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‘The Walking Dead’ Premiere Review: “After”

The Walking Dead After Midseason Premiere Review Carl
AMC

The Walking Dead’ season 4 brings to life its ninth episode, and the first of 2014 with the midseason premiere “After,” as Carl struggles to keep himself and his wounded father alive in the aftermath of the prison’s destruction, while Michonne returns to her loner ways and searches for signs of life out on the road.

Last year’s ‘The Walking Dead’ finale, “Too Far Gone,” saw the Governor making his final assault on Rick’s group at the prison, bringing the conflict to a bloody conclusion, so what does the latest episode of season 4 bring?

Read on for your in-depth recap of everything you need to know about ‘The Walking Dead’ season 4, episode 9, midseason premiere “After!”

In the still smoking aftermath of the prison, Michonne makes her way through the walkers (and the Governor’s corpse), fashioning herself two new armless zombie companions before finally plunging her sword through Hershel’s severed, but zombified head. Meanwhile out on the road, Carl angrily brushes off his battered father, asserting his own proficiency when the pair clear out a highway diner to scavenge for food.

Rick and Carl find an abandoned house to set up camp in, though Carl continually defies his father as they search the interior. Carl finds a teenage bedroom upstairs, enjoying the sight of video games, before pulling the cables to help barricade the door. Carl invokes Shane’s name as Rick angrily demands his son eat something, before Rick looks over his wounds alone. Elsewhere, Michonne dreams of her life before the apocalypse, debating art exhibits with her lover Mike and his friend Terry, and caring for her young son with Mike. The vision quickly turns sour as Mike and Terry angrily debate whether to leave their current camp, before Michonne realizes her son has disappeared and begins screaming, waking herself up in the process.

Carl awakens the next morning to find Rick still sleeping, though after eating and reading in the upstairs bedroom, Carl realizes that his father doesn’t seem to be waking up, and violently attempts to shake him awake. The commotion brings walkers from the outside, whom Carl takes on himself to lead away from the house, until the appearance of a third walker behind him throws off the plan. Carl struggles to fend off the three ghouls, finally hitting each in the head as they pile atop him, the smell of which causes him to puke. Meanwhile, Michonne’s aimless shamble seems to have attracted more walkers, one of which looks curiously like her.

Carl yells at his unconscious father that he killed three walkers and no longer needs his protection, given how Rick failed to protect everyone else as their leader. Shortly thereafter, Carl manages to break into a neighboring house in search of food, finding an oversized can of pudding, before a walker upstairs nearly gets the jump on him. Carl expends all his bullets trying to kill it, eventually leaving behind a shoe and locking the creature within another room, writing outside the door “Walker Inside, Got My Shoe, Didn’t Get Me.” The creature still trapped in the bedroom, Carl makes his way to the house’s roof, enjoying the can of pudding as he surveys the peaceful, abandoned neighborhood.

Michonne grows tired of traveling with the herd of walkers, eventually turning her sword on every one (including her armless companions), before heading back to a group of footprints on the road she’d seen earlier. That night, Carl awakens to find his father stirring, the darkness and incoherence giving Rick the appearance of a walker. Carl finds himself terrified and unable to shoot Rick as the man crawls toward him, but Rick soon manages to force out a few words, before passing out again.

Michonne follows Rick and Carl’s trail back to the diner from earlier, taking the moment of solitude to speak to her dead boyfriend about the reasons she found to go on living, even without their son. Meanwhile, with Rick on the mend, Carl brings him up to speed about his trips through the neighborhood, before Rick apologizes for losing their safe haven and acknowledges Carl as a man.

A while later, Michonne finds Carl’s pudding on the street and peers through the house’s window, shedding a joyful tear at the sight of her still-living friends. A knock at the door puts Rick and Carl on alert, before Rick looks through the peephole and breaks down laughing, telling a puzzled Carl, “it’s for you.”

OUR REVIEW:

In the wake of such a dramatic shakeup for the series, it’d be hard not to take stock of ‘The Walking Dead’’s state as a whole in consideration of what “After” asks us to accept. Monster success though it is, ‘The Walking Dead’ rarely manages to hit the critical high notes, often following up its best episodes with lower qualities that keep AMC’s current cash cow in a state of flux. The second season, for instance, languished far more than the first, but still managed to generate an incredible amount of excitement in its final episodes, particularly in the reveal of Michonne and the prison.

The third season began with enormous potential, rocketing along for the first eight episodes, and leaving the back eight to meander a bit, ultimately petering out on the Governor’s final confrontation with the prison. The fourth season began without the same focused excitement of the third, but still managed to hit a few bright spots even as the flu stories never really went anywhere, mainly killing time before we caught up with the Governor, ultimately ending right back up where we should have been at the close of the third season. Of course, one could argue that we needn’t have left the prison for another season, even though given the way AMC burned through the Governor’s story, the writing more or less ended up in a corner only a dramatic shakeup could undo.

And lo, here we are, the back half of season 4, groups scattered about in the wake of the prison’s destruction, and with no clear sense of what might come next. In the interest of keeping ‘The Walking Dead’ in rich dramatic territory, taking away the prison returns the story to a state of desperate uncertainty that “After’ does well to focus on the smaller sides of. Keeping the characters to a minimum accomplishes a similar feat, giving much more insight into individual characters and relationships themselves, without becoming lost in a mad scramble between factions and characters that audiences have a hard enough time keeping track of.

Carl, for one, has never been among viewers’ favored characters, though season 3 largely managed to do away with the boy’s sole plot function as someone wandering into danger against orders. And while “After” places strong demands on Chandler Rigg’s occasionally limited range, we get a much better opportunity to see how his relationship with Rick defines his teenage angst. Given all the horrors he’d been though, and the manner in which the apocalypse has forced him to grow, it’s only natural that he’d resent his father for the prison’s destruction, and look to prove himself better on his own. And while the boy might manage to stumble his way through a few walker confrontations, he can’t yet let go of the things that make him human; in this case, the notion of having to put down a parent for a second time (third, if you count Shane), or the simple pleasures of enjoying a can of pudding.

Whether or not Carl needed any further definition, there’s been no doubt that Michonne’s scowly presence proved an ill substitute for character, one needing more than a few sword swings to resonate with viewers. And while the metaphors of Michonne aimlessly wandering among the walkers prove a bit heavy-handed (the same goes for Carl finding a dead bird outside of its cage), the insight into Michonne’s past finally puts a bit of context to her difficulties with baby Judith and her overall stony demeanor. It’s no wonder that the ending reunion proves the strongest moment overall of “After,” reminding us why we cared if these characters got together in the first place. Sure, Michonne looks great swinging a katana, but seeing a few layers peeled back to remind us how far we’ve come proves much more satisfying, making Rick’s bemused glee feel all the more genuine.

Also worth pointing out is that series creator Robert Kirkman himself wrote the episode, which arrives almost ripped from the pages of similar circumstances of the comics. It remains to be seen if the individual character work can prove as effective or fresh with the other factions of the group, but at least for now, “After” is exactly the step ‘The Walking Dead’ needed to take toward reminding us why we fight, and for the viewers, why we still care who lives and dies.

Well, what say you? Did you get your fill of thrilling zombie killing?  What did you think about the smaller focus of tonight’s latest episode, “After”? Check out all our other ‘Walking Dead’ season 4 premiere coverage, and join us next week for another all-new episode recap of episode 10, “Inmates,” on AMC!

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