In December’s midseason finale, the undead brains hit the proverbial fan as The Governor launched a full scale frontal assault on the prison. After a heaping helping of death and destruction, Rick’s prison group was sent limping away and scattered in multiple directions.

Last night’s episode (which I did not get to see early since I don’t have an Xbox Live account) picks up right where things left off. Is it good?


Head Shot to the Heart


The episode goes back and forth between fantastic scenes of introspection with Michonne and Carl being a walking ad for birth control. We’ll start with badass chick’s story first.

As the prison burns (with a cool nod to the tank from season one), Michonne does the opposite of what anyone else would do and walks towards rubble and flames. She quickly finds two charming young zombie men, chops off their jaws and mouths, and ties them up. With her new walker shields in tow, she begins walking away only to come across Hershel’s decapitated and zombified head.

It’s a terribly painful moment to watch when Michonne kneels down to put the former heart and soul of the group out of his misery. It represents not only the end of a great character, but the end of Michonne’s own fleeting brush with happiness.


Magic Knife Block


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We later see Michonne smiling and looking gorgeous in a dress (!) while preparing dinner in a swank apartment. Doting over a child in her arms and bantering with her boyfriend and one of his buddies, it appears that we’re being treated to a Lost-esque flashback of her life before the zombie apocalypse.

But when the knife Michonne is using turns into a katana blade, things start to get a little weird. While Michonne continues to smile and talk about mundane things, the two men’s appearances shift from well-dressed to tattered and worn. Their argument also turns from art to one about basic survival.

While Michonne desperately tries to keep the conversation (and her world) breezy and joyful, the two men suddenly appear before her dead and with their arms chopped off. As it that weren’t bad enough, the child has disappeared from her arms, too.

By the time Michonne begins screaming in terror, it has hopefully become apparent to anyone with a functioning brain that this entire sequence was just a dream (and one that is eerily similar to the type I have after eating Thai food late at night). It also indicates that her boyfriend and his friend were the original ‘zombie pets’ we first saw Michonne pulling behind her in Season 3.


Girl Fight


After waking up inside of a car, Michonne decides to go for a stroll. A group of walkers begins to follow along behind her, but thankfully are not attacking (presumably because of the two “pets” she has trailing behind her). Later, she notices that one of the walkers looks a little bit like her. This causes Michonne to snap and cut the zombie’s head off.

Maybe it was because seeing a walker that looked like her made Michonne experience a sudden urge to face down her own mortality… or maybe she was simply jealous that her zombie doppelganger had better hair than her. But whatever it was, the sudden movement causes the other zombies to lumber in her direction. This gives us the opportunity to watch some fantastic Michonne sword work while also giving the character some badly needed catharsis.

Yelling defiantly as she kills each one, Michonne is doing more than just giving us an awesome action sequence; she’s also affirming that she’s nowhere near giving up despite how hopeless everything in her world seems.


Solo Couples Therapy


As Michonne tracks a set of footprints (which fortuitously belong to Rick and Carl), she stops for a moment to reflect on how much she misses Mike (her boyfriend). She also makes some cryptic references about how he was “wrong” and how their son could still be there as well if he’d listened to her.

She ends by saying “I know the answer. I know why.” I assumed she was referencing her dream when Mike was asked what the point of living in this world was, but she could have also been referring to him constantly leaving the toilet seat up.

In either case, a lone zombie makes the grievous mistake of walking up to Michonne right after she’s had an emotional epiphany, resulting in its head getting chopped off as she continues down the road.


Carlsbad


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As a badly injured Rick and a badly adjusted Carl head down the road, it’s clear that the two aren’t going to be getting along during this trip.

Sure enough, a walker confrontation inside a supply store ends with Carl using his gun after his father specifically told him not to for the sake of saving ammunition.

Later, the pair finds an incredibly nice house in which to crash. While Rick wants to carefully check for any walkers inside, Carl does the opposite and begins screaming and swearing at the top of his lungs to see if that draws any of them out.

After finishing his little tantrum, Carl goes upstairs and finds a teenager’s bedroom with a video game system still hooked up and ready to play. Instead of finally having some fun, however, he decides to brood and be moody some more.

But as bad as his behavior has already been so far, Carl’s brattiness really kicks into gear while he and his father attempt to barricade the door shut. When Carl uses an impressive knot with the TV power chord to lock the door handle in place, Rick asks where he learned how to do it. Carl replies that Shane taught him how to do it.

“Remember him?” Carl asks with a look on his face that is begging for someone to smack it off of him and into next week.


We All Thought the Same Thing about Your Mom


When Rick finally gets a moment to rest and recover from his injuries, a couple of zombies shuffle past the house’s front door. Carl decides that this is a completely justified reason to shake his father violently while yelling at him to wake up.

