The Governor is dead, and the episode focuses on Michonne, Rick and Carl. Oh, and lots of zombies, as usual.
The prison is in flames. The survivors are scattered. And the Governor is dead. In case you were unclear on that last point, the camera pans over the carnage of the previous episode’s battle and settles on a close up of his bullet-riddled head. But where is everyone else? This episode only follows three of the survivors, but what we get from them is some long awaited answers and (gasp!) character progression. It’s like Christmas came early. Or late. Or in the form a zombie Santa Claus carrying a bag full of rotting heads. You get the idea.
Stepping over the Guv’s corpse is Michonne, her casually ferocious style of zombie carnage on full display as she dispatches any walker that comes close. She lures two zombies into impaling themselves and uses their temporary immobility to cut off their arms and lower jaws to transform them into her the zombie camouflage she used when we first met her. The old Michonne is back. To bring home the point, she puts her katana through the skull of Hershel’s decapitated and now zombified head. Her grief and stoicism is also back, but soon, at least, we learn how she got that way to begin with.
But not yet as we see Carl and Rick walking down a road. Carl plows ahead while Rick, in bad shape after the battle and little better than a walker at this point, harps on him to slow down. Carl ignores him and the two argue further over killing a walker at a road side café.
When the two find an empty house to stay in, Carl and Rick argue more: over how to check the house, how to barricade the front door, and how they should ration food. Carl even throws the specter of Shane in Rick’s face. Carl’s got a chip on his shoulder and Rick in such bad shape he can’t take the time to figure it out.
And then welcome to flashback land. Michonne, dressed stylishly while cutting vegetables in her modern kitchen, listens to two men banter playfully at the dining room table (one of them being Hardison from Leverage.) Her cutting knife becomes a katana, which she slides into the knife holder, and a little boy runs playfully into her arms. Ok, maybe more dream sequence than flashback.
The two men start arguing and questioning why they should continue living. “Where’s the happy ending here?” Hardison asks. It becomes clear he is her husband and he talks as if they at a survivor camp. The other man appears to be sweating blood. Her son disappears, the two men become walkers with no arms or lower jaws and the world outside her window is falling apart. Michonne wakes from her nightmare and we do a little dance of joy at finally get some backstory on her. Even if it is gruesome and soul-destroying for her. But great for us!
From the despairing husband’s questions, we can gather he killed their son and then himself rather than continue to live in a world with no hope. And this act is what turned Michonne into the katana-wielding, grim reaper we know and love. In her devastation she withdrew from everybody and it appears she has reverted to her old ways in the aftermath of the prison battle. To make that point, she even finds Carl and Rick’s footprints, but she continues to walk with a group of about two dozen zombies rather than meet up with her friends again.
Meanwhile, Carl has found a teenage boy’s bedroom in the house and happily reads a book (anyone see which one?) while Rick is still sleeping off his injuries. Later, when Carl tries to wake Rick, but can’t, Carl loses it and screams at Rick. This attracts some walkers who start banging on the front door. Carl goes outside and lures the zombies away, confident he can take care of himself without Rick’s help, but when he bumps into a third zombie it Carl loses his cool. Though he falls to the ground (like everyone does in a horror flick, I swear), he manages to shoot all three zombies, each one falling on top of him. Though he vomits after the fight, he then walks tall in the streets. He killed three zombies by himself, after all.
Returning to tell Rick of heroic survival, he finds he can’t wake his father. But that doesn’t stop him from launching into an epic rant on how useless Rick has been and how Carl can survive without him.
Now Carl feels like a man. He enters another house and overconfidently checks the rooms without much fear. Unfortunately, behind door number three is a live and very hungry zombie. Carl almost gets bit a number of times, but gets away by slipping out of the shoe that the zombie is holding on to. He traps the zombie in the room and then sits on roof to eat an enormous can of chocolate pudding he found in the kitchen. You know, like you do after a near-death experience.
Michonne’s walkabout with the mob of zombies puts her next to a walker who looks a lot like her. It disturbs her. Greatly. Is this what is to happen her? Is this her happy ending? She loses it and beheads the doppelganger. The other walkers notice her and she takes them down, too. All of them. Like 20-plus zombies. Snikety-snak! She then goes back to tracks and follows them.
Carl wakes in the middle of the night next to Rick, but his father seems more walker than man. Rick wheezes and moans and reaches weakly towards Carl. Freaked, Carl points his gun at Rick, but in the end, can’t shoot his father, even if he is a zombie. He would rather die. But Rick isn’t dead yet and proves it by saying Carl’s name and a warning not to go outside. Then passes out in his best alcoholic dad impression.
Michonne finds the roadside cafe with the dead walker Carl shot at the beginning of the episode. She has a moment of talking to herself (much like Carl this entire episode) and tells her dead husband, she knows why she continues living even in this dismal place. One would presume she meant that she still has hope in the form of finding Carl and Rick again. And of course, there are still so many zombies to brain with her katana as she does when she leaves the café.
It’s morning and Rick looks a lot less dead than he used to. Carl has admitted to going outside to find more food but omits his encounters with the walkers. He’s just happy to have Rick back and Rick tells him he’s becoming a man. After Carl’s last day of living without Rick’s protection, it seems he realized just how much his dad sacrificed to keep him safe. And Rick realized that his son did well on his own, though he doesn’t know the full extent of the boy’s misadventures. It also seems clear that Carl isn’t yet ready to make all the hard choices of adulthood when he couldn’t kill Rick who he thought was a walker. But wait, the show isn’t done ending on an uplifting note just yet.
Out on the street, Michonne sees the empty can of chocolate pudding in front of a house and looks through the window of the place to see Rick and Carl talking. On the porch she has a moment of sheer joy and relief, fighting back tears, mouth trembling. Though she spent most of the episode reverting back to her loner ways, she realized she really wanted to be part of a family again and now she has found them.
This newfound happiness must have addled her brains because she knocks on the front door of the house without announcing herself scaring the crap out of Rick and Carl. But when Rick sees who it is through the peephole, he collapses in relief, looks at Carl and tells him, “It’s for you.”
So what we have here is Carl’s coming-of-age story and Michonne at a crossroads between reverting to a life of a despairing loner or once again embracing a family that she may lose all over. And unlike most other episodes in this series so far, both stories end in a note of hope. Not the grim hope of survivors faced with overwhelming odds, but the kind of hope that comes from knowing that you belong to a group of people that accept you. I’m sure it’s all downhill from here in terms of happy moments for them, but having this one quiet episode focus on these three provides a welcome relief from the on-going misery of the larger story.
Speaking of which, next week’s episode preview shows us what happened to the rest of the prison battle survivors. And it doesn’t look like chocolate pudding and happy endings for them.