Before the opening credits roll, The Walking Dead: After gives the viewer one last poignant reminder of just what Rick’s group of survivors lost at the prison; Michonne puts an end to Hershel’s zombie head and later she takes off with her new walker comrades remembering her past while Rick and Carl share some moments during which Carl grows up and so does Rick.
Oddly this episode, despite its poignancy, is full of humorous moments juxtaposed with a few heart stopping events. Listening to Rick’s labored walker-style breathing keeps the viewer on edge, expecting the former camp leader to turn at any minute. Carl has a lot of hostility towards his dad; apparently blaming him for everything including the lost of his baby sister.
Rick looks like death on legs after the beating he received from The Governor. Weak and struggling to walk and breathe when he finally stops after securing the house there is a serious question as to what he will be once he wakes up. Will Carl have to take his walker father out? In the meantime Michonne is doing some remembering, in her dreams. In a sequence that has the lucidity of a waking nightmare; all the while full of the off-putting surrealism that makes up the dream world which contain Michonne’s memory of past events is tragic as it is disturbing.
Back at the house where Rick and Carl have holed up, Rick has succumbed to his injuries and Carl cannot wake him. Yelling at his dad to wake up, he draws the attention of two walkers who look like dead escapees from Dogpatch, U.S.A.. He draws the two off and leading them away from the house brings the youngster in contact with another walker. In a gut wrenching moment it looks like Carl may have bitten off more than he can chew.
Special FX maestro Greg Nicotero directs The Walking Dead: After and the skillful transitioning between Michonne remembering her path to deadly samurai sword kick-ass heroine and Carl’s growing up pangs shows that Nicotero can do much more than just create some pretty damned awesome FX. Granted, the director has a more than capable cast who have lived in their character’s skins long enough to deliver.
The angst that Carl goes through, the recriminations that he throws at this unconscious father and his anger make the viewer feel deeply for both characters. Carl’s short journey to “manhood” shows his internal struggle as he fights his inner child throughout the episode. Tough, deadly and focussed one moment and defeated the next as something simple like breaking open a locked door knocks him on his butt.
The episode can be summed up with Carl’s discovery of a huge can of chocolate pudding. His delight is almost palpable as is his close escape from a walker hiding in the house that contains the pudding. Again Nicotero gives us a brilliant blend of humor and one hell of a jump scare. After escaping what looked to be Carl’s certain death by walker; he enjoys his childhood treat and returns to Rick.
Michonne shows that despite nightmares, and an increasing paranoia after spotting a walker that looks very similar to her, this sword packing bad-ass has lost none of her skills and dispatches an impressive amount of walkers. Only Tyreese and his attack on a horde of walkers can come close to her slicing and dicing her way through this group of walking dead.
This episode takes time to look at three of the survivors of The Governor’s attack on the prison which scattered the remnants of Rick’s group. Watching the usual taciturn and stoic Michonne lose it in her dream and then later cry with anguish gave this character a depth that had been missing before. Certainly the role of the samurai wielding “cool killer was not two dimensional, but, this added depth made Michonne more impressive than ever.
By the end of the episode Carl does truly grow up, in another heart stopping moment of course, and he admits that he is not quite ready yet to abandon his father no matter how much he may blame him for the prison battle. The Walking Dead: After is a splendid opening to the second half of season four. Michonne remembering her journey and reliving her regrets as well as Carl and Rick both allowing each other to be their “own men” and the realization of both that Rick’s son has grown up. The show ends on another humorous note that indicates that Nicotero should sit in the director’s chair more often.
By Michael Smith