I don't ask for a lot from The Walking Dead: 1.) Make me feel something, 2.) Scare the piss out of me, and 3.) Give me an idea of where we're going. And obviously 4.) Make sure there are zombies, lots and lots of zombies, but that should go without saying. The first two episodes of this half-season had bits and pieces of those first three items, but only in small doses, and it certainly didn't employ them with a high-enough level of competence. So I was forced to heckle them from afar like a jerk.
Well, I'll shut my trap now, as I quite liked "Claimed." It was split into three stories that covered each of my desired elements, making it easily the best episode of the back half of Season 4, even though it was also the quietest. "Claimed" is the kind of blueprint The Walking Dead could use for a better future.
Because the group is still shattered into a handful of pieces after the hoedown at the prison, The Walking Dead still has to pick and choose which stories to focus on until enough wandering around brings everybody together again. That means individual episodes can't cover every character. "Claimed" turned to Maggie and said "Sorry, you're riding the pine!" (Ditto for Bob and Sasha.) And Tyreese, Carol, and Dumb and Dumber got to take a day off. And Beth and Daryl's game of silver lining versus just the raincloud was postponed for at least another week. That left us with Rick, Carl, and Michonne, plus Glenn, Tara, and their new military friends. Screen time is becoming more precious than ammo in this world, and until everyone reunites for a big group hug, the stories will shrink and we'll see smaller micro-arcs instead of the larger group dynamics of an ensemble drama. (I'm not totally sure it'll work, but if The Walking Dead handles things like it did in "Claimed," it should be alright.)
So what did "Claimed" do? It split up Carl, Michonne, and Rick—a group that just got together—into two different tales: "Carl and Michonne the supply runners," and "Rick Grimes in Home Alone." I feared we were headed for a palm-meets-face situation, but both stories were pretty good! We'll start with Carl and Michonne because they've become the Abbott & Costello of the group, one of the series' best pairings. I'm not sure why, but there's always little bit of magic when these two get together. Remember when they retrieved the Grimes' family photo in "Clear"? They embarked on a similar outing in "Claimed," with emotional walls slowly collapsing between two characters who have a tendency to hide behind them (while that can be said about pretty much every character on this show, Michonne clearly trumps Carl in the category).
Michonne and Carl's adventure began with breakfast cereal and an argument over the deliciousness of soy milk, which chiseled away at whatever barrier Carl had built to forget that Judith was DEAD (she's not dead). It continued with a demented game 20 Questions that focused on Michonne's past life (one kid, Andre Anthony). And the wrecking ball hit hard when Michonne found a family of corpses that appeared to have perished via murder-murder-murder-murder-suicide, with four children carefully positioned in their beds after being put out of their misery and a mother painting the wall behind her with her brains, though that's just my interpretation. Ugh, just thinking about that actually going down makes my heart weep, and I'll never get tired of the untold stories left behind by those who've died. But the real kicker was Carl telling Michonne that maybe Judith and Andre Anthony were playing together in the real afterlife (or maybe they're just zombies playing house somewhere). It was a common thread—the loss of a tiny loved one—that united two very, very different people, and dammit, it was sweet. There's that "make me feel something" component that I was asking for.
In the meantime, Rick was just looking to chillax with some Jack London when a bunch of human jackals broke into the house and pinned him inside. I don't know who these guys were or how they survived for so long seeing how stupid and pissy they were to each other, but they served their purpose as (mostly) faceless intruders putting pressure on Rick to think fast and not die. Their arrival didn't really serve any importance except to make us pee a little, and thanks to plenty of tension and some near misses, my jorts got a little moist. Anyway, it was enough "scare the piss out of me"—even if the threat was a simple human one—so check that box off.
But remember how I said the home invaders were stupid? Well, they were really stupid. Not only were they choking each other out over a BED (in what was surely a two- or three-bedroom home, with at least some comfy couches to supplement the "kids' beds"), but some of them were willing to move on while the rest of their party was either unconscious or in the bathroom. And what about that dude who was in the bathroom? Not only did he not say a word when Rick barged in (how about locking the door next time?), but he was sitting on the toilet with his pants up and his shoes off. What mysterious bodily function or private-time restroom activity was this man engaged in? Was he clipping his toenails? Was he having himself a healthy cry? Does he have some perverse fetish that involves smelling his own feet? The world needs to know about this weird man! Get me Scott Gimple, the writer of this episode, on the phone!
