The Walking Dead "Clear" Review: Lessons in Crazy

By Tim Surette

Mar 04, 2013

The Walking Dead S03E12: "Clear"

Note: I wrote this review based on a press screener, so no GIFs for now. I'll try to add some within a day or two, but until then I'm stuck with AMC's production stills for art.

Hello boys and ghouls! I'm surprised you're back, given the fact that I was the only person on the earth who enjoyed last week's to-the-prison-and-back Andrea trek. I still defend my stance that Andrea rejoining the group but finding them nearly unrecognizable means a lot to the show and its themes of adaptation and survival, and that "I Ain't a Judas" was the best use of Andrea all season long (which shouldn't necessarily be celebrated, because she's been awful). Personally, I'd rather watch that version of The Walking Dead over The Governor suddenly showing up and taking potshots at the prison almost any day. But hey, what do I know?

Hopefully we can all agree (oh God, I hope we agree for the sake of our friendship) that tonight's episode, "Clear," breached new dramatic territory for The Walking Dead Season 3, and I'll put myself out there by saying it was the best of the season so far. No, it wasn't action-slammed and it didn't feature a river of zombie brains and intestinal tracts. But it was one of the most thought-provoking, enlightening, and well-written episodes of the series. That is to say, "Clear" felt deserving of one of television's grandest compliments: It felt like "a cable-quality drama."

Some of the improvements were obvious: no Woodbury, no Woodburyites, no prison, no Judith (stupid baby), no Lori, no Lori the unfriendly ghost, no "let me tell you sumptin'," no arguing about Rick being the leader, no arguing about Merle, no arguing about trusting strangers, not much arguing at all in fact, no Carol rubbing up on the nearest man, no spontaneous Beth songs, no frumpy Michonne moping in the background, and none of Andrea's hands-on-the-hips head-bobbing. Instead, the focus of "Clear" was sharper than Michonne's katana because the episode isolated its story. And it was just the kick in the pants the season needed.

You can thank Scott Gimple, who wrote "Clear," for that, and I hope his eye for telling interesting stories within an episode continues when he takes over as showrunner for Season 4. If Glen Mazzara added the right amount of blood and action to The Walking Dead, then maybe Gimple will finally bring some badly needed characterization. Looking back, it makes you wonder what Frank Darabont brought to the show except for his loyal stable of actors like Laurie Holden and Jeffrey DeMunn.

"Clear" was essentially a side-trip episode as Rick, Michonne, and Carl ventured out in a search for guns and ammo and gun magazines and maybe Guns & Ammo the gun magazine to prepare for the big battle with The Governor. You can still question Rick's timing (what if The Governor came back when he was gone?) and his choice in companions (Rick saying Carl was "ready" wasn't a satisfying reason for bringing his son on a dangerous mission, what if they'd gotten eaten and Judith grew up dad-less AND brother-less?), but the drama and character interactions worked so well, I was just happy to see The Walking Dead add substance and continue its improved characterization from last week. Heck, Michonne cracked a JOKE! ("The mat said 'Welcome,'" when Rick asked why she was eating Morgan's food.) MICHONNE! Queen Sourpuss of the New World! Time to start an open-mic night, maybe she can slice watermelons in half like a post-apocalyptic Gallagher. 

Though to be fair, this episode couldn't help but be good since it was the re-introduction of Morgan (Lennie James), a character we've been waiting to run into again since the second episode of Season 1. Last week I talked about the show's theme of change, and how the amount of personal evolution for each character has been distorted through perspective. Perceived personal change varies depending on the amount of time that's passed since certain characters last saw each other. I loved putting myself in Andrea's pants and seeing The Group 2.0 through her eyes. Rick and friends, once so focused on getting back to normal with the good life on the farm, are now a lot of secession-happy survivalists who could barely bring themselves to trust their old blonde friend. Tyreese, in contrast, saw Rick for who he was at that moment, a crazy mofo. One was sympathetic, "You've changed," the other was scared, "That white boy is bat shit crazeeee!" It took a bit of empathy to appreciate what Andrea went through, because the change among the prison group was something we'd witnessed through the show, and so to many viewers it was no big deal. I loved it, but maybe that's because I'm a sensitive softy and I think the differences were proven well through practice.

In "Clear," witnessing stark evolution/devolution brought on by a world in which the dead stalk the living was unavoidable because we were all on the same page with Morgan. We hadn't seen him since the series premiere, "Days Gone Bye," and back then he was a strong man showing cracks and mourning the recent loss of his wife, but he still had something to fight for in his son Duane. In "Clear," he was a bowl of Cocoa Puffs. Since Rick last saw him, things had been really stinky for Morgan—to the point where he shacked up in a top-story storage room, built a Wipeout-style zombie obstacle course, raided the town for all the Sidewalk Chalk it had left (and wrote jibberish all over the walls with it), and most importantly, stockpiled enough guns to make Charlton Heston die from boneritis. 

