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The Walking Dead S04E09: "After"


Break's over and the prison's in ruins, finally! Now The Walking Dead can return to the enjoyable (for us, anyway) world outside those barbed-wire fences, a world where our survivors can't just garden all day and then safely tuck themselves into bed behind six-foot-thick concrete walls. Now they'll have zombies nipping at their heels as they try to make it to another sunrise, hoping they'll live long enough to have one more argument over whether or not Rick is a good leader. This is a world full of imminent death and little hope. And I suppose "After" wanted us to be aware of this by focusing on the two characters who've most successfully adapted to life in this dangerous environment, and showing us that they too can see their spirits crushed like a zombie skull underneath a boot. But "After" didn't depict any of the chaos I expected from this new world order; instead, it focused more on the "walking" part of the show's title, and that made the hour somewhat boring, even as the show tried to say something important. Typical The Walking Dead, right?

Michonne and Carl are the next generation of zombie apocalypse humans because they've acclimated to this world easier than others. Proof: Michonne quickly discovered that if you cut off a zombie's arms and lower jaw, you not only create a form of zombie repellent, you also gain a pet! She's also mutated mentally, by putting up emotional walls that no one can climb—an asset when it's time to make important decisions, like bailing when your dumb blonde friend wants to stay in Woodbury. And Carl's adolescence is aligned with the worst thing to ever happen to humanity, so all the changes he's going through physically and mentally have synched up with the horrors he sees before him. (And we thought our own experiences with puberty were rough!) The zombie apocalypse was basically timed to coincide with his Bar Mitzvah, so his accelerated entry into manhood means he has to worry about both blackheads and headshots. Heck, he can even relax and have a bowl of cereal in an unfortified house like it's no big deal, because he doesn't have that much knowledge of any other kind of existence. Carl and Michonne have always seen this new world differently, they've always had a loner tendencies, and as a result, they've always been one a step ahead of everybody else. 


Or so they thought! As we saw in "After," once you take away the comfort of others, Carl and Michonne both break down like big babies, same as everyone else. Not so tough now, eh? Carl, faced with the fact that his daddy might be headed for zombiehood, couldn't bring himself to pull the trigger, and instead resigned himself to being Zombie Rick's first meal. Maybe the reason was that Carl didn't think he could survive without Rick, despite spending the rest of the episode in "I'm a big boy" mode. Maybe the reason was that it's hard to shoot your dad in the head. But at that point, we realized Carl could not do what's necessary to outlasting a zombie outbreak: anything, and I mean anything, to survive. Oh but killing your mom was manageable? I guess we know who his favorite parent is. 

Michonne saw a zombie that shared some of her own physical traits—African-American, long dreads—and, I'm guessing, was so horrified by the prospect of what she could become that she went bananas on a herd of walkers when she didn't need to and then cryfaced when she should've been marveling at her trophy pile of severed zombie heads. Later, when she saw a note that read, "Please do what I couldn't"—written by someone named Joe Jr., who was unable to kill what I'm assuming was his own zombified father when the time came—she broke down over her own past, which may or may not have involved being able to do what she couldn't. I think. I never really know what's going on with Michonne, she could've just been thinking about that episode of Futurama where Fry's dog waits for him.

My complaint about "After"—which is the same complaint I've had about a lot of Walking Dead episodes—is that I'm not sure what stories it wanted to tell. This series really struggles with character arcs that go beyond "Did he get eaten or not?", and anything that doesn't involve that specific question tends to come off as labored, confusing, and potentially boring because the writing just isn't there. Was there another layer to the dueling stories in "After"? Did The Walking Dead need an entire episode to drive home the fact that this is a tough world to live in?  

Watching Rick be mean dad and Carl be punkish teen was annoying because we've seen the same dynamic so many times before; their new just-the-two-of-them situation simply made Rick act like more of an old man ("Slow down, Carl! You shouldn't've done that, Carl! Get off my lawn, Carl!") and it made Carl act like more of an impudent squirt ("Everyone counted on you!" "I hate you, dad, I don't care if you die!" "This pudding is hurting my tum-tum!"). It didn't help that Chandler Riggs didn't really sell his outburst about Rick letting everyone down, and it really didn't help that the whole shouting-at-someone-who's-unconscious cliché is a big snooze. I remember thinking this whole Rick-Carl arc in the comics was a total drag, especially after the carnage of the prison, and the show unfortunately stuck to it awfully close. 


Michonne spent the episode following footsteps and slicing off zombie heads, but for a second we got a dream sequence that shed a tiny bit of light on her backstory. I don't think it was intended to be funny, but it made me laugh. Disclaimer: I hate dream sequences, I think they're a nightmare! But either way, The Walking Dead seems to be making a bigger deal about Michonne's backstory than it's worth. We saw pre-zombie Michonne with a baby in her arms, chatting with her brother (I think?) and her boyfriend/"lover" Mike about how she appreciated real art—which might explain why she liked that cat sculpture she dug out of the cafe from "Clear." Anyway, the dream revealed—or did it simply confirm?—that Mike and her brother eventually became her original pets. Is it wrong that I don't care about Michonne's backstory? Has the show provided any reasons to care about Michonne's backstory? Doesn't everyone on this show have a pretty crummy backstory? Why is Michonne's so special? 

I would not argue with you if you said, "OMG dis ep wuz so BORING!" because large stretches of "After" were, indeed, boring. I wanted to like the episode a lot more than I did, because I think it was making an effort to both deliver a message and reintroduce us to the danger of this world by showing us how it can break even the sturdiest survivors. Otherwise, it was just characters walking around and killing zombies. And even that's starting to get old. 



NOTES

– I did love the shot of Carl eating puddin' on the roof while the zombie hand was reaching out the window. There was something strangely beautiful about that moment.

– Jesus, Rick, let your kid curse a little! He already shot his dead mother in the head, I think he's grown up enough to say "asshole."

– Rick's Batman voice was kind of distracting.


– In maybe the greatest moment of The Walking Dead to date, Carl fought a door and lost. It immediately became my favorite Carl moment of all time. 

– Carl also barfed, and it was amazing. (.GIF coming, because I love puking .GIFs!)


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 3/30/2014

A

Season 4 : Episode 16

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