Welcome back to my weekly post, The Walking Recap! Tonight was the midseason premiere of The Walking Dead’s fourth season, and it is off to a positive but predictable start: quietly intense.
Before I get into specifics about the episode, I think it’s worth it for me to consider what about the series is so appealing despite its many changing showrunners and disjointed tone-shifts that have resulted. The main complaint I’ve heard from those who have tried to like the show but just couldn’t is that it is too talky and boring. I would agree with the former adjective but hesitate to admit to the latter. I for one still think even the most existential or philosophical ramblings and stretches of ethical dilemmas played out in dialogue are meaningful and important to the series. That being said, I often feel like the show doesn’t know what exactly it wants to be and therefore doesn’t balance very well between the two tendencies– the other being brutally violent, action-packed horror fun filled with gruesome zombie hordes and even more gruesome killings. Current showrunner Scott Gimple is attempting, and sometimes succeeding, at that balance but not always.
Now, with that in mind, I’d like to offer that I really enjoyed aspects of this episode. I used to save the score for last but I think I’d like to start with this post moving it up to an earlier section: I’m giving this episode a 3.5 out of 5 tubs of chocolate pudding. I thought its dual focus– between Carl/Rick and the enigmatic, mysterious Michonne going through what is the more fascinating and haunting arc of the two storylines– worked well to start us off again but was not without flaws.
Where we left off before the midseason hiatus, everyone was completely scattered and the prison has become ruins, not to mention completely rundown with walkers. We see that devastation a little bit at the beginning when Michonne revisits the prison and takes on two new walker pets to use as her protection. The beginning sequence is, as usual, beautifully and poignantly shot– there is no dialogue, just a feeling of worn out tension and fear on all sides. But, when I say on all sides, I really just mean two sides– this might be a personal preference and very individual complaint, but I sometimes question the motivation for isolating certain characters’ stories so much when crosscutting would have allowed for more than two in this particular instance.
I think that still not knowing for another week where everyone is and what they’re going through while completely displaced from one another and with any kind of home base now nonexistent is certainly suspenseful. But I don’t see it as the only or most preferable or most effective way necessarily of building tension. I think this episode would have moved a little bit faster and with more urgency if we had seen a little bit of everyone or at least one other group or combination of the other characters.
That being said, the emotional journeys taken in this episode were crucial, especially Michonne’s. These journeys, both Michonne’s and Carl’s, are very much about transformation. Carl is becoming a man even more than we’ve seen yet. He is at first annoyingly pubescent and tortured. He says terrible things to Rick– defending a knot he tied by saying he learned it from Shane and questioning whether Rick remembers him, and yelling that he wouldn’t even care if Rick died– meanwhile every move he makes in trying to prove that he could take care of himself better than Rick ever could take care of anyone nearly gets him killed. This made for a series of very compact scary scenarios though, including a walker pile-up on top of Carl and later, a walker who manages to get Carl’s shoe before he can escape otherwise unscathed. The turning point for me in Carl’s awakening is that when he thinks Rick has become a walker, he cries and cannot shoot him– he says that he’s scared, which is the ultimate admittance and just what we needed to hear, I think, to sympathize with his earlier actions and forgive his now more obvious humanity.
It is Michonne’s dream flashback and major upheavals in this episode that were even more affecting for me, possibly because we barely know anything about her stoic warrior character, until now that is. Her internal struggle here is whether she will shut down or move on from her traumas. Her dream features her two walker pets before they were walkers at all, one being her lover, and Michonne seems ignorantly blissful as her son is still alive and in her arms. Because it is a dream, we don’t know what really ended up happening still but the dream function also allowed for a more symbolic and experimental presentation of her history, as her son disappears and things start to morph into the dark apocalypse she eventually wakes back up to. She later massacres her doppelganger walker as if to declare her determination to live, among many other walkers, eventually breaking down in exasperated tears.
Then, there is her soliloquy to Mike, her lover-turned-walker-pet, which seems to affirm her decision to not shut down but to finally truly move forward. The parallel between her transition which manifests in a monologue to no one and Carl’s similar rebellion to an unconscious Rick, speaks (no pun intended) to the sometimes quiet and solitary nature of the show; even when there is a receiver of the speech, sometimes even that two-way exchange can feel dragged out and hollow. Luckily, it works in this episode and the idea of loneliness, loss, and isolation works perfectly as well, especially with the chaotic events which have led to this point in the season.
This moment brings us to the end of the episode when we see she has found, but not quite fully reunited with, Rick and Carl. I don’t know what to expect for the following weeks in terms of focus and structure, but narrative-wise, I can only hope there are more reunions to come. And I hope that the series does find a balance more often than not moving forward; at least next week’s episode looks like it will make up for what tonight lacked– a little bit more nail-biting, walker-fearing action to not only offset the talking for the sake of doing so but to also make all of that great thematic and character development matter in the first place.