The Walking Dead returns after its midseason break, and the return episode, “After”, starts off well, picking right up in the wake of “Too Far Gone”. The prison is on fire, and Michonne is doing her thing with her sword, slicing up zombies left and right. She lures two to the stake barricades, and promptly makes herself two new “pets”. A creepy scene follows, as she comes across Hershel’s head, now reanimated with its mouth opening and closing. Michonne promptly puts an end to that, and moves on with her “pets” in tow. We actually get a little bit of backstory for Michonne. We see in a flashback/dream Michonne at a time when the world first started to go to hell, cleaning her sword and speaking to boyfriend/father of her son, Mike, and Mike’s friend, Terry. We get to see Michonne’s son, though it’s unclear what happened to the boy. We can assume that these two may her been her original “pets” as she has a vision of both of them sitting at the table with their arms hacked off. From there she wakes up screaming, having taken refuge in an abandoned car.
Michonne and her “pets” end up moving along inside a small walker herd, and these sequences provide a fair amount of tension. Seeing a walker that resembles her makes her finally break, and she slaughters the herd, including the two “pets”, and then proceeds to have a breakdown in the midst of all the bodies. It was a pretty emotional moment for Michonne, and actress Danai Gurira makes the most of her scenes with a minimum of dialogue.
Danai Gurira wasn’t the only cast member to get the spotlight this week. Young Chandler Riggs was terrific this week as Carl finds himself needing to take charge as Rick is still suffering from the brawl with the Governor. Both Carl and Rick are broken, reeling from the loss of baby Judith (still not confirmed dead but among the missing) and being separated from the other members of the group. Carl tries to keep his emotions in check, almost mirroring Michonne in the way she holds down the traumatic events that have shaped her life. He works in defiance of Rick, walking ahead of him and not listening when they check out a biker bar. It was a nice scene with Carl finding the note that read “Do what I couldn’t do” in reference to the walker trapped in the bar’s back room. Rick proves to be too weak to take it out with his hatchet, so Carl uses his pistol, much to Rick’s displeasure. They search for food, with Carl finding more, smartly remarking to his father “I win.”
The father and son eventually find a house, where Carl becomes a bit more surly, even throwing Shane back up in Rick’s face. They secure the place for the night, and the next morning Carl needs to take things in his own hands, when two walkers bang on the door and he can’t wake Rick. He baits the two walkers, and nearly gets himself in deep trouble when a third appears. He does kill the three, only to have their bodies fall on top of them. When he gets sick, it would seem to be lesson learned. But Carl is too full of himself, saying to the pile of bodies “I win.” He explores the neighborhood a bit before going back to Rick.
The scene where Carl berates the unconscious Rick was well handled, with Chandler Riggs pouring a lot of emotion into his performance. He screams at him “I saved you!” and then proceeds to blame Rick for not being able to protect anyone and that he doesn’t need him anymore. It’s a little chilling when Carl says, “I’d be fine if you died.” And briefly, it seems that Carl could be right. He finds a house and food, and in a little amusing moment lets his delight show through as he finds a giant can of pudding. Things take a dire turn when a walker nearly gets him upstairs, though he does mange to trap it behind a door and place a message in chalk: “Walker Inside. Got shoe. Didn’t get me.” The scene with him sitting on the roof eating the pudding just out of the walker’s reach sort of reminded me of the walker trapped in the mud that he tormented in Season Two. This had a much better outcome, however.
His return to Rick starts off fine, but in the morning it almost appears that Rick has turned during the night. You had to wonder if Carl would actually pull the trigger, but of course he could not. He breaks down, realizing that yes, he still does need his father, admitting that he’s scared. As the episode winds to a close, we see Michonne find the biker bar that Rick and Carl had visited earlier. In the flashback scene, Mike had asked Michonne why go on. As Michonne rested in the bar, she talks aloud to Mike, saying how she misses him, and says that he was wrong about surviving. “I’m still here,” she says, and she also says she found the answer to his question. Back at the house Carl tells Rick about his finding food, including the pudding. Rick’s admittance to Carl that he feels that things will never return to the way they were felt genuine, and Andrew Lincoln made the most of his small scenes. He tells Carl that he’s a man, and that “I’m sorry.” “You don’t need to be,” Carl tells him. At this point, Michonne has found the house where they are at, and knocks on the door. “It’s for you, ” Rick says, giving the episode a fairly uplifting ending after it’s heavier emotional tone.
This was a great return, and an excellent dramatic showcase for both Gurira and Riggs. The Walking Dead is back, and feels stronger than ever. Can’t wait to see where they go from here.
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