How does Carl see Rick at this point? Is he still the hero Carl worships, the father he’ll always love, or just a flawed man who may not be cut out for this world? Carl clearly thinks Carl knows best, even if Rick’s attempt for peace on Episode 8 was actually his first really good decision in a long time.
Welcome to adolescence, in or out of the zombie apocalypse. And welcome back, Walking Dead.
It’s been two months since viewers saw “Too Far Gone,” but the story of Episode 9 picks up directly after the Team Prison vs. Team Governor battle. That mid-season finale was a blitz of action leaving half a dozen groups scattered, but any fans expecting the mourning “After” to be just as breathless were in for a surprise. They shouldn’t feel disappointed, though.
This is what TWD does best — introduces us to three-dimensional characters, gets us to care about them, puts them in heart-stopping danger, then takes a step back to assess the damage. If the action was constant, we’d grow numb to it instead of dreading what will happen to these people we love. (And don’t worry, Daryl will be back next week.)
“After” focused on just three of the dozen people we know — Michonne, Carl and Rick — the same three characters who had another eventful road trip back on Season 3, Episode 12, “Clear,” back when Rick was unhinged from the death of Lori. This ep, a great showcase for all three actors, stuck fairly close to the comics and even gave us just a taste of Michonne's backstory. (In the comics, her boyfriend Mike became one of her original walker pets, along with his friend Terry.) It was kind of a strange nightmare/memory/flashback, but wow — she had a great apartment! Hopefully we'll see more of it in the second half.
The hour starts with a bird’s eye-view of the prison looking down at the wreckage. The Governor is good and dead, thankfully. So is the horse, though. Michonne is still there. She, at least, is willing to fight through the walkers to find Hershel’s head and put it out of its creepy undead misery. It’s not even that hard a fight. She quickly creates two new pets, just like old times. She could probably retake the prison on her own. Instead, she just sets Hershel free. It’s quiet, but you can feel her anger and sadness. Still, she should’ve kept him as her new pet. He could be her Jiminy Cricket — even if he couldn’t articulate the words, he could still be the moral compass reminder to do the right thing. Don’t just leave the poor guy on the prison battlefield!
CARL IS THE WALKING PISSED
Injured Rick calls for Carl to slow down. Carl blows him off, so Rick shouts for him to stop. Then Carl glares at his dad. Carl, he is your last living relative, as far as you know at this point. Be less b*tchy.
BBQ SHACK TIME
Rick tells Carl to stand outside. Carl snaps that Rick should stay outside. “You should just let me do it myself.” Guuuurrrrrlll, you are going to tempt your dad to start fresh as a childless bachelor. Inside the restaurant, Rick and Carl argue over how to deal with one walker. Carl finds a note from Joe. Jr. “Please do what I couldn’t.” Sad. Rick struggled to kill the walker with an axe, so Carl shot it. Rick said it was a wasted bullet. The Grimes boys are having a grim post-prison day, for sure. Tense.
MICHONNE AND HER PETS FIND TRACKS
Michonne, like Daryl Dixon, is good at following tracks. Not that it’s hard to see footprints in the mud, but she does have skills. She picked the right people to follow, too, since they could use a mediator.
First they pass some train tracks. Same tracks everyone passes in the second half? They are all over the promos. Rick says this particular house is as good as any, so they break in. Rick keeps wanting to stop Carl, while Carl has no use for caution. He even bangs on the wall and yells “Hey, a**hole! Hey sh*tface!” to prove to his dad that if there was a walker in there it would come out. (Maybe Judith AND Carl were Shane’s babies.) Carl enjoys going through someone’s perfectly kept bedroom. He smartly finds wires to tie the front door shut, but Rick wants to protect them even more by pushing the couch in front of the door. Carl said he tied a strong knot — Shane taught him how. “Remember him?” Really, Carl? After you’ve lost the prison, your friends, and (or so you think) Judith, you act like this? At least after he had to put down his mom he was cold. Now he’s all angry fire. Carl is both aggressive and passive-aggressive from one minute to the next. Although it does get old to hear “Carl! Carl! Carl!” all the time from Rick. Rick said he remembers Shane every day. Every time he looks at Little Ass-Kicker?
FIRST MICHONNE FLASHBACK
Nice apartment! She should go back and hang out there. Michonne, her “lover” Mike and Mike’s buddy hang out listening to classical music. She already has her katana. She picks up a child and brings food over to the table. Her son? (In the comics, she had daughters.) Suddenly they are talking about not wanting to go to go to the camps. This doesn’t feel like a memory so much as a dream remembrance. Oh yep, she sees them without arms, this is a nightmare. She was asleep in a car.
CARL WAKES UP
So is this the morning after the battle or two days later? Carl makes himself cereal since, inexplicably, this place wasn’t ransacked. Why the huge fight over the prison when houses like this still exist? Carl tries to wake Rick up by screaming at him. This is what happens, Carl. His noise brings walkers to the door and they start trying to push it open. Maybe it would’ve worked if Rick hadn’t pushed the couch in front of the door. Caution can be clever, Carl.
CARL LEADS WALKERS AWAY
A walker couple bangs on the door — maybe they used to live there, like Morgan’s wife, and returned to the familiar? Carl walks backwards — successfully, unlike Lizzie — to lead them away from the home. Carl is still feeling cocky, so he mocks them as he walks, but you never know when a stealth zombie will pop out of nowhere and that’s what happens.
