The wait is finally over. Season 4 of The Walking Dead has resumed. And man, did it ever start some arguments in this household! First things first: As is typical with any review of any series, within moments of its original air time, this will be rife with spoilers. If you have not yet watched episode 9, you have two choices. As I see it, you can choose to leave this page now……or……
Click here for a detailed review. (which will also be spoiler laden).
Still here? Shall we continue? Good. Let’s do this!
I read a ton of hate-tweets about Carl last night. I’m entirely convinced that nearly everyone with a social media account has forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager. They have also lost the ability to imagine what it would be like to be a teenager in the zombie apocalypse. Quit hating on Carl. He didn’t ask for any of this. He can’t help it his parents are screw ups, just like the rest of us. Almost every exchange between Rick and Carl was an indirect commentary on parenting in general. “Slow down,” being uttered countless times by Rick. Partly because he still felt the parental responsibility of needing to take the lead in order to protect his child. And partly as an analogy of having to let go. As the parent of a teenager, I can attest to the difficulty in walking that line. You spend their entire childhood both sheltering them and preparing them for the ‘real world’. We raise them so that they can function without us. At some point, you have to trust that you have done a good job and let go. But there will always be that part of you that wants to coddle and care for and protect your child. I’ll love you forever, I’ll love you for always, as long as I’m living my baby you’ll be. Yeah. It’s like that.
Carl, on the other hand, is a raging ball of hormones. On top of that, he has just lost the most stable ‘home’ he has had in 2 years–violently, at that–and is reeling from the loss of Judith, Hershel, Lori, and so many others. Carl is caught between childhood and manhood. It’s not secret that he blames his father for his mother’s death. He outright said it at the end of Season 3 when he pointed out the myriad times that Rick could have handled things and didn’t. It’s Rick’s guilt over that that causes him to give up the gun and take up farming in the first place. He bends over backwards to try and be what he thinks Carl needs. Rick becomes a non-active player in a world that’s still turning. In life, you can’t remain stationary. You can’t stay still. You’re moving forward and living, or you’re lost. Rick made a choice that he thought in his heart was best. Clearly, it wasn’t. Can’t fault him for trying. In the meantime, we have Carl trying to respect his dad’s choices. But when the Governor murders Hershel, that was the last straw. Rick fired blindly as he backed away yelling, “No!” but it was Carl’s shot that hit the Governor. Carl is growing up and he is capable. But Rick’s insistence on keeping him as a sheltered child has only fueled Carl’s rage.
From the time they find shelter in the abandoned house, Rick and Carl are at each others’ throats. Each of them certain that they know what’s best for the other. My ‘hell yeah’ fist-pump-the-air moment came when Carl defended the knot he used to secure the cord around the front door handle. “Clove hitch. Shane taught me. Remember him?” Carl may not have entirely understood what was going on with that love triangle when the apocalypse began, but he knows what buttons to push to make his dad angry. He’s a teenager, not an ignoramus. By definition it’s his job to test his father at every turn. But damn if he didn’t hit a home run with that one. Shane was good to Carl. He was good to him and for him. And Carl trusted Shane’s judgment, hence the amount of times in Season 2 that Carl went to Shane rather than his own father. It reminds me of the Batman/Superman arguments we have around the house. Rick would be like Superman: struggles with his conscience and morality, always playing politics, trying to do ‘what’s right’ for the greater good. Shane, on the other hand, would be Batman: he gets shit done. Carl was dealing with a lot of emotions and was unhappy at the way his father was questioning his every move all day long. And so, Carl said the one thing that he knew would sting the most in the moment. Typical parent/child conversation in a not-so-typical setting.
I loved watching Carl ride that emotional roller coaster. His reaction to seeing a ‘real’ teenager’s bedroom and all of its contents, contrasted with his immediate action towards clearing and securing the house. Once he gets over the initial fear of finding Rick nearly comatose, Carl begins the process of trying to convince himself that he can survive alone. He wasn’t, as most people suggested, being a brat and yelling hurtful things. Carl unleashed all of his bottled up pain at his unconscious father because he had to. Tell me, when in the last 4 seasons have you seen Carl be able to discuss his true feelings with anyone? He tried to with Shane at the farm. And he confessed to Daryl that he shot his own mother. That’s it. Up until now, he has been invisible. “Carl, wait here” “Carl, stay in the house” “Carl…” “Carl…” Stop. Don’t. No. Pleeeeeease. I had a major blowout with my 15 year-old daughter just a few weeks ago that resulted in her laying into me for “never listening”. It didn’t occur to me that I spend so much time trying to do what I think is right that I’m completely discounting her thoughts on the matter. She’s not 5 anymore. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but at some point, parents have to let their child have an (almost) equal voice. Carl has never been given one. Ever. And so he seized the moment. He let his father have it. But, to what purpose? If his father had been awake, would he…could he have opened up like that? He sure clammed up when Rick snapped back about the Shane comment. This proves that while Carl wants to have a voice, he does not want to disrespect his father. The scene was so well done and Chandler Riggs acted it brilliantly.
In typical teenage fashion, Carl goes off and lives his own live-action video game. “I win,” was something heard often. Sure, his attempts at flying solo were fraught with amateur mistakes. But they were no different than the rookie errors committed by Rick in Season 1. Everyone has to learn sometime, somehow. Give the kid a break. Save for a few close encounters, which by the way, Carl recovered from nicely, he proved himself to be more adept than Rick realizes. Carl employs techniques that he picked up from many of the adults who have had an influence on him since the ZA began, including employing the mark-your-territory style of Morgan in the episode Clear. But for all of his bravado, Carl’s true heart is exposed in the moment that he thinks Rick has died and turned. Though he manned up and put his mother out of her misery, Carl could not (thankfully) do the same for his father.
