In last night’s episode of The Walking Dead, a happy little family took a delightful road trip. No, wait, this is the zombie apocalypse. Michonne, stone-faced as always, drives Rick’s dusty SUV while Rick rides shotgun and Carl perches in the backseat. The car passes by a man begging for their help, shrieking at them. His gait and enormous pack indicate he’s been on his own for a long time – but his desperation pains none of the passengers, at least not visibly. Carl glances backwards, but Rick and Michonne don’t even look, and they certainly don’t stop.
In this episode, Carl and Rick interact as equals, rather than as father and son. I noted last week that Carl is growing up so fast it’s eerie – and Rick had to see it sometime. Carl asks upfront why Michonne is with them, and Rick explains that a) he couldn’t leave her at the prison with Merle, and b) that he also invited her along for her skill and tenacity. “Right now, we have the same problems. Maybe we can work on them together,” he tells Carl, who’s not Michonne’s biggest fan.
Michonne briefly gets the car stuck in the mud; the three of them shoot their way through a small herd of walkers, then unstick the tire. The same man on the road sprints toward them, screaming for help. They get back in the car and leave him alone out there. The imagery of a man alone in the postapocalyptic, zombie-infested wasteland is difficult and well executed. These people, ostensibly the good guys, have completely changed their outlook. (How could you not?)
As the minutes pass, it becomes clear that their road trip destination is the police station in the little town where Rick, Carl, Lori, and Shane used to live. Unfortunately, someone else has gotten to the gun storeroom first. In a tense moment, Rick says there are a few more places to look: businesses downtown sometimes kept rifles under the counters. Michonne makes a vague sighing noise, at which point Rick asks pointedly, “You have a problem with that?” She eyes him knowingly, sadly. “No Rick, I don’t have a problem,” she tells him, and hands him the bullet she’d picked up from the floor. Danai Gurira can tell a story with a single expression – and it becomes clear that Rick’s descent into insanity is affecting Michonne. Empathy and a fragile humanity are beginning to peek through her hard exterior.
When the trio reach town, they discover what looks like a madman’s art installation. “NO GUILT YOU KNOW THAT” is spray-painted prominently on a brick wall. Curses, nonsense words, and “EVERYONE TURNS” adorn the surfaces of hollowed out cars and shop windows. Birds and rats in cages are scattered around the street, with clusters of ropes, spiky wooden stakes, shopping carts and skateboards tied together. The word “CLEAR” is scrawled everywhere. Just as the three of them take in the fact that these are walker traps, a man clad in helmet, body armor, knee pads, and flannel starts shooting at them from above. Michonne tries to get to him, but he pops out the bottom floor suddenly. Who comes to the rescue again? Why, it’s Carl, of course, shooting him in the chest.
Rick uncovers the assailant to discover Morgan, a throwback to the first season. Morgan is wearing body armor, and thus sustained only a very uncomfortable-looking bruise from Carl’s shot. However, he’s knocked out cold, and the two adults have to lug him up the stairs to his lair. Morgan, it seems, has rigged himself up a regular fortress. Beneath the innocuous-looking welcome mat lie metal spikes, prepared to slice open the next visitor. At the top of his stairs, an axe hangs, waiting to murder any intruder who trips a wire. Morgan has been busy acquiring weapons (from the storeroom Rick showed him a year ago, and from many other encampments, it seems) and writing all over the walls. “DUANE TURNED,” Rick reads…and the sudden, sad realization that Morgan’s young son turned into a walker causes him to play savior. Poor Morgan has lost everything, and Rick has lost too much. The two of them were bound when Morgan saved Rick’s life – and Rick wants to repay the debt.
Carl examines Morgan’s hand-drawn map of town and realizes their entire neighborhood is gone, burned out. He makes a decision to get some supplies for baby Judith – including a crib, and something else, something he’s hiding. Michonne points out coolly that he won’t be able to carry a crib all by himself. Rick looks to her with gratitude when she offers to go with Carl to help; she does it in a gentle, inoffensive way that allows Carl to lead, and doesn’t leave Rick room to say no. She knows, somehow, that he’s up to something else.
Carl, of course, tries unsuccessfully to sneak away at the first opportunity. Michonne catches up to him and follows him toward a cafe where he’s certain there’s a photo of his family. He sees no movement inside and almost opens the door before Michonne stops him. She devises a way to sneak past the many walkers: push in skateboards carrying rats in cages. While the walkers attack the bait, she and Carl grab a Grimes family photo. When Carl accidentally drops it, she goes back in to get it for him. “I just thought Judith should know what her mother looked like,” Carl says without a hint of sadness or sheepishness. Surprisingly, along with the precious photograph, Michonne also brings out a metal cat sculpture, its arched back painted in bright pastels. “I had to bring it,” she says to Carl with a hint of a smile. “It’s just too damn gorgeous.”
Meanwhile, Morgan wakes up to find Rick in his house. It’s not pretty. Rick struggles to show Morgan who he is, but Morgan doesn’t know anybody anymore. When Rick says, “I gave you this,” and holds up a Walkie-Talkie, Morgan finally begins to realize who he is. “I told you I’d turn on my radio every morning at dawn.”
He realizes, suddenly, that Rick is none other than his old companion…but the realization isn’t easy. There’s no hugging and making up. “You were not there!” he screams. Rick tries to explain why, and basically “why” is that he forgot about Morgan and Duane when he found his own family. Morgan tells Rick what’s happened in the interim: Morgan’s undead wife, the one Rick tried to get Morgan to shoot, murdered his son in front of his eyes. Duane had a gun, but he couldn’t pull the trigger, much as Morgan couldn’t pull the trigger when Rick asked him to. “I called to him,” Morgan says, “and he turned, and she was on him.” It’d be enough to drive anyone crazy.
Morgan’s guilt and pain have made him weak and viciously emotionally unstable. Rick offers to take him back, but Morgan refuses, saying, “I have to clear.” Good people like Rick always die, and so do the bad ones, he says. “The weak people, the people like me, we have inherited the earth.” This is bitterly close to, and yet very far from, Matthew 5:5: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Full of a madman’s wisdom, Morgan tells Rick, “You will be torn apart by teeth or bullets.” Yes, indeed. That’s as good a summary of this world as any. “When you’ve got something good, somebody else wants it,” Morgan says, and it’s always true. What a wonderful world.
Rick sees himself in Morgan and hopes to escape his own demons. If he can save his friend, can he save himself? They leave Morgan behind, though, and what does that mean for Rick? Michonne once again shows a feeling; she asks Rick, who’s peering attentively into the distance, if he sees somebody. When he eyes her suspiciously, she admits, “I used to talk to my dead boyfriend. It happens.” Rick, with a half smile, answers, “You wanna drive? Good, ’cause I see things.” Well, the first step to recovery is admitting you’ve got a problem, right?
On the way back, the lone man they silently, callously avoided on the way to town is splattered, in pieces across twenty feet of roadway. Not one of them flinches, but they pause and back up to pick up his pack. How things have changed.
This episode was one of the most interesting of the season so far. The story has been so busy bouncing between locations, spiraling Rick into crazytown, making Andrea waffle over Woodbury and that creep the Governor, placing a rift between Glenn and Maggie, and pausing to let Daryl and Merle hate-love each other, that the writers haven’t devoted much time to the less developed relationships. Michonne’s strong-silent demeanor was beginning to grate, just as Glenn’s and Rick’s hysteria, and Andrea’s denial, were beginning to wear me down. This is just the kind of episode we needed at this point in the season. One wonders, though, where it’ll go from here. Who’s on what side, and is Rick going to recover?
How did you feel about last night’s episode? Share in the comments!