism, for sure, but Carl has proved that he can handle his shit, and I’m disappointed that we are not seeing much growth here. Carl has had plenty of time to pretend being a man that he should know how to walk the walk, and still have quiet moments of thrill when he sees a long-dormant teenager haven complete with XBOX. I’m not suggesting Carl would have matured beyond his years, at this point, but I do think the manipulative little pansy would have at least learned to fake it in front of pops.

The next morning, Carl’s being a kid again, reading comics and serving himself and Daddy some cereal. He tries to wake Rick from a deep sleep, but is unable to rouse him. And after causing a loud ruckus, he attracts three walkers that he must fight alone. He takes them out, promptly puking upon his success, but he wastes precious bullets in the process. I’m fairly sure that’s going to come up later. At the end of the fight he proclaims victory, “I win,” alluding to his real-life XBOX game. Finding Rick still in a coma, Carl is able to yell out all of his disappointment in his father, verbalizing all of his despair and weeping. Carl lists all of his father’s failures: Judith, Hershel, Glen, Maggie…not able to list Lori among them, but his silence speaks volumes. Apparently, he’d be “fine if [Rick] died,” but I’m not so sure. This emotional break speaks to his humanity. If Rick were to leave us, and Carl, the result would be a Governor in the making.

In a moment of levity, Carl’s attempt to break down a door – of a house that resembles Hershel’s old place — by running at it, ramming it with his tiny woman-body, fails as he crashes on the porch. Once he can get inside, however, he finds a booty of canned groceries, even a large tub of chocolate pudding. He loses his shoe in a fight with an attic-zombie and that whole “precious bullet” theory comes into play when he is unable to kill the dude. In a call-back to the first episode, he locks the zombie in a room labeled “Sam” and writes a note: Do not open. Walker Inside. He got my shoe. Didn’t get me. Carl sits on the roof, sans one shoe, eating the whole tub of choco-pudding, and looking out on the streets of the community. Not a care in the world.

That night, Carl sleeps next to a comatose Rick, but is awakened to what seems like the man’s death-rattle. Carl raises his gun, ready to fire at his reaching father through the shadows, but he finds that he cannot end the man’s life. He was wrong. He drops his gun, and begs Rick to just “do it.” Take him from this place. He was wrong, though, Rick is still alive. The next morning, Rick confesses that he has hung on to the past for Carl, but he must realize now that his boy is a man. The two apologize and find real communication for the first time since their initial reunion.

In a LOST-like flashback dream, the audience is treated to a glimpse of how far Michonne has fallen into this new life. Who would have ever seen the Xena Warrior Princess slicing brie to serve with crackers and grapes, discussing modern art with her “lover” and best friend? And we see a child running around, a poor little toddler, not long for this world. Michonne continues to see a walker that looks like her, but is it a vision? It bothers the lady so much that she takes out all the walkers in vicinity, including her new pets, and cries with a mix of delirium, rage, and loss. It’s as if when she had “people,” when she had a home, when she had a mission to kill the Governor, she did not need to relive her past. She could hide, escape. But out here, on her own, faced with the future of hunting and hiding and fleeing, she has to face everything she’s done.

After conquering the memory, she finds tracks in the mud, not shuffling zombie-tracks, but human Rick-sized, Carl-sized tracks. She tracks the two to the bar and continues on the trail, after confronting more of the past, and finally putting Mike’s memory to rest. She finds Rick and Carl at their new home compound, and knocks on the door. “It’s for you,” Rick says, collapsing into delirious smiling.

Our beloved survivors have had to learn to cope with loss, not just that of their fellow man, but of anything that reminded them of the way things used to be. This stand-alone episode is a reminder of what each has given up. Showrunner Scott M. Gimple, who helped bring about the amazeballs episode “Clear,” has made his mark on the show this season. It is obvious that we are in for more character development and silent struggles. We now know from where we’ve come, and we have hints of where we are going. All and all, it’s just good to be back.

 

Episode Grade: B+

 

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