Seeing his old buddy in such a state was bad times for Rick Grimes, but it was also an eye-opener. As Morgan told Rick about how he'd failed by not being able to go through with killing his zombie wife Jenny—who would eventually eat his little boy Duane because Duane couldn't do it either (ugh, the heartbreak)—Rick saw a potential future for himself in Morgan. Becoming Morgan was a worst-case scenario. And when Rick was telling Morgan, "You have to be able to come back from this," he was also delivering that advice to himself. Lori's gone, but Rick still has Carl, and the madness has to stop. At the end of the episode, when Rick was staring off into the distance and Michonne told him that she knows he sees "things," the "thing" Rick was staring at could've easily been Lori waving goodbye because Rick rocketed back into reality after seeing Morgan as a suicidal, going-through-the-motions hermit. I was never a fan of Rick going bonkers and talking to dead phones and dead wives, but if Rick truly has shaken off the crazies because of this encounter with Morgan (and I think he has), this was a fantastic way to do it.

And let's all throw our thongs on the stage toward Lennie James, who delivered an outstanding performance as a distressed Morgan, broken from grief. He was absolutely excellent. I don't know if we've seen the last of Morgan, but at least Rick knows where to find him. And there's still a crapload of guns there. Put that in your pocket for Season 4, Gimple. I don't think any of us would complain if Morgan spent more time with us.

The Michonne-Carl shopping trip to Cribs-R-Us was also a maturation for The Walking Dead, most notably because it set out to fix a pair of characters that have been problematic. It started off by establishing Carl's distrust of Michonne at the beginning when Michonne drove their shiny, self-cleaning 2011 Hyundai Tuscon Limited Edition (just $18,895 MSRP for the base model!) into a mud trap. Then Carl went off on what seemed like another one of his stupid self-worth-proving "I'm a big boy" solo trips, ditching Michonne as she made a zombie kebab. It felt like trouble in that moment as we all groaned "Here we go again!" and screamed, "Stay in the damn farmhouse, Carl!" out of habit.

But Carl bit back at Michonne's attempts to overparent with such conviction that we realized he wasn't just on a quest to annoy the internet with boneheaded decisions. No, he wanted to get a picture from the town cafe, a picture of Rick, Lori, and himself. "I just thought Judith should know what her mom looked like," he said, making me feel like a total asshole for ever doubting his purpose. It hit Michonne hard, too, and in that moment it was obvious that getting that photo—essentially preserving the Grimes family for the future and holding onto humanity in this world full of shit—was worth stepping into a zombie feeding trough. Michonne ninja'd her way into the restaurant, came out with the photo (and a sweet cat sculpture), and we saw a badly needed new side to her. After the mutual display of respect and compassion between the two, they skipped back hand-in-hand to Rick, and Carl declared, "I think she might be one of us." And like that, Michonne and Carl grew leaps and bounds.

In an hour, "Clear" managed to fix three broken characters that were in bad need of fixin', both from the audience's viewpoint and from a personal standpoint. Maybe a day trip to grab some supplies is just what the other characters need as well.



NOTES

– We need to talk about that hitchhiker. It was so difficult to see Rick completely ignore a person in need, but apparently everyone else was also on board. Carl and Michonne hardly flinched when the hitcher screamed after them; instead, they rushed to get back in the car and peel out. On the way back they saw pieces of the guy strewn about the highway, and snatched his knapsack. The look in Rick's eye was hard to decipher, but was there a pang of guilt in there? Did he regret not giving the guy a ride? What are your theories on the hitchhiker?

– I was so happy to be away from the prison and Woodbury for an episode. This was kind of like the episode "18 Miles Out" when Shane and Rick drove away from the farm and had it out. Such changes of pace are great for the series because they break up the monotony of sedentary life and they always seem to bring out new character development.

– I dig the rats-on-skateboards trick.

– When Michonne got the car stuck in the mud, how did that crazy zombie ambush happen? How are zombies still popping up out of nowhere in this show?

– Did Michonne kill Jenny, Morgan's wife? One of the zombies looked an awful lot like her.

   


Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter if you want to: @TimAtTVDotCom
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  • happyschnapps Aug 09, 2013

    I thought it was a terrific episode. Lennie James was awesome - but he'll always be "Sol" from "Snatch" for me. And Morgan killed his own wife finally but "finally was too late".