Rick doesn’t (or is just pretending to stay asleep, which is totally what I would do), so Carl goes outside and barely takes down the three zombies on his own. His laughable effort includes:

  • Putting on his hat for no good reason.
  • Walking backwards (a major zombie apocalypse no-no).
  • Throwing up at the sight of maggots (because it’s not like he hasn’t been surrounded by death and decay for the past few years).
  • Proclaiming “I win!” like a total douchebag after killing the walkers.
  • Carl then comes back inside and proceeds to scream at his comatose father about what a failure he is. In addition to blaming Rick for everything bad that has happened, he caps off his “brave” speech to the unconscious man (who has done everything he can to protect him) by saying “I’d be fine if you died.”


    Morning Death


    Feeling his oats after being a complete asshole to his injured father, Carl strikes out on his own. After exploring the neighborhood a bit, he breaks into another house and finds a giant canister of chocolate pudding, which he proceeds to eat in one sitting after barely fighting off another zombie.

    He later comes back to the house and plops down by Rick’s side. After a few moments of stewing, however, Rick seemingly “wakes up” in a state that looks like he’s either a walker or had just downed an entire liter of absinthe.

    Carl points his gun at Rick and gets ready to shoot him, but instead begins to sob and proclaim that he can’t do it. Before we have to listen to Carl whine anymore, Rick finally wakes up (still as a living person), tells him to be safe, and promptly passes out again.


    Babysitter’s Here


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    The next time Carl wakes up, he’s much more respectful to his father. When Rick tells him that he’s sorry for everything that’s happened, Carl says he doesn’t have to be.

    As the two reconcile, Michonne knocks at their front door, causing Rick to smile over the fact that they have finally made contact with someone they know (and having someone else who can watch his petulant brat of a son once in a while).


    The Verdict

    Despite my constant derision of Carl in this episode, that should not be taken as any sort of slight against the actor who plays him, Chandler Riggs. Not only was Riggs great, but Carl’s behavior was about as believable as anyone could ask for.

    Boys at that age almost always act like whiny douche nozzles (including my 11-14 year-old self). Throw in a zombie apocalypse and everything Carl’s had to see and do, and it’s not surprising that his acts and words of rebellion are a bit more pronounced than what you would see coming from the average kid.

    Unfortunately, actually watching that behavioral process unfold over an entire episode was a bit exhausting. Don’t get me wrong; it was very well done…just not all that enjoyable.

    The Michonne stuff, on the other hand, was perfect. We got just the right mix of badassery along with some much needed/desired backstory for the character (along with a dash of growth). Hopefully this means we’ll see even more development/backstory for Michonne during the remainder of the season…along with a more mature/tolerable version of Carl.

    The Walking Dead: Season 4, Episode 9 “After” Review
    Much needed/desired back story for Michonne gets explored.Some of the best Michonne badassery we've seen to date.Carl finally realizes he's a brat.
    Carl acts like an insufferable brat for a majority of the episode. It's well done and believable, but still exhausting and incredibly irritating to watch.
    6.5Overall Score
    Reader Rating 10 Votes
    7.3
    • Nadine Gomez

      Having been a hormonal boy, you should understand Carl begging his father to see him as something other than a baby like Judith needing constant protection. He’s tried so many ways: following orders, keeping watch, killing zombies, helping his dad, taking care of Judith, working with others, and farming when his dad demanded. Meanwhile, Carol was teaching all the little girls how to wield a knife and kill zombies. But no, Rick thinks all that is too much for widdle Carl. He needs to farm while the zombies attack the prison fences. Did Rick show Carl any respect for all he has lived thru and accomplished? Did he give him a voice? None at all. Frustrated, Carl fights back telling Rick he couldn’t protect Judith, kind of hinting that it wasn’t Rick who protected Carl either in this last situation. But Rick continues to give Carl orders and no respect. Being a woman and an ex-teacher, I understand what a lack of respect does to a person–it makes you question yourself. So while Rick is passed out, unable to protect or boss Carl, Carl takes up some challenges, hoping to prove to Rick and himself that he is a man. He does take some stupid risks, but he’s a kid, he survives them, realizes they were foolish, and gives himself a pat on the back for beating them. That’s how we learn–trial and error–and figuring it out on our own. We rarely take our parents word. I think you left out the most important part of this episode for Carl–his father finally acknowledging him: ” You are a man, Carl.” Finally, Rick has learned an important lesson as a father. You have to let your kids grow up, and during a zombie apocalypse, it’s usually sooner rather than later. I think you aren’t seeing the real Carl either. It seems, you still want to keep him in the boy category, too.

      • RamblingBeachCat

        Nadine, I totally agree with all your points…but have to watch that whole process unfold on the backdrop of Carl’s brattiness was just not very enjoyable to watch.

        • Nadine Gomez

          I guess I’ve dealt with a lot of bratty stubborn overprotective parents in my day. It was Rick that I was frustrated watching. When Carl would try to make a point, Rick always brushed him aside. I’m glad to see they both finally grew up and came to terms. I look forward to your next review. Keep them coming.