If you have not watched last Sunday's mid-season premiere ("After") of The Walking Dead, STOP READING RIGHT NOW!!! This article will contain events and moments that were displayed in the aforementioned episode. So for those who have yet to watch it, you have been warned!
My intention with this article is not to review the episode, nor provide a full recap of it. Rather, I will highlight two important themes that comprised the episode, explain why they are really important, and quickly hypothesize where the show may go from here. So without further ado, here I go.
One of the two prevalent themes expressed in "After" centered around Michonne. Now that she found herself on the run (again) and by herself (again), she was forced to inquire the following, is it best to retract and go back to the way she was before she met Andrea, or will her chances of survival increase if she once again confides in people? Throughout the first half of the episode, it appeared as if she was going to re-create that figurative shell she had around her back when we saw her at the beginning of season three, a shell that she utilized not only to shield herself from other people and them from her, but also to shield herself from her innermost emotions and memories, especially those of the subconscious.
At first, we see Michonne going back to the prison, which has now been officially reclaimed by the walking dead (pun very much intended). Using her patented katana, she fights her way to the primary gate, and fashions herself another pair of armless, jawless zombie bodyguards, or zombie repellents for better specificity. If you recall, she also had two of those way back when she and Andrea were out in the wild by themselves. And then in a manner only the episode's writer (Robert Kirkman) can do, we are shown the decapitated, zombified head that belonged to Hershel's body. In order to finally allow Hershel to rest in peace, Michonne stabs the decapitated head, and gives herself a few more seconds to mourn the devastating loss. Afterwards, and with the pair of undead bodyguards following her, she finds footprints (which are Rick and Carl's) but decides to forgo them to tread along her own path. At this point, it seems very likely that Michonne no longer wants to be with people.
However, something very peculiar happens as she sleeps. A memory pops up in which we encounter Michonne with two other men, her boyfriend or "lover," Mike, and presumably, one of Mike's friends. Soon afterwards, we notice that we are actually witnessing a dream, one in which the knife Michonne was using turns into her katana, and in which a boy runs into her arms - her actual child. The dream displays the three in their early zombie apocalypse selves. Mike's friend (who is not mentioned by name) wants them to leave the camp they are a part of, while Mike does not. Mike implies that they are better off where they are now, and suggests that their chances of surviving this new, apocalyptic world by themselves diminish away from camp. Then, the peculiarity of the dream really takes a turn for the worst when Michonne's child suddenly disappears, and Mike and his friend become armless, jawless, bloody versions of Michonne's first pair of zombie shields. At this point, Michonne finally wakes from her mysterious, yet quite revealing, dream.
A few things can be taken away from that dream. First of all, we now know the identities of those two undead zombies she walked around with early last season. Also, we can now understand why Michonne cried when she had to hold baby Judith in her arms earlier this season. She reacted with such emotion because she still dreaded the loss of her own child. The question now becomes, how did her child die? Moreover, Mike's insistence of staying at the camp emphasizes, albeit implicitly, that in order to survive in a zombie apocalypse, one must unite with other people. There is strength in numbers, and huge numbers is what's needed to successfully combat the walkers, and therefore continue to survive as long as possible. Also, hope can most probably be attained only with a group of people by one's side, especially if it is a group that can be trusted, respected, loved, and cared for. Michonne clearly had that in the form of Rick's group. And by the time the episode ends, Michonne once again realizes that.
After having that dream, Michonne is seen walking amongst a herd of walkers, but is camouflaged thanks to her bodyguards' disgusting, undead odor. She then encounters a walker lookalike. Startled by the familiarity, she takes out the entire herd, including her two zombie bodyguards. This incredible, much talked about scene is very significant because Michonne answers the question (mentioned above, in the second paragraph) she desperately needed to answer. It becomes apparent that she does not want to remain in solitude any longer. As a result, after finding another set of footprints (also belonging to Rick and Carl), she follows them. At this juncture, it becomes clearer that Michonne wants to dispose of her self-made shell and allow someone into her life. So after much searching, she encounters Rick and Carl sitting inside an abandoned home. She knocks on the front door, to which Rick says to Carl, "it's for you." This is perhaps the most powerful line of the entire episode, as it reinforces Michonne's decision to keep looking for the ones she has come to care for, and it foreshadows the possibility that Michonne could serve as a motherly figure to Carl. So that's the first theme I noticed from the episode. What's the second theme?
Furthermore, the second prevalent theme in "After" is the father-son relationship between Rick and Carl. At first, their relationship appears to be quite strained when Carl refuses to do anything his father tells him to. Poor Rick could barely walk or breathe after his brawl with Philip, and Carl (who is walking at the speed of light compared to Rick) has the temerity to force Rick to catch up to him, even when Rick is demanding that Carl slow down. Excellently portraying the attitude and behavior of teenage-hood, Carl thinks that he does not need his father at all, and that he can do things all by himself, including surviving a zombie apocalypse. Rick can only urge his son to stay inside the house they found and are now residing in. Surely, Rick understands why Carl is acting and behaving the way he is. Carl feels anger, frustration and disappointment towards his father, and Rick knows that. In contrast, Rick does not know how to make amends. By the end of the episode, though, we find out that he did not need to say anything; Carl gradually becomes aware of the rigors of living in a zombie apocalypse by himself, and that he will always need his father, no matter how strong and independent he thinks he is. Chandler Riggs, who portrays Carl, carries the majority of this episode on his not-yet-fully-developed shoulders, and Riggs handles that incredibly difficult acting challenge very well. If you truly liked the episode, and/or it truly appealed to you, it most probably did so in large part because of Riggs's performance in it.
