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The Walking Dead: Midseason 4 Premiere

By Carl Stoffers · February 13, 2014

The Walking Dead midseason four premier is titled “After,” a reference to the savage battle fought by the residents of the prison against the forces of the diabolical Governor (David Morrissey). The internecine struggle between the two sides has left many dead and the rest scattered, fleeing for their lives. It’s in the immediate aftermath of the battle that “After” begins.

The episode opens with Michonne (Danai Gurira) outside the smoldering, overrun prison. There are walkers everywhere, and dead members of the Governor’s group litter the ground. She stalks toward the prison, which is now in ruins, occasionally swinging her sword and decapitating walkers as one would shoo away a fly. Michonne’s lethality and rage are something we’re familiar with, but we’re still not sure where she learned to kill and what’s behind her intensity.

Despite the title’s obvious reference to the bloody fight that preceded it, the episode would be more accurately titled “Depth,” because of the range it adds to two main characters, the mysterious Michonne and Carl (Chandler Riggs), Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) son.

Michonne, who first appeared in season three as a woman who wandered the woods, leading two jawless, armless walkers as one would lead a dog on a leash, proceeds to find two new walkers to make into her escorts, quickly leading them away from the prison. It’s apparent that she is now going back to her previous existence, aimlessly roaming the area with her prisoners on leashes. However, in what has become a hallmark of The Walking Dead’s writing, this moment of transformation is interrupted with a shocking, gory and heartbreaking jolt into the past: Herschel’s (Scott Wilson) severed head lays in her path, now infected, eyes glassed over and jaw ceaselessly snapping.

While Michonne is coming to grips with what she’s seen at the remains of the prison, Carl and Rick, who was badly injured during the fight, hobble into a deserted residential area, seeking shelter and supplies. Carl, who was a small child when the series began, has struggled to become more independent throughout the show’s run, and, as he leads the way through the woods with his father physically unable to keep up, he appears to be straining against his last vestiges of childhood.

“You can barely stand,” he tells Rick, disgust in his voice, as they prepare to clear an abandoned bar of potential walkers. Proving that even a zombie apocalypse can’t prevent a certain level of teenaged hubris, he adds, “You should just let me do it myself.” with a smug scowl. So begins the last chapter in a journey that began long ago. Carl is coming of age.

As Rick and Carl continue moving and Rick’s physical condition becomes more dire, Carl becomes more hostile. His struggle for respect and independence has been simmering for several seasons, and the writers have done an excellent job of keeping that underlying tension with his father obvious but not at the forefront. In “After,” it finally boils over.

“I don’t need you anymore!” he berates Rick, whose injuries have now rendered him unconscious, after Carl unwisely leaves the safety of their shelter and kills three attacking walkers. “I saved you! You can’t even protect me, anyway!” he shouts, as only a teenager can. “I’d be fine if you died.”

Meanwhile, we finally get a glimpse of Michonne’s life before society collapsed. In a tantalizing scene, we see a “civilized” Michonne bantering with two men in a stylish apartment overlooking the city. She’s holding a small child and things appear to be lighthearted and relaxed. Quickly, things turn tense, as there is mention of “going out there” and an ominous reference to a decision to stay or leave some kind of camp. Suddenly, each of her companions has no arms and the child is gone. Michonne wakes up in the front seat of an abandoned car, terrified.

The slight hint at Michonne’s past is more than enough to keep us interested. The writers are revealing her character in very small morsels, and it’s the right thing to do. It leaves the viewer wondering and wanting more.

Shortly after, Michonne’s seemingly endless anger is again vented as she moves among a herd of walkers. She massacres the group of zombies with her sword after realizing that one of them looks similar to her, even beheading her two prisoners in a fit of rage. She eventually collapses and beings talking out loud to “Mike,” one of the men from the dream sequence and the father of her child. It’s another juicy tidbit that the writers have given us, as she references possibly horrible things that happened “back at the camp.”

“It wasn’t you that did it,” she says, tearfully. “You were wrong, because I’m still here, and you could be, too. And he could be.”

Meanwhile, Carl and Rick have begun repairing their relationship, after Carl mistakenly believes Rick has turned, but can’t bring himself to shoot his father.

“You’re a man, Carl,” Rick says, reflecting on all that his son has been through. You’re a man. I’m sorry.”

The stage has now been set for The Walking Dead to evolve again. Due to the nature of the program, evolution is not only expected, but necessary, as characters are inevitably killed off. But the writers have now delved deep into the minds and back stories of two main personalities, a sign that the evolution to come may not be in the form of killing off and adding more characters, but in adding substance to the current ones.