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Sunday, February 16, 2014

THE WALKING DEAD "After" My Heart

Article first written for Seat42F.

THE WALKING DEAD’s mid-season premiere picks up right “After” the epic battle with The Governor (David Morrissey). The prison has fallen and the survivors have scattered. Rather than bouncing around from person to person, something THE WALKING DEAD has never done much of, this latest installment is a personal story for two characters, and presumably we’ll catch up with the others at a later date.


Michonne (Danai Gurira) is introduced as a loner when first appearing on the AMC series. Traveling with a pair of walkers for company, she has survived without a group, and is slow to open herself up once she decides she’d like to stay at the prison. We have seen her soften over time, in particular with Carl (Chandler Riggs). But believing her friends dead, Michonne returns to her smoldering home just long enough to grab a couple of new “pets” and put Hershel’s (Scott Wilson) sad walker head out of its misery, then continues her loner trek once more.

We see a Michonne in “After” more broken than before, if that’s possible. A flashback-y dream sequence shows us the loved ones she lost the first time (Leverage’s Aldis Hodge and Getting On’s Brandon Fobbs), and with her new group ripped from her by The Governor, who is shown to definitely be very much dead, in case there are any doubters left, she can’t take the pain any more. When she sees footprints leading away from the prison, she goes in a different direction.

THE WALKING DEAD loves to explore the pathos and depths of its characters. “After” reveals something really dark we haven’t seen since Morgan’s (Lennie James) second appearance: someone who would choose to be alone because she just can’t take the pain of losing anyone else. It’s terrible PTSD, and Michonne is basically a walking shell of a person. This is most evidenced as she travels among a walker herd, blending in unmolested, and even sees a walker that looks like herself.

The thing is, faced with the mirror of the non-life she’s choosing, Michonne realizes she isn’t done yet. She slaughters the small herd, pets included, and sets off to follow the footprints. She has been through a lot and it’s so easy to give up on caring, but that’s not any way to live, even in the post-apocalyptic world. Michonne is far gone, but not too far gone to realize what she needs.

This may very well be a turning point for Michonne. The prison group has made her feel accepted enough that she considers herself part of them. No longer the outsider, Michonne wants to be a part of something, which is good news for viewers, since she may be the most popular character on the series and we’d like her to stick around. With this attitude, she will.

I do wish we’d gotten a true flashback for Michonne. There are some things explained, such as that her love just couldn’t hack it in their new reality, while Michonne found abilities within herself she didn’t know she had, something that made him insanely jealous. It also appears that he might be to blame for costing Michonne her original family. However, these are only things hinted out, not inarguably revealed, so as much as I like this sequence, I am definitely left wanting more.

The foot prints, as we see very early in “After,” belong to Carl and Rick (Andrew Lincoln). Father and son get away together, and the scenes of the episode that don’t feature Michonne are focused on them. Or, more specifically, the program follows Carl, who thinks he no longer needs Rick. That is, until Carl is faced with losing the only family he has left.

It’s funny, Carl and Rick seem like a typical father-teenage son pairing at the start of “After.” Carl is resentful and mouthy towards Rick, who’d like to set Carl right, but no longer knows how. Things get bad when Carl even throws Shane in Rick’s face, a sore subject to be sure, and tells his father that he hopes he dies. Granted, their problems are a lot more serious than the average familial dynamic, with Carl blaming Rick for many deaths and failing to be the leader he should be. But that chemistry is there and it is familiar, even in very alien circumstances.

Rick doesn’t last long, though. Looking a lot like a walker himself with his beat-up face and shuffle, once they’ve found suitable shelter he slips into a very deep sleep for a couple of days, one in which Carl can’t wake him from. This gives Carl not only a chance to vent, which he does most vehemently, it also leaves Carl to see what it would be like on his own. He handles himself OK, finding supplies and making it back in one piece, despite some very close calls. However, he also finds loneliness, and when confronted with a Rick that appears to have turned walker, Carl tearfully admits he needs his dad, and rather than kill what Rick has become, surrenders himself to be killed.

Thankfully, Rick is not a walker (did anyone, other than Carl, really believe for a second he was?), but “After” will forever change the dynamic between Rick and Carl. Carl is a capable man now, physically, and Rick sees and tells his son that. On the other hand, emotionally, Carl is not yet mature and needs (or wants) his father, something Carl is able to confess to Rick, which is actually a grown up decision. We see Carl both step up and also act like a child. We seem him humbled, something desperately needed for his continued survival. And we see a family who will cling to each other, having lost so much.

Then, the rarest of things occurs on THE WALKING DEAD: a happy ending. Michonne is reunited with Rick and Carl, tearfully and happily. There will be more challenges to face, sure, and undoubtedly more major deaths. But for now, these people have found each other, and that’s enough. Together, they have something to live for.

The characters who populate THE WALKING DEAD are survivors. Not everyone can adapt to this new world, as we see in the bar where Joe Jr. couldn’t bring himself to killer Walker Joe Sr. And maybe Carl couldn’t kill Rick, either, at a critical moment. Overall, though, these are the people who can fend for themselves, but haven’t lost their humanity. They are the ones to root for.

“After” is an excellent examination of two very different characters, Carl and Michonne. They both find turning points, picking an existence that is worth living. They are strong, yet we see their vulnerabilities. More importantly, we find love for them once more, which will keep the viewers watching for a long time to come. It’s so, so, so good to have THE WALKING DEAD back on our screens, at least for eight weeks.

THE WALKING DEAD airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

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