Walking Dead – Clear
“You will be torn apart by teeth or bullets.”
This episode of Walking Dead was a throwback to season one, back when every episode left you wrung out and emotionally exhausted. Horror and anguish and humor and gore and ass-kicking zombie battles.
Rick, Carl, and Michonne are on a road trip. We get our first taste of pathos as we glimpse a sign that says, “Erin, We tried for Stone Mountain. -J.” Seems like a simple little detail, but think of the scenes of real disasters in recent memory: 9/11, hurricanes, tornado outbreaks. The aftermath always features hastily thrown together message boards filled with scrawled messages from people trying to find missing loved ones.
Of course, we meet Erin a short time later as a horde of walkers tries to get into the car after Michonne gets it stuck in some mud. A hitchhiker they’d passed on the road runs after them begging for help, but they drive off. The hardest part of all that to watch was how none of them even mentioned the possibility of helping the hitchhiker. Other than Carl giving him a wistful look out the back window, it was almost like he wasn’t even there. That’s cold.
It turns out they’re heading back to Rick’s hometown in hopes of finding weapons and ammo. The police station is picked clean, but shortly they come upon a strange area of town. It’s ringed with punji sticks and trapped rats used as zombie bait. There are a lot of messages written all over the place, like, “JUST LISTEN,” “”TURN AROUND AND LIVE,” and several cars labeled “CLEAR.”
A masked man yells at them from a rooftop to get away. A gunfight ensues. Rick gets pinned down behind a garbage can, then Carl takes the guy out. A bullet-proof vest saves his life. Rick removes the mask to discover that it’s Morgan. Is that name not ringing a bell? It’s Rick’s neighbor from the very first episode, the one with a son named Duane, a zombie wife, and a walkie talkie to listen to at dawn every day to check if Rick had come back for him.
Unwilling to leave Morgan unconscious amidst the walking dead, they carry him into his highly booby-trapped hideout. They find more signs (“NOT SHITTING YOU,” and finally, on an axe, “TOLD YOU.” There’s a welcome mat hiding a nasty spiked pit trap, some trip wires, and a huge arsenal of weapons.
Once they’re up there, they find that the walls are covered in Morgan’s deranged scrawls. It looks like part oral history of the terrible things that have been happening, part instruction manual for zombie survival. There’s also a map of the old neighborhood, which reveals to Carl that their house burned down long ago.
In case you were wondering, I did a freeze frame to try and catch that first batch of wall scrawl:
sick after blood cover
firefight on aberdeen
the arrow wound
the knife wound
the bad meat
the ankle twist
you know what next
While packing guns into bags, Rick discovers another note. “Duane turned.” Morgan’s story has just become a whole lot sadder.
When Morgan awakes, he attacks Rick with a knife and gives him a pretty good stab in the chest/shoulder area. Do they have antibiotics? Because that’s going to be a problem. Morgan is really, truly insane, swearing he doesn’t know Rick and accusing Rick of being a zombie wearing a human’s face. Rick finally pulls a gun and Morgan collapses, begging Rick to kill him.
Last week I complained bitterly about an episode with a ton of talking. This week there was a lot of talking too, but it was riveting, soul-wrenching talking. Can Lennie James just bypass the Emmy and go straight to Oscar? He just sat there and told us the story of how he didn’t have the guts to kill his zombie wife, until one day she attacked Duane and everything turned red. And yet it was amazing.
Ultimately, Duane’s crazy is too strong for him to come back to the prison with Rick. He has a compulsion to “clear” places of zombies, and it’s the only thing holding his fragile mind together. Plus, he’s not so sure the prison is all that safe. “You’re taking a lot of guns, Rick. I’m just saying. That is a lot of guns.”
Early in the episode, there was a quote put on-screen from producer Dave Alpert (faster than anyone could possibly read without pausing the DVR) about the definition of undead. One of the main themes of Walking Dead, according to Alpert, is how people deal with loved ones falling into this new, indefinable state that’s neither life nor death. Are they still themselves? Is there anything left there to hang onto?
That might seem like an interesting theme to explore in a zombie show, but without any real direct implications for us real world people. But Morgan brought it all home. Just when things seemed as heavy as possible, Walking Dead draws a parallel between zombies and mental illness.
Meanwhile, Carl and Michonne are on a mission to collect a crib. Carl is on a secret mission to collect a photo of his family from a restaurant, the only one that still exists now that he knows their house burned down. Michonne won’t let him do it alone, though, so they sneak in with some rat bait. Things go south though, and there’s an awesome scene with some creepy, desiccated zombies on the attack. For a minute there, the zombies were scary again. I loved the one that burst out of the kitchen.
Once outside, Carl realizes he dropped the photo. Michonne goes full ninja, ducking around the corner and appearing moments later with the photo and a decorative cat.
I got exactly what I wanted from Michonne this week. She finally came alive. There’s something in Danai Gurira’s delivery that makes even simple lines seem interesting. “No Rick, I don’t have a problem.”
Of course, she got some great lines too. I didn’t think that Walking Dead’s grumpy cat would provide the comic relief, but she’s perfect for deadpan zingers. Rick acts surprised that she’s eating Morgan’s food, so she shrugs and refers to the spike-trapped entry mat. “Mat said ‘Welcome.’”
At the end, Michonne and Rick bond over delusions. She mentions that she knows he sees fictitious people. “I used to talk to my dead boyfriend. It happens.” Everyone seems happy. But why do Rick and Carl talk about Michonne as if she’s not standing right there? And why is Carl so pale?
Then they spot the splattered, devoured remains of the hitchhiker. They finally stop for him. To pick up his gear.