Previously on The Walking Dead Recaps: Andrea does Andrea things.
“The good people, they always die. The bad ones too. But the weak people, the people like me…we have inherited the earth.” – Morgan
Even when it’s slow – and the last handful of episodes have been just that – The Walking Dead moves at a breakneck pace. Walkers roam the world eating people, crazy would-be dictators build their own private empires, survivors survive. There’s little time for anyone to stop and consider What It All Means. The show tends to not do Slow Introspection well, as last week’s episode demonstrates. How things change in a week. “Clear” is easily the best episode of The Walking Dead since the pilot; it tells a fairly simple story, and in doing so manages to convey more emotion (especially heartache, in the form of Morgan) than the past two seasons combined.
Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs. The first: “Erin – We tried for Stone Mountain – J”. Rick, Michonne and Carl are on a run, and they pass this as they cruise down the highway looking for stuff. They get stuck in the mud, because of course they do, and while we never find out who J is, we get to meet Erin, albeit briefly. She’s wearing a bracelet that says “Erin”, and she’s quite undead, and she has a few undead friends with her. They set upon the stuck car, and are killed offscreen, which is your first clue that this episode is going to be a bit different. Rick and friends are heading back to the Grimes’ old stomping ground, which…OK, here’s my one complaint. Rick’s town is close enough to the prison to be in range for a day trip? And he’s just NOW thinking they should go back to his police station for guns? And he’s a cop and didn’t know that the prison was close by? Have they just wandered in a circle for two and a half seasons? This is what happens when you depend on Google Maps for everything – you’re screwed if there’s Zombie Apocalypse. (Also, you’re screwed if you’re a backpacker. Then again, if you’re walking when there are DOZENS OF ABANDONED CARS WAITING FOR YOU TO DRIVE THEM, perhaps you are too stupid to live.)(That’s foreshadowing, by the way.)
But I digress. There’s something odd about Grimesville – you know, apart from the zombies. There’s the signs – “No Guilt, You Know That”, “Turn Around And Live”. And there’s the forest of sharpened stakes and yards and yards of barbed wire. Oh, and the crazy sniper on the roof who starts shooting at the gang. Luckily, Deputy Carl shoots him; luckily for the sniper he’s wearing body armor. The sniper turns out to be Morgan (and yeah, in my notes I wrote “It’s that one guy” because I forgot his name just like you did, America), who saved Rick’s life way back in episode one. You don’t need to see the writing on the wall to know that Morgan’s gone off the deep end, although there is plenty of actual writing on Morgan’s bedroom wall and all of it is straight-up cray-cray. Turns out that Morgan has all of the guns, and grenades, and even an extra crossbow and bolts for Daryl. And an examination of what he’s written on his walls provides a pretty good idea of what Morgan’s up to: he’s fighting a one-man war against the walkers, and any of the living who happen to wander into what’s undeniably his town. And there’s also a pretty good clue as to what sent Morgan down the Banksy, Zombie Hunter path: “Duane turned” is written on his walls. Duane was Morgan’s son.
Speaking of sons, Carl has definitely become Little Rick; he’s symbolically grown into his old man’s hat and become a cool, calculating hardcase. But for all of his posturing and willingness to shoot live folks as well as dead ones, Carl is still a kid. When he realizes that his house is gone (“BURNT OUT”), he tells Rick he needs to go on a run, ostensibly to find a crib for Lil’ Asskicker. Michonne goes with him, despite Carl’s objections – Rick doth not protest too much either; despite his stance that Michonne’s with the group only because they share a common enemy, he’s slowly warming to her, probably because she’s actually written as a person in this episode, not just a walking scowl who’s handy with a katana. And Rick is starting to regain some of his humanity; he owes Morgan for saving his life, and isn’t simply going to run off with a bunch of his guns without finding out what brought him to this point. (NOTE: the writer for this episode, Scott Gimple, co-wrote the also-very-good ep “18 Miles Out” and will be the showrunner for Season 4. This gives me great hope for the future.)
Morgan responds to this act of kindness and camaraderie by attacking Rick and stabbing him in the shoulder. Rick manages to overpower him and calm him down; Morgan slowly comes out of his funk and recognizes him, and then castigates him for not returning his radio calls. See what happens in a world without Twitter DM’s? Then Morgan tells Rick his story: he couldn’t bring himself to shoot his wife, and that came back to bite him in the ass later, along with quite literally coming back to bite Duane in the neck. Morgan was forced to shoot his wife and his son, something that we now know Rick would not have hesitated to do.
But is sentimentality really a weakness in this world? Carl provides a partial answer to that. Sure, he’s going to get a crib (in and of itself an act of compassion, a desire to see his little sister sleep in comfort rather than on a prison cot), but what’s he really after? He takes Michonne to the King County Cafe, and for a minute there I thought he was going after a little toy airplane that he kept in a vault there. Turns out it’s something almost as good: Carl remembered that the KCC had a picture of him, Rick and Lori – possibly the last one in existence. Michonne helps him to retrieve it, and comes away with a truly glorious souvenir herself. (Michonne gets all of the laughs this episode: “We’re eating his food now?” “The mat said ‘Welcome’”.)
We conclude back at Captain Morgan’s Hideaway. Rick is trying for a breakthrough; he practically begs Morgan to come with him, one damaged guy to another. But Morgan can’t help but notice that Rick needs a LOT of guns and ammo, and Rick confesses that they’re leveling up to fight the Big Bad. Morgan couldn’t care less. “If you’ve got something good, someone’s going to take it,” he tells Rick. Morgan has his new role in this world: he has to clear. As Rick and company saddle up, Carl apologizes to Morgan for shooting him. “Don’t ever be sorry,” Morgan replies. His lesson: your conscience is a burden and will get you and others killed. Certainly Rick’s moral compass does not point to true north – unlike the Governor who perversely sees the value in bringing fellow survivors together, Rick has little interest in helping strangers. But he’s not an amoral monster either; as they get ready to head out, he tells Carl that Michonne is now “one of us”. And it’s telling that our final(?) view of Morgan is off him “clearing” – pulling carcasses off of his traps and burning them, looking like a zombie himself. Rick’s trying to do more than merely exist; he’s starting to see a future for his extended family, one he’s willing to fight for. But sentimentality alone won’t do it: as they pass the gutted remains of that hapless backpacker, they stop and grab his pack. You gotta be pragmatic as well.
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