Specifically, Rick had fallen into a deep slumber. In fact, he fell asleep for so long that Carl initially thought his father had passed away. Still, he claims to be able to live well enough on his own, and that he does not really care if Rick is indeed dead. Harsh words! He attempts to prove himself (and us viewers) by trying to lure a couple of walkers away from the house, two walkers which he attracted by yelling "WAKE UP" to his father. Unbeknownst to him, a third walker blindsides him, and Carl finds himself on the ground with three walkers to deal with. He manages to shoot all of them dead, to which he declared himself the victor by saying, "I win." His next encounter with a walker was much more perilous, and it nearly cost him his life. Carl was searching for food inside another home. Among all the food he found, he grabbed a 112-ounce can of chocolate pudding. Can you believe that kid ate the entire thing!?!?! Anyways, before he enjoyed that delicious treat, he went upstairs to make sure the coast was clear. It was not! This time, though, it was only one walker that attacked Carl. But, there were all kinds of objects scattered all over the floor, causing Carl to trip several times. And, he did not have as much space to maneuver himself as he did when he was fighting those three other walkers outside. Because of those factors, he barely (I mean, BARELY) escaped the undead teeth of that walker, who was trying to get a bite out of Carl's calf. By sheer luck, Carl was able to lock the walker inside a room, and then jokingly write on the door, "Got my shoe. Didn't get me." Then he ate the pudding as a reward for his hard work, or simply because pudding is delicious. Once he returned to his temporary home, he found Rick asleep still (or dead, in Carl's mind). He confesses that he hates his father for not being able to adequately protect those he had around him, including Hershel and Lori. He accuses his father of only wanting to be a farmer, when he was supposed to be the strong-minded leader of the group. At this point, Rick awakens, and slowly drags himself to where Carl is sitting. To him, his father appears to have turned. Therefore, Carl aims Rick's own gun at him, but cannot bring himself to shoot his own father. Thank goodness for that! We all find out that Rick is still alive when he calls Carl by his name; apparently, Rick was on some sort of a coma, most likely induced by trauma. Finally, Carl cries and admits that he is scared, and that he does need Rick after all. The next morning, he tells his son that he "is a man." That is when Michonne knocks on the door, and the episode concludes.
Many people can relate to how Carl acted, and all the terrible things he said to his ostensibly dead, but sleeping father. In my opinion, that is one huge reason why this episode is quite moving, and also emotionally powerful. It was indeed an emotion-filled episode. Rick is portrayed as weak, and a failure. Carl, who always needed him to be a strong, successful father/leader, is clearly torn by all the horrific events that have transpired so far, from watching his own mother die, to witnessing the tragic demise of Hershel. He blames Rick for not being able to prevent all those atrocities, even though it may not be a fair accusation. Rick, on the other hand, is also torn because he had worked so hard to keep his entire group alive and united. He wanted all of them to find a safe place so that they could build a life for each other, by his very own words. In the end, that goal was obviously not accomplished. Is it really all Rick's fault, like what Carl believed? I am not so sure that it is fair to say that Rick is the one to blame for it all. Sure, he may have made some poor decisions along the way, but tragedies evidently always occur in a zombie apocalypse. Some things are just beyond his control, like the walkers and those few survivors who only wish to do others harm (e.g. Philip, a.k.a. the Governor). Rick tried leading a dictatorship (a "Rick"tatorship) throughout the majority of season three, but T-Dog and Lori still died, among others. By the end of season three, he decided that making all the decisions himself is not the right way to lead. So, he insisted on a more democratic form of leadership, and Andrea still died. In season four, he tried not making any decisions at all, and plenty of prison members still lost their lives thanks to that flu-like disease. No matter what he did, or how he lead the group, tragedies still happened. So again, is it all Rick's fault? I don't think so. But of course, Carl does not think that way. And what Carl does think of his father destroys Rick, emotionally. Rick wants nothing more than to always be able to protect his son, but there are times in which he may not be able to do so, like when his son was being attacked by walkers as he slept. That brutal reality scares him, but knowing that his son has matured makes him feel a bit safer. In real life, although not necessarily for these same reasons, some teenagers tend to blame their parents when dealing with the consequences of their actions. Instead of finding ways to resolve an issue, they find it much easier to play the blame game. But once any teenager realizes how much he/she really needs his/her parents, a better sense of maturity and understanding slowly kicks in. By the end of "After," it seems like Rick and Carl's father-son bond has reached a very high point, meaning that they understand and respect each other better, and are both ready to confront whatever is ahead as a team. For their sake, they better be!
To conclude my very long article (I apologize, by the way), I believe that Rick, Carl, and Michonne will be alive and well by the time season five arrives. They seem to be quite a potent trio, and together they are going to survive much longer. Because Rick and Michonne are together, I am inclined to believe that they are going to face the more dangerous obstacles, compared to what the other groups of survivors will have to face. And based on the promo I saw for next Sunday's episode, it looks like Glenn is in danger. I will opine that either he or Sasha will be the next to go. And because Maggie is distraught and infuriated by the death of her father (again based on the promo), she appears likely to go as well. Baby Judith, who is dead by Rick and Carl's perspectives, will be found alive, probably with Lizzie and the other children. As for a possible reunion of all the groups, I do not see that happening any time soon. But, I do see Carol bumping into one of them very soon. How ironic would it be if she and Rick crossed paths!
Well, I am finally (or to quote The Rock, "FIIIIIIIIIIIIINALLY") done opining. I would love to hear from all of you. What were your overall assessments of the episode? And, do you agree/disagree with my opinions? Let me know in the comments section below.