Monday, March 4, 2013

Review: The Walking Dead "Clear"

Non Spoiler Review:
Taking a break from Woodbury/prison politics, Rick, Carl and Michonne hit the road in search of supplies, returning to the Grimes' hometown. There they find more than just the ghosts of their former lives as Carl goes on a mission and Rick confronts more of his past decisions.

For a smaller cast removed from the greater storyline Clear was a really entertaining hour with some memorable Carl/Michonne moments and the return of an earlier character (well-ahead of schedule if you're a follower of the graphic novel).

On another note, this week was written by new show runner Scott Gimple, who is replacing Glen Mazzarra for next season. If this is an indication of his style and direction I'm not so worried about the future of the series.

Spoilers Now!
Rick, Michonne and Carl are on their road trip when they pass a survivor begging them to stop. They keep driving, despite Carl looking back after him. They come to a group of abandoned vehicles and Michonne gets stuck in the mud. Roamers immediately descend on their car. Given they've become such efficient killing machines, they dispatch with the lot and set about getting the vehicle out. The hiker appears down the road and is about to catch up with them, but they're on their way before he can. 

Rick has taken them back to his home town to search his sheriff's department, but they find it picked clean of weapons. But he has a few other options to explore. He's still terse with Michonne when she dares to ask him a question but she's in no mood to fight. 

They discover a great deal of writing on the buildings warning people away, so follow some green arrows painted on the sidewalk and arrive at a barricaded area with a message painted on the road—turn around and live. Beyond is an assortment of odd and creative traps to snare walkers. Rick just wants to get what they need and leave, despite Michonne's unease at crossing into what is obviously someone's territory. 

A sniper takes out a walker and orders them to drop their weapons and turn around. Michonne thinks she can get up there so Rick provides cover as she rushes over. Michonne makes it to the roof but the shooter is down on the ground coming after Rick. Carl abruptly shoots him.

Rick reminds Carl he told him to run for the car. He didn't want him to have to do that. Rick finds the man is wearing body armor and is still alive. He takes off his helmet and it's Morgan.

Rick has changed his tune and won't leave Morgan on the street. He remembers he has a son, so they take Morgan back inside, carefully keeping an eye out for the multitude of traps. Morgan has assembled an impressive arsenal, while the walls are covered in rambling messages. Rick finds the walkie-talkie he left for him, then sees written on the wall Duane turned.

Rick decides to wait until Morgan wakes up to ensure he's okay. Michonne suggests he's not the man he once knew. As a precaution Rick ties him up. Meanwhile, Carl notices a hand drawn map of the town and their old neighbourhood. He wants to go on a run to a baby store around the corner. Michonne offers to come along and help, but he doesn't want a chaperon. It's the only way Rick will agree to it, so the two take off together. When Michonne takes care of a roamer Carl attempts to slip off. She confronts him, and Carl explains he wants to do this on his own, so she reminds him he just passed the baby place. He's getting something else, he tells her. Michonne follows at a distance.

Morgan wakes up and frees himself, but he's unable to recognize Rick. He throws Rick down and stabs him in the shoulder. Enraged, Rick pulls his gun and nearly shoots him. Morgan begs for death. Rick bandages himself, ties Morgan up again, and attempts to get through to the man. Morgan finally realizes who he is when Rick brings up the radio. He tells him that he did what he said—turned on the radio at dawn to listen for him, but Rick was never there. Rick protests that he kept getting pushed farther out into the country, and he had people to keep safe, including his wife and son he found.

Morgan confesses he never did kill his wife like he should have, and one day when he was down in the cellar she was in the house standing in front of Duane. He couldn't shoot his mother either, and she bit him. Morgan warns him his boy will die too. The good people always die. The weaker people, like Morgan, have inherited the earth. 

Carl and Michonne reach a café but Michonne won't let him go in. Carl gets irate that she's interfering in his personal business, insisting he knows what he's doing. She agrees she might not be able to stop him, but he can't stop her from helping. So they send in several of Morgan's caged rats on skateboards to distract the walkers and allow them to sneak inside. They overlook one quiet, dormant roamer that tries to snare Carl but Michonne impales it. Carl has retrieved a photo from over the counter and they make their way back out, only to run into a rat being chased by the walkers. They head out the back but Carl drops the picture. Michonne realizes how important it is for him, so she tells him to wait for her. She goes back around to the front and miraculously returns with the photo, which is one of Carl, Rick and Lori. He's thankful. She also retrieved a fabulous cat statue.

Rick wants Morgan to come back with them and fills him in about the prison where he'll have a chance to heal. Morgan asks why Rick needs all the guns, and that means someone wants to take what he has. Rick confesses they're going to win but he can use the help. Morgan won't watch that happen again and tells him he can take the guns. Morgan believes his survival is a sign. He has to clear.

Carl and Michonne return with the crib as Rick has packed up some weapons. Morgan is clearing out the walkers snared around his perimeter. Carl calls out to him, telling him he's sorry for shooting him, but he knows he had to, right? Morgan warns him to never be sorry.

They pack up the car, and as Rick asks him if everything is okay with Michonne, Carl suggests she might be one of them. Alone, Michonne asks Rick if he's seeing something. She knows he sees things sometimes, but that's okay. She used to talk to her dead boyfriend. Rick asks her to drive because he sees things sometimes, and they leave the town behind them. 

They pass by the group of cars from earlier, and then see on the road the dismembered body of the hiker they never stopped for. They back up, pick up his backpack and drive on.

The Verdict:
It's been quite awhile since we've had such an intimate low key episode, but Clear was an enjoyable break from the larger storylines and a necessary one to humanize some characters in much need of humanizing.

Carl's pursuit of the photo could have been a cheesy bit but he and Michonne made a fine team and she is finally breaking out of her limited  development. That cat statue scene did more for her than the entire season of screentime so far. Plus we get Carl shooting (and very nearly killing) Morgan without a thought, then some scenes of him not being the cold-hearted killer we've grown used to. And finally Rick, who broke out of his us versus them mentality for just a bit to care for Morgan and try to save him.

The addition of the man on the road was an effective book end to the story. While it was predictable that the hiker would show up at the end and possibly dead, the cold manner in which they stop and take his belongings was absolutely chilling and threw some cold water on all the warm and fuzzy interaction we enjoyed with the trio. It's an interesting contrast to the Governor, who likely would have brought the wanderer into Woodbury. But was he alone? We only learn that after the fact, so can we blame Rick for not stopping? Coupled with Morgan's final speech about the weak inheriting the earth, it left me struggling with what the proper course of action should be.

It wasn't clear that Rick was heading back to his home town (for some reason I thought they would be quite a distance away from it by now). So the reappearance of Morgan so early in the storyline compared to the graphic novel was a neat surprise. Equally surprising was leaving him behind, but I guess there are quite enough unstable people at the prison for now.

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