Whether or not we’ve recovered from the tragic events of Too Far Gone, the Walking Dead was back to deliver more emotional punches last night with a Carl and Michonne centric episode.
‘After,’ directed by Greg Nicotero, opens with zombies overrunning the prison while Michonne fearless walks among them, like the High Bitch In Charge she is. Because the show wants to make its audience weep some more, we see Hershel’s zombified head, which Michonne quickly, but solemnly, puts out of its misery.
I find Michonne (Danai Gurira) pretty enthralling, so the show did right by opening with her, her sorrow and her determination to survive.
But the episode doesn’t stay with Michonne, once the opening credits roll, we shift to Rick and Carl. In the short amount of time since the end of ‘Too Far Gone,’ these characters have changed dramatically. Rick is severely ill, so much so that he could easily be mistaken for a zombie. Carl looks (and is) emotionally shut down.
The two are barely surviving and back to raiding whatever homes/stores they can find, but it’s not their survival that’s the star of this episode, it’s their relationship – or the deterioration of that relationship.
There’s no doubt that these two have struggled through the seasons, but they always seemed to love one another. In this episode, Carl and Rick can barely stand each other. Carl (Chandler Riggs) even goes so far as to mention Shane, implying that he was a better father.
“Shane taught me. Remember him?”
This episode gave the audience something it didn’t know it needed: a Carl centric episode. I’ve never been remotely interested in his inner life. But after this, I am. Much of his behavior was that of a teenager wanting to rebel against his father, but that rebellion is playing out in the midst of horrific loss and immense trauma. It makes the simple story of teenage angst an incredibly complex tale.
Carl’s story is intercut with Michonne’s, who is once again using dismembered zombies to cloak her from other walkers. But the most important part of Michonne’s story is that we finally get to see what she was like before the virus.
We see her as we’ve never seen before. We see a beautiful, sparkling mother – the woman she was before zombies overtook her life. What’s most interesting about the flashback sequence, is that it really isn’t a flashback, it’s a dream, which means that we see Michonne as she saw herself. She saw herself as lightness and joy. That’s a stark contrast to the woman we first met who never spoke, never smiled and only glowered.
It seems as though Michonne is heading back to being that dark and closed off woman, but then something happens. She lets go and beautifully breaks down while slaughtering zombies. I say “beautifully” because the moment was acted so well. Danai flawlessly delivered the raw emotion of someone exhausted from loss and gruesome death.
Releasing emotion is important for these characters’ sanity. We’ve seen what holding on to it can do to people, like the Governor. Both Michonne and Carl need to experience and then let go of their anger and sense of loss, in order to survive in this world. They aren’t the only ones. Next week, we should get a look at how the other characters are coping with the fallout of the prison invasion.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9pm on AMC.