AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD takes a break from the action in last night’s “Clear,” with only four characters appearing. Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Carl (Chandler Riggs), and Michonne’s (Danai Gurira) supply run takes them into the town where Rick and Carl lived, where they encounter an old friend who has become unhinged.
Some fans don’t like these slower, character-driven episodes, but I feel like this is what the series is about. Sure, a huge herd and a burning barn make for fantastic television, but when the series is looked at overall, and one wants to tell others what the point of it is and why it is so popular, I point to the character development. When we see the protagonists struggling with moral quandaries and questioning themselves, this is where the show soars. And because we now get cool zombie stuff during these episodes, in addition to the dialogue that makes us think, “Clear” ranks among my favorite episodes to date.
An often-asked question during the first couple of seasons of THE WALKING DEAD is, “What happened to Morgan and Duane?” We meet the father and son in the very first episode, but then Rick leaves them to search for his family, and they aren’t seen again. Until now.
In the comics, Rick makes a conscious choice, post-prison, to find them. In the show, it’s an accident, coming out of nowhere, which says something about the differences between print and screen Rick. The television version is more flawed, and wrestles with his decisions more. I like this, because Rick is forced to consider the type of man he is, and he can make the choice to change himself.
This year, Rick has been losing it a bit, seeing the ghost of his wife and having trouble leading others when he needs to. But now, he sees Morgan (Lennie James), whose son is killed by his zombie wife, living alone with a huge stock of guns and rantings written on the walls. It’s a “there but for you go I” moment, where Rick glimpses another way his life could have turned out, could still turn out, and it really makes him reassess things.
It’s heartbreaking when Morgan tells Rick he listened to the radio every day, but Rick wasn’t there. Even if Rick’s reasons, being pushed away from town, are sound, he still feels guilty. Could Rick have saved Duane? Could he have made a difference for Morgan? Maybe, and that’s going to haunt our hero. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late to save Morgan now.
Morgan opts not to return to the prison, and who can blame him, seeing the huge stockpile of guns Rick has come for? Morgan says what’s the point, if you get something worth having, someone is going to try to take it from you. He’s right. This is a dark world where one cannot just be left alone, and has to constantly struggle to carve out a decent living for themselves. But Morgan is also wrong because once you stop fighting, you die. Rick knows the value of life, and hopefully he will get to come back for Morgan again, making that decision down the line, proving what a hero he is.
Rick might want to learn a little from Morgan’s set up, too. Spikes and caged rats make for great zombie traps, and after seeing Morgan’s defenses in action, it’s easy to see how he has managed to be OK this long, even by himself. The prison could use a little of this.
Also, I like that THE WALKING DEAD chose not to show zombie Duane. In the comics, this is far enough removed form the Governor and Penny that it works, but here, we would have only drawn parallels, and it would have made Morgan seem dangerous, which, despite Michonne’s declaration, I don’t think that he is. Especially if the series is considering adding Morgan to the cast next year (and they definitely should be), this is a wise move.
While Rick and Morgan have their plot, Carl goes in search of a gift for Judith, a picture of her parents and himself that he knows is in a bar. Michonne accompanies him, much to Carl’s dismay, but it gives them time to get to know each other, and leads to a funny, heartwarming line with a hideous wooden cat.
Up until now, Michonne has felt like an outsider in the group. She’s a very likeable and cool character, but we haven’t cared about her the way one does when reading the graphic novels, nor have the other characters cared for her. “Clear” is the stuff we need, seeing her understanding Rick and Carl, and doing her best to help them. By the end of the hour, Carl gives his approval, saying she’s one of them, and along with a couple of sympathetic words from Michonne to their leader, it’s enough for Rick, who is willing to kick her out of the group prior to this, but likely has changed his mind.
Part of what has been lost in this new world is trust of one’s fellow man. We see the trio coldly drive past a hitchhiker on the way into town, Rick isn’t trusting Michonne, and Michonne and Carl don’t want to trust Morgan. But at the rate the group loses people, they have to add more to their number to survive, and not everyone is bad. At this point, care must be taken to ensure new people can be added, but also that they are screened.
On the way back, they pass the same hitchhiker, torn to bits, and take his supplies. It’s a darkly amusing moment, but it also makes one wonder. Would they have picked him up had he still been alive? Are they ready to turn over a new leaf? Having the hitchhiker survive would have answered something about these characters right away, but I kind of like the fuzzy way this plays out, not telling us everything we want to know, but still having that nice closure at the end of the episode to what is presented at the beginning.
“Clear” is an excellent installment, providing plenty to ponder, and is a great way to take a quick break from the showdown with the Governor. This is a demonstration of why this series is breaking all cable viewing records, and why it can resonate even with those who don’t like zombies.
THE WALKING DEAD airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.