And in our third story, Tara and Glenn rode along with the season's new characters. Let's meet 'em officially, shall we? First there's Sergeant Abraham Ford, who should be your new favorite character already. And I do mean "new favorite character," not "favorite new character," because I LOVE THIS DUDE. He's a realist, probably to a fault, and better yet, he's played by Southland's Michael Cudlitz. As soon as he said his first line at the end of last week's episode, he became The Walking Dead's best actor. Man, this show needed him. With Ford was Rosita Espinoza, the woman wearing the sexy army girl Halloween costume who is probably zombie chow, and Dr. Eugene Porter, a scientist who knew what caused this whole mess in the first place.
That last detail... pretty darned big! I suppose I should say that The Walking Dead has now made it past where I've read in the source comics so I don't know how anything turns out, but the idea that might get some answers regarding how the zombie apocalypse happened presents a new goal for the series. I've always assumed The Walking Dead wouldn't ever search for a cause or a cure, and that it would be a never-ending zombie horror. But a character knowing the cause is the first step to knowing the cure, and this might be the biggest step The Walking Dead has ever taken toward setting an eventual end date. Unless Eugene is full of baloney—then it's back to everbody wandering around and watching Rick grumble. Anyway, the cause of the outbreak presents a big question that The Walking Dead can answer. It gave me an idea—or at least the illusion—of where we are going, and that's worth more than a hundred zombie headshots. An idea of where we're going! The trifecta is complete.
Of course, knowing this show's pace, getting there could be a long way off, if it happens at all. At least we have The Terminus to look forward to in the meantime! Tyreese, Carol, Lizzie, Myka, and Judith are on their way there. Rick, Michonne, and Carl are headed there, too. And Glenn, Tara, Abraham, Rosita, and Eugene were following some train tracks, so maybe they'll end up there as well.
One of the reasons I stopped reading the comics is that eventually, the story was more of the same, over and over again. That kind of repetition is a better model for a comic book than a television show, and I think that if The Walking Dead: TV Edition wants to survive, it might have to adopt a more traditional TV model. Of course, we're talking about the biggest show on television right now, so there's a better chance that a real zombie apocalypse will happen before AMC ever cancels it. But I'm hearing more and more people say that they're quitting The Walking Dead, and I'm hearing fewer and fewer people are talk about how excited they are to sit down and watch it. I regularly find myself going back and forth, but then a well-written episode like "Claimed" pulls me back in with the belief that The Walking Dead can still tell interesting stories. Let's hope it continues.
– Seriously, who wakes up in a zombie apocalypse and puts on short shorts, hoop earrings, and a midriff-baring shirt then puts her hair in pig tails? I could never trust a person who looked that during the rise of the undead. But a dirty wifebeater and a handlebar mustache? I'm following that guy.
– I'm still trying to wrap my head around Michonne's transformation. The Walking Dead is eager to spill the beans on her character's backstory after keeping a lid on it for so long, and that's resulted in a much more personable Michonne who pours Easy Cheese into her mouth. I'm not sure her current arc qualifies as character development; it's more like the show is taking her in a different direction. The Walking Dead's writers' room probably had "HUMANIZE MICHONNE" underlined in big red marker on the whiteboard. Or maybe she's just comfortable around Carl? Either way, it's worth noting that Gimple also wrote "Clear," which was Michonne's other big, big episode.
– I loved Carl's story about his friend being allergic to dairy and how he almost threw up drinking soy milk. It was a character moment that made him feel real. Now if only Chandler Riggs could sell it better...
– So, last week zombies were attracted to fire, and this week they were attracted to Mylar balloons? They're getting dumber as the show progresses.
– Eugene's explanation of how he killed the truck: "A fully amped-up state and an ignorance of rapid-fire weapons." Very nice, Eugene.
AIRED ON 3/30/2014
Season 4 : Episode 16