SPOILERS AHEAD, so use caution, Walkers…
Season Four, Episode Nine: “After”
Written by Robert Kirkman; Directed by Greg Nicotero
After the bloodbath that was the midseason finale, The Walking Dead returned Sunday night with a calmer episode simply titled “After.” Last time we saw everyone they were either dead or escaping the destroyed prison alone or in small groups. This week’s episode focused on the solo Michonne and on the father-son team of Rick and Carl. We’ll have to wait until next week to catch up with everyone else.
The Walking Dead has gotten pretty good at its silent openings (well, silent except for the gurgling of zombies). Episode nine was no different. It opened with an aerial view of the prison: the smoking tank, dead bodies, zombies, and Michonne with her sword. She’s the only the living thing in view.
She surveys the damage, begins to kill zombies, and then quickly makes the decision to go back to her old ways. Before we know it, she’s sliced off the arms of two zombies, tied them with rope, and is leading them around with her (just like when we first met her character). This becomes the theme of the episode: in the face of disaster do we go back to our old habits?
Michonne has become one of the most interesting characters on the show. She’s very slowly developed and blossomed. The first half of the season saw her joking around with Carl and seeming to finally enjoy being around other people, which makes this opening all the more gripping. She’s once again lost everyone. As she walks from the prison with her two “slave zombies,” she happens upon the head of Hershel now zombie-fied (poor, Hershel). Michonne doesn’t hesitate to slide her sword into his head, which clearly gives the clue that the old Michonne is back. Cue the opening credits.
We are then given a scene with Rick (looking terrible) and Carl (looking pissed). Carl continues to prove why it sucks having a kid in the zombie apocalypse. Rick can barely walk, but Carl doesn’t seem to care. He’s bent on defying his beaten father, and Rick can’t even bring himself to fully utter the cliché, “We’re going to be fine.”
They stumble upon a BBQ restaurant and argue over who should go in. Carl, as always, thinks he knows best, and in fairness to him, he often does have better ideas than the adults around him. They end up both entering the restaurant where weak Rick tries to kill a zombie with an ax and Carl jumps in by shooting it. Clearly Carl is in for a pissing contest with his father. This is even more evident when they both search the place for food and Carl finds more than his father and says, “I win.”
When then flip to solitary Michonne walking through the woods with her zombies. She happens upon some footprints in the mud. She knows they could easily be someone from her group, which means she’s faced with a choice: go on alone or try to find someone? She chooses to go it alone. Can you blame her?
Carl is also pondering a life alone, or so it appears from his attitude towards his father. They soon reach a house and begin exploring it. Carl finds a kid’s bedroom full of video games, books, posters, and a flat-screen TV. The Walking Dead is many things, but it’s not very subtle. Here Carl is confronted with what his life should look like, but instead he’s killing zombies and taking care of his beat up dad. His smile quickly fades as he rips the cord off the TV, which he then uses to secure the door. Rick thinks they also need to push the couch against the door for extra protection. Carl says his knot is good and that Shane taught him how to do it. Then he caps his comment with “Remember him?” Carl really is out for blood.
Michonne is having her own troubles, but these are in her mind. We get a glimpse at her former life in a flashback/dream sequence. Here we see Michonne in bright colors and looking happy. This lets us know more about her past, including the fact that she had a small child. The dream keeps changing on her as the two men she is talking to (one her lover) alter in appearance until they become the armless zombies we first saw her with. She wakes startled in a car. While I enjoy learning more information about her, it seems this has been a long time coming.
Carl continues his bad behavior by waking up to find Rick passed out or in another coma or dead and decides to go outside to kill some zombies. He’s doesn’t appear to be too alarmed that Rick isn’t waking up. Carl’s plan doesn’t work too well and he’s almost killed (this won’t be the only time). But nothing seems to faze this young man. After nearly getting killed by zombies, he walks away a little out of breath and repeats his “I win” phrase. Yes, you win at being a brat.
Michonne, however, is not winning. As she walks among the zombies (another easy metaphor), she notices a zombie that looks a lot like her. Or in other words, is being alone just the same as being dead? I don’t know. If I was Rick, I’d rather be alone than with Carl.
When Carl returns from his near-death experience, he finds Rick still unresponsive, so he decides to unload his feels. Carl yells at Rick’s motionless body about how he saved him and how Rick couldn’t save anyone and how he let everyone down including baby Judith (I was really hoping for a zombie baby in this episode, but no such luck). We are supposed to feel a little bad for Carl here, but he’s so bratty and self-righteous that it’s hard to do so. He ends his touching speech by saying, “I’d be fine if you died.”
Since Carl hasn’t had enough fun, he heads out again and wanders through another house searching for food and supplies. This leads him to a fairly well stocked kitchen and a giant can of chocolate pudding (win again). Upstairs he finds more trouble. Our brave and trigger happy little Carl wastes some more bullets and gets nearly killed. This time the zombie gets his shoe. He ends up locking the shoe-stealing zombie in a room, and he writes on the door “Walker inside, got my shoe, didn’t get me.” This is another version of “I win.”
Carl is all about getting credit in this episode. He wants to prove he is able to survive, and might even be better at surviving than his father. The scene ends with Carl happily eating chocolate pudding on the roof while the trapped walker’s hand reaches out from the bedroom window. I poke fun at Carl, but he is an interesting character because he examines what it would mean for a young person to be raised in a world that is completely crumbling. Carl is a product of his environment.
Michonne may not use Carl’s “I win” statement, but she finally does decide to live. After staring at her zombie twin some more she kills her and all the zombies in sight. She once again proves she’s the one you want on your side in this world.
After two near-death experiences, Carl is on edge and nearly shoots Rick. When Rick comes to in the dark, he sounds like a zombie and begins to reach out for Carl, which is really dangerous since Carl is often quick to shoot. But even pissed off Carl can’t bring himself to shoot his dad and finally begins to breakdown only to discover Rick isn’t a zombie after all (surprise, surprise).
Michonne is now on a mission to find others. She’s let go of her “slave zombies” and finds the same BBQ place that Carl and Rick visited. Here she has a little breakdown herself and seems to be finally dealing with her past.
In the light of day, Rick and Carl begin mending their fractured relationship. Rick apologizes to Carl and tells him, “You’re a man.” And for his part, Carl seems to realize maybe he does still need Rick. Thankfully, they won’t be on their own much longer. We cut to Michonne who finds the pudding can and then the house. The episode ends with her knocking on the door with tears in her eyes (maybe the only person happy to see Carl).
This was a solid opening to the second half of the season. It didn’t provide many answers or many shocks, but it did provide some good character development for both Michonne and Carl. I’m also glad that Michonne found Carl and Rick, because I’m not sure I want to see many more episodes with just the two of them. The challenge the show faces now is that the characters are scattered around, which can be interesting but also frustrating. Next week we’ll get to check in on the rest of the cast.
Now for some random thoughts and my favorite moments of the night…
How long is Rick’s face going to be all bloody and swollen? I’m over it.
Carl thinking he could body slam into that door.
The greatest mystery of the show continues: How does Rick keep his chest hair shaved?