Carl spent the episode acting like he didn’t need his father, “I’d be fine if you died.” But in reality, that was far from the case. Carl wasn’t just proving to Rick and the world that he could handle it on his own, rather, he was trying to prove it to himself. Because deep down, Carl was terrified. Who wouldn’t be? He would rather be eaten and go with his father than be left alone to face the world without him. “I’m scared,” he wept as he cradled his father’s head. My heart broke. One day, and soon at that, my kid will have to face the world alone. The thought of her sitting somewhere, weeping, “I’m scared” terrifies me. By morning, the two had found a little more respect for one another, a little more acceptance, and a little more trust.
Speaking of trust…poor Michonne. We learned a lot about her in this episode. It was implied, heavily, that her boyfriend–after refusing to leave camp and telling Michonne that she couldn’t survive in this horrible world–took their son’s life and his own. When she “talks” to him, she says something about how she understands why. Of course she understands why. But it took time to accept it. (here we go again with acceptance and trust). Michonne couldn’t forgive him for what he had done. But now that she has seen the families torn apart at the prison causing her to, once again, lose those she loves, she gets it. It’s a little easier to forgive now than it was when it all went down.
After the collapse of the prison, Michonne stuck around to, respectively, put down Hershel. That was difficult to watch, even if we knew it was coming. She quickly reverts to her old ways. It’s a self-preservation thing, you see. Michonne chooses two of the Governor’s men to create new pets, and she sets off on her own. It doesn’t take long, though, before she stumbles upon some tracks: Rick and Carl. Michonne had the option to follow their path, but instead chooses to head off into the woods. Why allow yourself to have hope? To become attached? You will only be hurt again, right? But as she moves along, going through the motions, Michonne is haunted by her past. She then sees a walker that resembles her (or does she? there is some debate over whether it was an hallucination that sets her off…discuss). She realizes that she has a choice to make. Perhaps she recalled something Andrea said, “I don’t have another 8 months in me…”. Perhaps she realized that she doesn’t want to be alone. She definitely decided that she didn’t want to be the walking dead. Michonne needed to trust herself, trust her path, and let go.
And so, Michonne battles her demons both literally and figuratively. Once they’ve been expelled, she has her cathartic moment “talking” to her baby-daddy. And then, Michonne heads out to finish tracking whomever left those footprints that lead away from the prison. Soon enough, she finds Rick and Carl. Oh, her smile is lovely! She knocks on the door. Carl readies his weapon as Rick looks through the peep hole. Suddenly, Rick begins to laugh. He turns to Carl and smiles, “It’s for you.”
Perfect ending for what was an emotional, psychological mind-frack of an episode. Acceptance. Trust. Letting go. Well done.
Personally, I love the episodes that deal with things on a psychological level. So many people chided Season 2 for not having enough action and for moving too slow. For me, Season 2 was exceptional. It isn’t just about the fear of the walkers. It’s the fear we have of ourselves, of one another, of who we were, who we are, and who we are becoming. It’s just as much an internal struggle as it is a physical one. And I love episodes that revel in character development. Without them, there is no true way to become invested in a character. And if I’m not invested in a character, I will lose interest, rather than cry when they are killed off. This is why I also appreciated the Governor-centric episodes early in Season 4. And, of course, Clear from Season 3 was a standout. This episode had the Serenity Prayer written all over it. Ironically, the people who complain the most on the internet about how the show has strayed so much from the comics, are the same ones who complained all night about this episode–an episode lifted straight from the source material. I guess there’s just no pleasing some people. My biggest complaint is about those people whose harsh criticism of this episode was simply because it focused on 3 characters. “Where’s Glenn?” “Where’s Maggie?” “Where’s Daryl?” “Daryl…” “Daryl…” “Next week will be better cause Daryl….” Really? I love Daryl the best, but come on now! As one meme put it: It’s the Walking Dead, not the Walking Daryl. You can’t judge an entire writing team simply because that one guy you think is hot wasn’t in the episode. It’s like social media Darwinism. You can always weed your way through to the true fans.
Side note: I had assumed that Michonne’s original pets were ‘docile’ because of the amount of time they had spent being led by her. They did still freak out and attempt to feed whenever spotting prospective meat (check the scene right before she dispatched them in Season 3). However, in last night’s episode, within moments of becoming her new pets, those two walkers were completely under her spell. Even the one led around by Andrea struggled. These two just stood and stared off into space while she put down Hershel. Why? Bad acting? They didn’t even look at her. Just because she stopped walking forward and pulling them, why did they stop moving forward? Hell, not one of my 3 dogs behaves that well on a leash. Just curious. Because if that’s all it takes is a little noose action around the neck, why hasn’t anyone employed the proper use of walkers they way they did at the end of Shaun of the Dead? G said he’d have them attached to a ‘wheel of pain’ ala Conan the Barbarian, using their force as a means to provide electricity, pump the water, even using them like sled dogs. Hahaha. Brilliant!
In a nutshell, this episode was well written, well executed, and exceptionally acted. If this his how they are kicking off the back-8, I can’t wait to see what else is in store! Until next week….