The Walking Dead Episode (4×09) Review – “After”

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The Walking Dead Returns with an Existential Look at Life After the Prison Massacre

This week AMC’s The Walking Dead returns after an awfully long and painful hiatus. When we last saw the survivors, The Governor and his men had stormed the prison in what amounted to a bloodbath. Hershel lost his head, the Governor finally got put down, and it appears that baby Judith became a tasty zombie treat. With everyone scattered in the wake of the massacre, we pick up right where we left off and discover how Rick, Carl and Michonne managed to carry on after everything they cared for seemed lost forever.

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Now I long for yesterday… Thinking back on “After,” I can’t help but think of the Beatles’ classic, “Yesterday.” In the song the guys sing, “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay.” Michonne has been an enigma ever since she slashed her way onto the scene in the season 2 finale, “Beside the Dying Fire.” In that pivotal scene, Michonne saved Andrea’s life following the farm fire. A strange mute woman with two Walker pets, and a mean katana, Michonne never really let others into her life. Eventually, she let in Andrea, only to be picked to the curb for the feeling of safety and “a warm bed.” Once she arrived at the prison, Michonne befriended Carl, then Rick and Daryl. She was on her way to letting the others in when she and Hershel were kidnapped by the Governor and all hell broke loose. I loved the continuity of having Michonne regress into making more Walker Pets as she left the prison. The moment Michonne decided to ignore Rick and Carl’s tracks and head out on her own, it was obvious she was in bad straits. Thanks to a bizarro dream sequence, we got a glimpse into what life was like for Michonne before and after the Zombie Apocalypse. Watching her impale Hershel’s severed zombie head with her katana was bad enough, but seeing her hold her beautiful baby and how great her life used to be was just heart-wrenching. No wonder Michonne was afraid to hold Judith. Now that we know for sure who her original pets were in life, it adds more weight to Michonne telling Rick last season how she used to talk to her dead boyfriend. Lori was just a figment of Rick’s imagination, but Michonne used to have a constant reminder of her old life trailing behind her.

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Suddenly I’m not half the man I used to be

There’s a shadow hanging over me

Oh, yesterday came suddenly

“Every bullet counts.” While Michonne was off wandering in a field of zombies with her brand new Walker Pets, Rick and Carl were in a desperate search for new lodgings. Apparently, Rick was ailing due to a punctured lung courtesy of the Governor, and needed shelter while he recuperates. Unfortunately, Rick’s desire to hold on to the possibility of life returning to the way it used to be grates on Carl. Carl has been fashioned into the man he needs to be to survive in the world as it is now, and needs Rick to face the fact that nothing will ever be the way that it was. As the two butt heads, Rick falls into unconsciousness, and it isn’t until Rick is damn near dead that Carl can finally vent and tell his father exactly what he’s been feeling. After an angry tirade about how everything that’s happened is Rick’s fault because he refuses to give up his fantasy, Carl screams at his unconscious father, “I’d be fine if you died!” This, of course, isn’t true. Carl loves Rick, and waits until his father can’t hear him to vent his frustrations. At the time the kid may have believed his words, but as soon as he’s out on his own scrounging for food, Carl is hit with the hard truth. Now that everyone else is gone, without Rick, Carl has nothing. His dad is all he has left.

Rick: I know we’ll never get back to the way things used to be. I only hung on to that because of you and Judith, and now she’s gone. And you, Carl, are now a man. I’m sorry.

Carl: You don’t have to be.

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Yesterday love was such an easy game to play… Michonne may have been willing to give up, but it was only for a little while. As soon as she saw a Walker that looked just like her, Michonne realized she was glimpsing into her future unless she kept moving on. In that instant, Michonne killed all of the nearby zombies and picked back up Rick and Carl’s trail. She’s not alone after all. This realization also hit Carl when he awoke to his father’s labored breathing and thought Rick had turned. At first Carl put on a brave face and picked up his gun, but when he realized how alone he’d be if he killed his dad, Carl decided to give up. When he uttered, “I can’t. I was wrong,” you knew the tough exterior he’d carried throughout the episode had finally crumbled. It’s good thing Carl hadn’t shot his father since it was the punctured lung that made Rick wheeze and not his new zombie status. By the end of the episode Michonne had found the boys, and though we didn’t actually see their reunion, Rick telling Carl, “It’s for you,” made it seem like we had.

“After” may have only featured three of the survivors (minus Hershel’s head), but it was rich in exposition.  These three characters are important to one another. While giving the audience a look at what the others were up to since the massacre may have excited viewers, it was important that only these three were featured. Aside from Rick, Michonne is the most important person to Carl that’s still living. And while Rick was practically dying on the sofa, and Michonne was trying out her possible new zombie life, the episode was really about Carl at its heart. How the apocalypse and the recent massacre has changed him from the spunky kid we first met in the first season to the hardened “man” before us today. When Carl kept saying, “I win!” every time he made a kill, it was obvious that he’s been able to distance himself somewhat from all of the painful situations he’s experienced by turning everything into a game. Deep down he realizes it’s real, but like Michonne, Carl has been pushing down his feelings in order to cope. Now that both Carl and Michonne have come to terms with the situation, they both will be able to give Rick the support he needs to pull through.

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“After” was a magnificent episode that didn’t just give viewers a look at what happened since we last saw them, but caused our characters to grow and change. Rick finally sees Carl for the man he’s become, and learns to respect and accept him. Carl discovers that while he may be capable of surviving on his own, life isn’t worth living if you have no one to share it with. Just because he’s become a man, doesn’t mean he no longer needs his father. Michonne’s stint in the woods has taught her that thanks to the other survivors she’s let into her heart, she’s not able to go back to the life she used to live. She needs them as much as they need her. The smile she gave when she saw Rick and Carl talking and eating inside the house at the end tells her and us that she’s finally “home.”

So what did you think about “After?” Were you as stokes as me to get a glimpse of Michonne’s life pre-apocalypse? What did you think about how much of a bastard Carl was being? Which character not featured do you miss the most? Sound off in the comments below, and be sure to tune in next week for episode 410, “Inmates.”