The Walking Dead Recap: “After” (Season 4, Episode 9)

When last we left off, Rick’s crew of misfits was scattered in the aftermath of the prison altercation. Last night’s mid-season opener scoops up the shrapnel and slides it around a little. We’re still missing a whole cadre of folks in all states of being (undead, dead, alive but not present), most notably Judith (who I think survived and is with Tyreese). But at least this episode followed up on some of the more frustrating aspects of the season.

Michonne, who killed the Governor and then slunk into the woods with her reclaimed sword, falls immediately back into her old routine: she takes out as many walkers as she sees fit, then lures two of them to the makeshift wood fence. After they impale themselves she renders them jawless and armless. By drawing the walkers near to protect herself, she’s withdrawn back into her previous shell; she’s disappeared once more into herself.

Taming the walkers. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Back to basics. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Meanwhile, Carl and Rick make their agonizingly slow way toward suburbia. Rick’s injuries are great, his face green with infection and pain. Carl won’t speak to him, and it’s pretty clear to everyone (including Rick, I imagine) that he blames his father for all the deaths at the prison. Over the course of the last season, Rick has found himself with a sullen, defiant teenager instead of a little boy. Chandler Riggs’s voice has dropped, his jawline has become more prominent, and he’s taking on all the characteristics of awkward pubescence. Like a lot of dads, Rick doesn’t want to let go of his kid yet. It’s understandable, but unbelievably frustrating when you actually think about their circumstances.

The father and son stumble on a diner conveniently called Joe and Joe Jr’s Barbeque Shack, and investigate to see if there’s any food. They discover only hot sauce – and the walking, decayed corpse of Joe Jr., who begs any passersby, via handwritten note, to “Please do what I couldn’t.” As requested, the Grimes gents put him down. Rick tries to quietly exterminate a cowardly (established by his inability to kill himself) son (evidenced in his moniker) and fails because he’s horribly injured – at which time his own “brave” son comes to the rescue with a pistol. I see what you did there, writers.

Obligatory. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Obligatory. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

When they later discover a house, Rick warns Carl to be quiet as they scope it out. Carl disobeys (as teenage boys are wont to do) and yells obscenities to the walkers. Rick actually tells him to watch his mouth. I understand that your fatherly instincts are ingrained by now, but are you serious? Your son is basically a trained killer trying to survive the zombie apocalypse and you’re hissing that he needs to watch his mouth? This response prompts an angry Carl to mention Shane, who he indicates defiantly was a better father figure than Rick ever would be. To his credit Rick does not expound on Shane’s crimes. In an upstairs bedroom, Carl discovers a teenager’s room decorated with band posters, a guitar, a skateboarding helmet, a flat screen TV, and an Xbox. Carl gently strokes the discarded pile of Xbox games, a slight smile playing on his lips – before he yanks the cord out of the TV to use for home protection. It’s scenes like these that make The Walking Dead worth watching. This is not the world in which we used to live, it says – and it never will be again.

As Rick and Carl settle down for the night in the white house with the white picket fence, we finally look into Michonne’s head. In a spooky sequence, we get a glimpse of her before the zombpocalypse, clad in a lovely silk keyhole dress, looking completely at ease in the kitchen of a well-furnished Atlanta apartment. She addresses two men in designer suits who sit at the table, ruminating about an art exhibit: “I found it a bit pedestrian.” Shortly her baby boy comes bouncing out of the bedroom, and in a series of eerie cuts the men at the table become harrowed and bloody before finally losing their arms and their vision. She did know the two walkers she arrived with; they were her friend and her lover. One was her baby’s father. I think we knew this all along, but it’s satisfying to see it once and for all, to get a clear picture of Michonne. After she awakens from her fever dream, Michonne joins a herd and walks alongside them; safety in numbers. She side-eyes a walker with dreads, one who could’ve been her…before.

When Rick doesn’t wake up the next morning, Carl leaves him to prowl for food. His confidence leads to carelessness, and not only does he almost get himself killed, he pukes up all the cereal he just ate. He’s trying to be brave, to be good, he just isn’t sure how yet. In his explorations he discovers a beautiful hanging bird cage, next to it a decaying canary who’d managed to escape only to die in a heap on the floor. Once again, the writers play up the metaphor: Carl has now escaped the “cage” of his father’s watchful eye and struggle for/against power; but will he get far?

TWD does this kind of imagery right: a dirty child wearing a gun holster and only one shoe perches on the edge of a high roof, eating chocolate frosting directly from the can as a disembodied hand reaches for him. It's poignant and spooky all at once.

TWD does this kind of imagery right: a dirty child wearing a gun holster and only one shoe perches on the edge of a high roof, eating chocolate frosting directly from the can as a disembodied hand reaches for him. It’s poignant and spooky all at once. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

In answer to this existential question, it’s simple: he finds a Costco-sized can of chocolate pudding and eats it with a spoon, surveying his lonely kingdom from atop the roof of a nearby house.

Michonne begins to take a close look at “herself,” to understand that she can’t return to the person she was before, the feral, practically inhuman creature she was when she discovered there were still good people. In her undead doppelganger, she sees something frightening – and she can’t take it. She terminates the whole herd of walkers, then follows Carl’s and Rick’s tracks until she discovers the empty can of pudding. As usual Danai Gurira is the best thing on the show: when Michonne has a conversation with her hallucination, Gurira stifles the emotion in her voice, holds back her tears – but just barely.

Overwhelmed. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Overwhelmed. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Carl is never sure (nor are we) if Rick is dead or just unconscious, and when his dad starts to wake up, Carl panics. “I was wrong! I can’t live without you,” he says to the thing he assumes is a walker. Fortunately, Rick then says his son’s name. Once he’s regained his voice and some of his faculties, Rick admits that he knows nothing will ever be the same and tells Carl he’s a man now. These idiots have needed to have this conversation for the entire season, so I’m glad it’s out there now.

The episode ends on a high note; Michonne, crying with joy, knocks on the door of the house where Rick and Carl crouch. Rick eyes her through the peephole and laughing, tells Carl, “It’s for you.” The visitor is for the man of the house.

A return to form. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

A return to form, but not for long. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

I assume the next few episodes will clue us in to where the rest of the surviving crew is. I accidentally missed the 9:00 airing last night on AMC, but I didn’t care all that much. I’ve been disappointed with this season from the get-go, and though the mid-season finale was a kick to the gut, the season as a whole has been lacking. I have been aching to get the Rick-Carl power struggle out of the way for an age; likewise, I’ve been waiting to see what’s behind Michonne’s mask. This episode fulfilled both those needs, and as such, I’ll give it a thumbs up.

How about you? Any guesses on whether Judith is alive and how everyone else is faring? What’re your thoughts on this episode? 

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