  • GirishKrishna1 May 20, 2013

    They haven't 'fixed' all the characters. Michonne, somehow managed to have a three dimensional personality this episode, but Carl was still stupid and groan-worthy. Everybody knew where he was going (to get something that reminded him of his mother). But he made such boneheaded decisions (like trying to go into the diner full of zombies alone) that its difficult to empathize with him. Rick may or may not have got the hallucinations out of his head, but Morgan was plain crazy and his acting was annoying.

    I may be crazy (you have to be if you're still watching this show), but Walking Dead was leaps and bounds better when psycho Shane was still around.

  • Ankh49 Mar 10, 2013

    Wow. I think this season the surviving humans have shot at each other more than the zombies!

    I know that throughout TWD the horror has come more from how the survivors treat each other and the difficult decisions they have to make. I know that, even if they'd wanted to, picking up the hitchhiker would've been a bad idea (at best he would've slowed them down, at worst he could've turned out to be hostile) But it was hard to watch. Not because u know the poor guy is a goner, not even because it highlighted the harsh realities of their world. But the lack of feeling. They didn't give it a second thought, they didn't wrestle with their conscience. Not even Carl. But I think the worst part though was when they went back for his rucksack. That was some cold shit!

    Another shocking moment came from Michonne. She actually SMILED. Twice!

  • Dirk13 Mar 08, 2013

    To answer the thing about the zombie ambush. Remember how Michone nonchalantly reved the wheels? At first I thought she was screwing her companions over for a sec so she could be like "look, I ain't moving this car until we can clear the air." Seemed like something she would do.

    Anyway, obviously that was not the case, but anyway, my point was, even though clearly it was an accident, I think the squeal of the tires attracted them (quicker than it probably should have, but we only got an hour after all and it's good they didn't draw that being trapped stuff out).

    Furthermore, as was noted, there was that burnt car, with some dead people in it (probably attracting the zombies like the rats in the cages), as well as the likelihood that they were part of that convoy (if anyone noticed, there was a sign that was telling a "Lisa" where her friends/family were headed, only for there to be a zombie with a "Lisa" wristband attacking their car up the road, nice touch), so, based on how at least some of the zombies behave (which I agree at times feels not always consistent, even though in this world there seems to be different zombie mentalities in a sensible shadow brain activity kind of way), I would say they just have been bumming around there for those several reasons, and again, swarmed on the loud tire noise.

  • Dirk13 Mar 07, 2013

    Also, I know it was something Shane said, like once, (maybe twice?) but where did this ""let me tell you sumptin',"" come from?

  • Dirk13 Mar 07, 2013

    I think your various complaints about the past few episodes have largely been unfounded, but I do agree the last episode was good....kind of surprised at the fact that the other people who disagree with you don't in turn agree with me :P .

  • MorpheusX Mar 07, 2013

    "maybe she can slice watermelons in half like a post-apocalyptic Gallagher. "

    So the only thought that sprung to mind when you reference the only Black character in the group was WATERMELON?

    Idiot.

  • Marburg66 Mar 07, 2013

    I'm going to run on the assumption that you don't know who Gallager is/was. Gallagher's a prop comedian & famous for decimating watermelons in his act & the host was simply joking about how cool it would be to see Mich decimate 'em with swords. Don't jump to conclusions & look for racism where it doesn't exist.

  • MorpheusX Mar 08, 2013

    Are you kidding me? I'm probably older than you and of course, I know who Gallager is.
    But there are an endless number of pop cultural references to slicing and slashing with a sword the writer could have made; Rashomon, Zatoichi, Excaliber, Lion-O of Thundercats, Stormshadow from G.I. Joe, the Highlander, Beatrix Kiddo from Kill Bill - ANY of those or any one of a kazillion more swordsman analogies would have done just fine.

    But INSTEAD, they transformed a sword into a hammer that smashed WATERMELON.

    And then later on, when referring to the only other Black character in the episode, they referenced Cocoa Puffs, which are, of course, chocolate. I let that one slide by, as if course the koo-koo part was the emphasis, but it's just more than coincidental that for the ONLY Black characters, the references are watermelon and chocolate.

    It's one thing to see racism "everywhere", which I don't. But it's another not to see it unless you're watching Django Unchained....

  • Dirk13 Mar 07, 2013

    I am fortunate enough to know who Gallagher is, and even I still was a little bit like "hrm...ok that seemed vaguely racist." Clearly this would not be lost on anyone, Gallagher knowledge or no.

    Also for that very same reason why "Black Gallagher" (From the Chapelle show) also popped into me head, if ever so briefly :P .