His comeuppance! Not really, though. He has to fight off the three walkers and he barely manages to do it, shooting them (waste of bullets) and giving us a nice close-up of brain maggots. Sweet. Still, look what happens when you get too cocky. You vomit. Shane would never vomit like that, Carl. “I win.” Ha! The child learns nothing. You survived, but the war is still on.
MICHONNE IS SURROUNDED BY WALKERS
But still so all alone. She has her pets as camouflage as she walks in a zombie procession. It’s like rush hour in the city. She even sees a walker that seems to remind her of herself. A hallucination? She and Rick really are a perfect couple.
CARL IS SO FREAKING AWESOME, GUYS
He killed three walkers. They were at the door. He lured them away. “I saved you. I saved you. I didn’t forget while you had us playing farmer. I still know how to survive. Lucky for us.” He’s so amazing, guys! Everything stops for a major Carl cheer!
SLAP THIS BRAT
Carl lashes out at Rick, who is sleeping. He says some really hurtful stuff. “I don’t need you anymore. … You couldn’t protect Judith, you couldn’t protect Hershel, or Glenn, or Maggie, Michonne, Daryl. Or Mom. You just wanted to plant vegetables. You just wanted to hide. He knew where we were and you didn’t care.” This rant is two seasons in the making, probably starting right from the shot Carl gave to Shane’s head. “They’re all gone now, because of YOU. They counted on you. You were their leader. But now, you’re nothing. … I’d be fine if you died.” Right back at you, kid.
DID CARL FEED THE RATS AT THE FENCE?
Carl wanted to snap Rick out of his farmer zone and get his own gun back. Carl wanted to enter the action, not be treated like a kid. Right after the Episode 2 scene where someone fed rats to the fence, we saw Carl telling Rick the walkers were pushing at the fence more, and he could help. What if Carl did it purposely? He’s cold enough.
He tries to bash a door down and falls over. So one house wasn’t enough for him. Too bold, young Padawan. Too bold. He eventually opens the wrong door and a bunch of walkers try to push through, like something out of a horror movie. He fires off shots but runs out of bullets. A really cool-looking walker almost takes him down. It’s a good fight. Carl can’t even jump out a window or bash it with a lamp. The dang thing even takes his shoe. This walker is beating his arse hard but Carl finally locks him in the “Sam” room. Not our Sam, right? The Sam we met in the ‘burbs? Carl writes a message on the door. “Walker Inside Got My Shoe Didn’t Get Me.” Next time, just do “Don’t Open Dead Inside.” No one cares about your shoe. He sits on the roof and eats … pudding? … out of a can? The music is soft piano, like this is Forrest Gump or something, even as the walker tries to reach Carl out on the roof.
MICHONNE IS STILL COMMUTING THROUGH THE WOODS
Where is she going? Does she know? Imagine listening to all that zombie heavy breathing. She slices the one that seemed to remind her of herself, drawing the others. No more pets. Just death. Commute over. She looks to the sky and cries. At least she knows how to kick arse quietly, unlike Carl. She just killed way more walkers than him and didn’t feel compelled to leave a note about her shoe. That’s class, Carl.
IS RICK TURNING?
Another night has come and Rick is making heavy breathing sounds like a walker. Carl grabs a gun and cries like the little kid he still is, preparing to shoot his dad. He can’t do it. “I can’t. I was wrong. Just do it.” That was a quick change. Rick says “Carl,” which is his favorite thing to say. “Don’t go outside. Stay safe.” Hopefully that after-school-special message won’t be the last thing Rick says. Carl tells his dad he’s scared. He does need his papa after all. For now anyway. Just wait a day or two and Carl will be back to Mini Shane.
MICHONNE CRIES AT THE BBQ SHACK
She sees that someone has been there, she sees the note from Joe Jr., she slides down the wall and … thinks, maybe. She doesn’t articulate her thoughts like Carl. Oh wait, she does. “Mike,” she says, “I miss you. I missed you even when I was with you. Back at the camp. It wasn’t you who did it. You were wrong, because I’m still here. And you could be too. And he could be. I know the answer. I know why.” Huh? Is the “he could be” a reference to their son?
RICK & CARL BOND
Carl ate 112 ounces of pudding. (Have you seen that sketch from The State on $240 worth of pudding?) Rick believes Judith is gone. “And you, Carl, you’re a man You’re a man. I’m sorry.” Carl says he doesn’t need to be. Bit late for that, Carl.
Carl is a litterbug, he just left it in the street. It’s a breadcrumb, so Michonne follows it and finds herself at the newly minted Grimes abode. She smiles and cries with happiness when she sees who’s inside.
IT’S FOR YOU
Another knock at the door. Rick looks through the peephole and smiles. Turns to Carl. “It’s for you." Nice.
NEXT WEEK ON EPISODE 10, "INMATES"
Now we see the rest of Team Prison. Bob, Sasha, Daryl, Lizzie, Mika, Tyreese, Beth, Glenn. Sasha doesn’t want to split up. Does Maggie want to, to find Glenn? Beth says they can’t be the only survivors. She’s probably talking to Daryl. Are you excited for this one?