[NOTE: This review is for The Walking Dead Season 4, Episode 9 and contains SPOILERS!]
Season one of The Walking Dead worked so well because it dealt with a group of survivors trying to make ends meet while having to face off with hoards of the undead. Problems arose in season two when the survivors found shelter on Hershel’s farm, and the same problem happened again in season three with the prison. Fortunately the events of the mid-season finale have again driven Rick and the gang out into the unknown, which brings us to the mid-season premiere episode “After”.
Character development has been strong in this show, and this episode fleshes out two of the ‘supporting’ characters. For Michonne the past catches up to her and tests her resolve to persevere in an otherwise hopeless situation. Part of her backstory is revealed in a jarring dream sequence where we discover that she was very well-cultured arguing about art exhibits with her lover Mike and his friend Terry who eventually become her first set of ‘pet’ walkers. It’s also shown that she had a son, which explains her emotional breakdown in the prison as she looked after Judith.
During a supply raid, Rick’s overbearing protection gets on Carl’s nerves and as they continue their journey Carl begins to lash out like a rebellious teenage believing that he is more than capable of taking care of himself. While Rick is out of commission, Carl gets to take center stage in a quasi coming-of-age story. He successfully raids another house for supplies, but narrowly escapes encounters with walkers. Proving not only to himself, but the audience that he isn’t ready to be out on his own… yet.
Greg Nicotero has come a long way from special effects makeup artist to actor playing a walker in several episodes. Now he is one of the executive producers on the show as well as a director. His ability to highlight content through form is subtle but effective, and this episode is no different. In Michonne’s case she creates a new pair of pet walkers, and when she spots footprints on the road rather than seek out the survivors she strays from the path. However, when she confronted a walker that looks like her, she slaughters the hoard of walkers in a perfect symbolic gesture of her ‘facing her demons’. But once she returns to the road and follows the footprints she finds the company she needs in Rick and Carl.
The house Rick and Carl use for shelter also houses a room with childish things, and Carl is captivated by it for only a moment before he turns an HDMI cord into a lock for the house. Another example is Carl’s encounter with a lone walker, he uses all the ammunition trying to escape, but a pile of books gets in the way. Which is symbolic of his knowledge, he knows what needs to be done but doesn’t necessarily understand how it should be done. Carl has grown up but still has much to learn luckily he will have both Rick and Michonne to show him the way.
Series creator Robert Kirkman wrote this episode and hopefully it will set the tone for the remaining seven episodes and explore how the rest of the characters are coping with their personal losses. “After” reminds us why we should care about these characters and that large set pieces and action aren’t needed to make a great episode.
What did you think of the episode? Apparently this episode stuck closer to the source material, so with that in mind, which stories and characters are you hoping to see in future episodes.
AMC’s The Walking Dead returns next week with “Inmates” at 8 PM CST