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Spoilers if you haven't seen The Walking Dead, Season 4, Episode 9 - "After"
Rather than catching us up with what became of everyone after the mid-season finale prison exodus, tonight's episode of The Walking Dead focused entirely on three characters, with Rick and Carl set on one side of the split and Michonne set on the other side, leaving us to wait until next week to see what happened to Glenn, Maggie and everyone else who boarded the bus or left by some other method.
It became clear early on that this was going to be a very Carl-heavy episode. But if the point of the events that played out during "After" was to show us that Carl's growing up, I'd say it got there. Ok, he wasn't demonstrating his maturity when he was wasting bullets or putting himself in danger with the walkers that came upon the house he and Rick were crashing at. And he wasn't demonstrating maturity when he was telling off his father while Rick was unconscious, or bringing up Shane just to rub it in Rick's face. It wasn't until he admitted that he was scared that I think we saw Carl turn a slight corner. He was acting cocky and a little bit reckless before, with his "I win" and pudding binge. But he had a much needed reality check when he thought he had to shoot his father and realized he couldn't do it. He still needs him. And if it came down to shooting his zombie father or giving up, he'd choose the latter.
Speaking of which, hey Rick, maybe if you wake up not feeling so well you should try to not act like a zombie. Seriously, if Carl were a bit more of a survivor, Rick would've been a goner. We haven't seen a close call like that since Andrea almost killed Daryl.
Rick was in bad shape during tonight's episode, spending a good part of it passed out on a couch and the rest of it looking grimier than ever, with a serious case of Batman voice. But he was up by the end of the episode and even smiled when he saw Michonne at the door.
As for Carl's situation, I'm really hoping that tonight's episode was about him unleashing some of the anger he has bottled up, taking some risks, learning from them and realizing that his father's only human. If this wasn't a turning point for Carl then we spent a whole episode watching Carl put himself in danger for nothing, so let's hope the tension between the kid and his dad has eased going forward. It can't be easy growing up in the zombie apocalypse, but kids don't really have the luxury of being reckless in this reality.
That brings us to the other half of the episode, which centered on Michonne, and filled in some of the blanks from her past. Going by the way she reacted when she held Judy earlier this season, it seemed like there was a good chance she had and lost a child at some point before we met her, and a dream she had tonight suggests that's the case. We saw her little "Peanut" during a dream she was having while out on her own, guarded by two newly acquired, de-armed and de-jawed "pets." In the dream, Michonne was in a luxurious looking house or apartment, talking about art (or something that she didn't think qualified as art) with her "lover" Mike and his friend. And then Mike and friend's appearances suddenly shifted from suited up and dapper to worn-out clothes and expressions. Their conversation shifted just as suddenly to talk about whether or not to leave a camp. They talked about Michonne's skill with a sword, which the friend thought was useful, but it sounded like Mike had lost all hope and was asking "Why?" to the whole situation.
The next scene-shift showed Mike and friend without their arms -- presumably becoming Michonne's pets -- and her child gone. Michonne woke up from the dream distressed and emotional. Later on, after seeing (or hallucinating?) a walker that looks like her she went on a walker-killing rampage and slashed up all of the walkers that had herded around her. She really is good with a sword.
The conversation she had with herself (or Mike) later on indicated that she and her lover had drifted apart when the zombie apocalypse happened. I would think that such a horrible event would be a character-defining one for those who managed to survive the first wave. Some people would rise up and find their strength and their skills, while others might become reliant on those people. Perhaps Michonne and Mike found themselves on opposite sides of that divide. Michonne rose up as a fighter with a sword, while Mike was just trying to hang on. Michonne said she missed him when she was with him, which makes me think that was the case. So it seems Michonne may be the sole survivor of the people she loved, but I'm thinking there's still hope in her. If there wasn't, I don't think she would have knocked on the door when she saw Rick and Carl inside that house.
It was encouraging that she knocked, just as it was that she killed all those walkers and freed herself from her new crowd of dead people. Pets are helpful, but living people are better protection.
And it was also encouraging that Carl didn't fire off more bullets in response. I mean, bad things happen on this show all the time and that kid was all about shooting that gun tonight.
Michonne stabbed Hershel's head, killing zombie-Hershel and closing that book.
Carl ate a ton of pudding.
There was a moment when I saw that dead, gutted horse and thought, "Poor horsey!" and then had to remind myself that all the zombies hobbling around with their peeling skin and maggot-filled heads were actually people once. So, poor them too.
Why do Michonne's "pets" stop trying to eat her? I get why they can't. No hands, no jaw. But if they continue to lunge while they're impaled, why do they give up just because they have no hands or jaw? I'm probably overthinking this.
In terms of zombie kills for the episode, Carl may have taken out a few, but Michonne definitely wins.
I loved Carl's reaction to the TV and video games in that house. There's just something a bit more familiar about a house that has DVDs and video games laying around. It makes me wonder what games were on that stand, and prompts a reminder that time has really stood still in this universe. Those are the video games that were made before the zombies happened. That might be one of the most up to date TVs those people will see in their lifetime because I doubt Best Buy's stocking much these days. The whole world is on pause while what's left of humanity tries to survive.
Get a look at what's going on with Glenn in a photo from an upcoming episode here.