The Walking Dead S4x9 After

The Walking Dead After review
Photo Credit: The Walking Dead / Gene Page
"After". What an appropriately titled return of the fourth season of The Walking Dead. Weeks have gone by since the volatile bloodbath The Governor brought once again to the Team Prison's yard. We had lost the life of Hershel through a devastating decapitation, as the rest of the group was dodged out of their temporary hell-on-earth abode and swept into every direction.

Sunday night marked the return story of three essential characters so far: Michonne, Rick Grimes, and Carl Grimes. And what character-driven gripping episode it was!
Hobbling down an abandoned road, Carl stays far ahead of his bloodied crippled father Rick ignoring his orders and instructions looking for refuge. When they finally come to an empty house stocked with little to nothing, Rick passes out on the couch late at night while Carl wakes up and keeps moving on. Is the Officer Friendly dead or had he just passed out from the pain?

Younger Grimes cares little to nothing as anger, rage and disappointment boils over. At one point yelling at his unconscious father that he would be happy if he could die, he let everyone down and Carl can take care of himself. Without his dad being a leader, the teenager saves them from walkers coming to the front doorway and gathering other supplies in other houses - but almost at the cost of his own life again and again.

Truly some of the most breathless scenes in the episode was when Carl's life was threatened - almost being buried under a group of walkers and another one almost taking a bite out of his shoe. Carl isn't a popular character in the series but I was literally jumping up and down for him to make it out okay. Without Carl, Rick has nothing left to live for. Without Rick, neither does Carl - and it takes him dealing with his grief trying to prove himself as a protector on his own to realize that nobody in the apocalypse can truly be alone once this survival-mode life takes hold.

In true parallel form, Michonne remains at the prison and must put an end to Hershel's decapitated head still showing signs of life. Wrapping herself in two armless and jawless "pets" Michonne buries her grief and wanders through a forest in a sea of walkers. Having only opened a tiny bit to other people starting with Andrea and perhaps ending with the moral center of the prison family Hershel, all of her vulnerabilities come storming out.

We were finally "treated" to a dream sequence of Michonne's past. In her "past life" with her lover Mike, her baby child, and their family friend. Within a matter of minutes or seconds really, we see her nightmare progress as her loved ones become ill and then we finally see them removed of limbs as they first appeared beside her in season 3. She couldn't save them in life; in their death, they became her protectors.

Contrarily to Carl acting out to handling his grief, Michonne becomes another member of the walking dead. No, she doesn't die (thank heavens) but she is left to tread with a group of walkers aimlessly - without direction or essentially purpose. The both of them need a spark to ignite their reason for living.

For Carl it's terrifyingly coming oh-so-close to having to kill Rick. Waking up on the couch and clinging to breath similar to a walker, Carl's wish of his father reaching his mortal end almost rings true. Those one liners of Carl throwing Shane in Rick's face and blaming him for the death and missing status of everyone in the group almost becomes a moment of freedom for Carl...In true form of The Walking Dead, one of the biggest moments of emotional impact takes place when Rick is struggling off the couch reaching out. For a moment it truly seemed Rick was dead until he cries out his son's name - as he has done in every turn of mortal and immortal danger before. Carl can't do this alone.

Neither can Michonne. As I look back on this season re-premiere episode, she defaults. She's without a friend like Andrea. She's without a family like the prison group. At the prison, she is entirely in solitude besides her pets. Even in crossing the abandoned road where she saw footprints, she goes another direction not ready to open up to a life she once had with the few people she let in.

Buried deep within her are reminders of a past life, and there's nothing to hold for her but the future. Except walking beside her in her daze is a zombie that looks exactly like her. In a flash moment of realization and awareness, Michonne is powerfully reminded of the corpse she could've been and slays her. Wielding her samurai sword through twenty nearby walkers, she excavates all that she hide beneath her previous murderess emotionless exterior. She's not a shell of a human being anymore.

So fascinatingly used in this episode as well as previous is the surveillance of what's behind closed doors. When entering their first place of refuge for the season, Rick reminds Carl to stay close to him as they go checking in every empty room for any walkers or signs of life. They don't want to be caught off-guard with a surprise attack. So as it comes in the final moments of the episode, and Michonne follows those set of footprints she had surpassed earlier, she's lead to the place they're staying. For the remaining members of the Grimes family and Michonne, they look through the front door peephole. Staring at each other, hope waits on the other side.

This episode perfected something that I think other episodes touched on but didn't fall through in the exact same tone: the choice to live or die. In past episodes the characters dealt with the opportunity to treat walkers like true yet damaged people, "grave-robbing" homes and automobiles, killing the weak and sickened before they are ravaged by this zombie disease. The heart of this episode and dissection of both Michonne and Carl spans more than the friendly bond they've form in the past.  They make choices of what could've been and accepts life over death. Because in a zombie apocalypse what is there to live for except life itself. It reached a new level of survivors coming through a cycle of darkness to seeing the light. (Thank heavens, it was not the white light.)

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