  • Marburg66 Mar 08, 2013

    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar & sometimes a watermelon is just a watermelon. The racism simply isn't there, given the context.

  • Marburg66 Mar 10, 2013

    heh! like I said, whatever makes you happy. The debate is yours...so I won't bother to overanalize anything into the "stench-ridden monkey room of a zoo" crack. Cheers Tiger. Don't drive angry.

  • MorpheusX Mar 09, 2013

    You make a slew of assumptions and assertions absent evidence.

    Observant does not equal hypersensitive. But one need not be a raw nerved reactionary to simply see the obvious bizarreness of invoking the metaphor of watermelon smashing when referring to what is essentially a female Afro Samurai.

    If the author were referencing Thor and inexplicably used a sword slicing analogy, that alone would make you scratch your head.

    But to take a sword wielding Black female and invoke watermelon smashing is such an incongruent blend of unfortunate mixed metaphors that one can't hep but wonder if it was a Freudian slip on the part of the author.

    Unintentional racism is just that - unintentional...

    But, to wit - living in Texas, where racism is so pervasive and de riguer, I'm sure, like being in the stench-ridden monkey room of a zoo, after a while you can't even smell it anymore.

    So it surprises no one that you don't notice the more subtle variety of racism - or even in this case, the not so subtle. Given I'm not the only one who noticed it, I'd say your own perceptions might be in need of some review...

  • Marburg66 Mar 08, 2013

    This is also plain ol wisdom: Walking on eggshells and automatically assuming racism at the simple mention of watermelon is a bit racist in and of itself. I'm in my early 40's, I live in Texas & I have a large extended family in the Deep South, so I've seen racism all over the place my entire life. Where you & I seem to differ is that while watching the episode, I primarily saw a man, a boy and a woman, whereas with all due respect, you seemed to primarily see a white man, a white boy & a black woman, owing to your hyper-sensitivity to the old watermelon stereotype by taking Tim's line out of context.

    I get where you're coming from. I really do, but personally, I couldn't be happy living my life on a racially charged hair trigger like that...so I just don't

    ...If it works for you though, I'm cool with that. The debate is yours. Peace

  • MorpheusX Mar 08, 2013

    I disagree. I think it was subconscious, unintentional and without malice. Yet it was STILL THERE. And showing a bit more sensitivity about invoking racist tropes, even without racist intention, is just plain old wisdom.

    Your confusing absence of malice with absence of impact.

    You can still do something even though you didn't MEAN to - like step on someone's toes...

  • AkiraHideyo Mar 06, 2013


    This week's episode was priceless. Just 3 main characters and one side, Morgan, was tight, intense and relevant to pack a powerful episode. Goes to show u dun need too many unnecessary plots, just one focussed great one. I have to say I enjoyed this episode more than 85% of the 3 Season's episodes. And I CLEARLY (pun intended) love Carl & Michonne to death. Great episode, writers, seriously great! And I agree with Morgan, he is safer than following them back. Look at all the carnage of fighting in next week's trailer. What was Rick thinking asking someone in his very well designed sanctuary to go somewhere else to be unsafe? Zombie Rick as usual.

  • ChanX95 Mar 06, 2013

    I couldn't believe it when Rick&Co.; just ditched that poor bastard not once but TWICE. I really hoped that would come back to bite them in the ass but alas twas only the hitchhiker who suffered from their selfishness.
    I miss old Rick. As idealistic as he was at least he knew that since the world was in the shitter it was now even more important to hold on to a sense of decent humanity but obviously common decency has fallen by the wayside. Disappointing.

  • ranmidangubic Mar 06, 2013

    My opinion is that Rick and the gang were on a mission, and outcome of it (finding guns&ammo;) was more important than the hitchhiker, since the mission was about the survival of the whole group, task which could be compromised by bringing an unknown person, that does not understand the position and motivation they found themselves into (evolved to be threatened by the living people from woodbury more than the walking dead all around them).

  • ChanX95 Mar 07, 2013

    That's kind of my point in a way; the fact that in season one Rick would have definitely stopped for the hitchhiker. I understand they're trying to illustrate a world were its kill or be killed. But what is the point of survival when you lack humanity? You might as well be a zombie if you're not going to stop for your fellow man.

  • mitchnielsen7 Mar 06, 2013

    Its not hard to explain the hitchhiker. Maybe he was living in a bunker (Like Tyrese) or a Woodbury type place that was recently overrun. Either way he probably wouldn't have the know how to survive long, hence the walking around yelling at cars with his pots and pans clanging around. Probably why he didn't survive very long.

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