Why Sunday's Walking Dead may have been the best episode of the season so far
Here’s the thing: Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead – aptly titled “Clear” for reasons we’ll get to in a moment – wasn’t just a landmark event because we finally found out what happened to a character we haven’t seen from the series’ first episode.
Last night’s episode was one of the season’s best for a couple of reasons. First, star Andrew Lincoln finally got to share a scene with an actor who could match him toe-to-toe; fellow Brit and experienced acting hand Lennie James, returning as Morgan, the guy who first told Lincoln’s Rick Grimes that the dead were walking the earth three seasons ago (why are all this show's most amazing actors from across the pond?).
Secondly, “Clear” managed to clear the air for three of the series’ most important characters. Grimes realized he couldn’t let the tragedies of his life isolate him, or he’d wind up losing the one thing he cares about most in life – his children. Rick’s son Carl (Chandler Riggs) found a bit of humanity inside himself, despite his growing status as a disconnected child soldier.
And sword-wielding zombie killer Michonne (Danai Gurira) got to reveal a less guarded, more human side of herself, opening the possibility that Grimes and his band of post-apocalyptic survivors might trust her beyond the next catastrophe.
The setup was simple; Grimes, his son Carl and Michonne head to the town where Rick once served as sheriff, hoping to raid the department’s weapons cache. Once there, Carl takes down a guy shooting at them to reveal that he was Morgan, the man who once took Rick in and explained the zombified world to him (Rick was in a coma when walkers began roaming the world.)
The fate of Morgan Jones was always a loose end fans hoped might get tied up; Rick left Morgan in their town to find his wife and child, who had left believing he was dead. The two men had agreed to try and communicate by radio every morning, but Rick soon gave up.
The payoff was an emotional scene between Morgan and Rick, as the man who stayed in their hometown recalled how his son was killed by the zombie his wife has become. Rick had given him a rifle to kill his undead wife long ago, but the man couldn’t do it. Once the wife returned and killed his son, Morgan snapped – sentencing himself to “clear” the town of walkers by setting elaborate booby traps.
Rick begged Morgan to come back with them. But the onetime sheriff seemed to be speaking to himself; after hallucinating conversations with his dead wife, Grimes faced his own struggles to stay tethered to reality. If Morgan can’t come back to reality, can he?
Carl eventually risked his life and Michonne’s to grab the only photo he knew remained of his mother, to show his baby sister. Even though Carl is increasingly becoming the kind of emotionally detached person best suited to survive in this new world – growing increasingly impatient with adults who don’t get how the civilization game has changed – we see here that he also has tender feelings for some people. Which instantly makes him a more interesting character.
And Michonne, by helping Carl, reveals her humanity to two people who can bring her inside the group of survivors Rick leads. Fans who have read the Walking Dead graphic novels know that Michonne is too rich a character to keep her the closed-down cipher she has mostly been on the TV show.
Perhaps now, we’ll get to see more of the Michonne from the books; she even gave Rick a line imported straight from the books, noting that she once talked to her dead boyfriend and that kind of breakdown might not be so unusual.
(That line also indicated that Michonne might not be the lesbian the show has constantly implied she might be. In the books, she is very heterosexual, in ways that eventually add tension to the survivors group. Perhaps that can happen here).
These scenes put the characters on paths we know they must travel. Michonne has to find a way into Rick’s group, Rick needs to get over his lapse into unreality and Carl needs to stay human.
All this in an episode where most of the characters don’t even appear. Imagine what will happen next week, when Rick finally gets his showdown with the villainous Governor?