The Walking Dead has returned with an episode aptly titled "After." With the prison gone and the survivors scattered it looks like the second half of season 4 is going to focus more on survival and intense zombie action rather than planting vegetables. However "After" is somewhat of a surprise. Instead of delivering the expected high octane mid-season premiere, writer Robert Kirkman and director Greg Nicotero give us a sombre episode that focuses on only three main characters. It is a risky gambit especially since this episode is mainly about Carl, a character who isn't exactly a fan favourite. It is a ballsy move that pays off. "After" is an engaging character piece that fleshes out Carl and delves deeper into Michonne's past and mindset.
It is slow paced, and that might turn off that part of the audience who just wants mindless zombie violence, but it is also one of the stronger episodes of the season. Focusing on how Carl is dealing with everything really helps to get the audience on his side. By the end of the episode some of his haters might even be converted. This is due to Chandler Riggs' very real portrayal of an angry teenager who hates being treated as a child. Yes, there are moments that he comes across as a petulant brat, but that is the point. His bravado and defiant attitude only help to strengthen the impact of the scene with his father where he finally admits he is scared. Carl's narrative has just gotten extremely interesting. However it must be said that his monologue seems too forced, even though Riggs does the scene justice.
As Carl comes to a realisation about himself, so does Michonne. Her aspect of the episode is mostly silent as she goes off into the wilds with her new "pets." Dreams of a past life are haunting her and Danai Gurira finally has the opportunity to work with some decent material. The dream sequence itself is well done as the picturesque setting slowly turns to hell. The whole idea that she has become dead inside and no different from the zombies is a nice hook. Her fury at herself and her current situation leads to an explosion of violence that will have fans clapping. But it also leads to her revelation that she can no longer exist like that and gives this episode (and the show) an actual happy ending.
Again one of the aspects of the show that doesn't work is the level of threat to the characters. Michonne is an "expert" with her samurai sword, so that means she cuts her way through all the zombies she meets. Carl does stumble across some problematic zombies (and a good jump scare). However it would seem that the only reason Carl struggled was to further the plot as opposed to the zombies being a threat (lets not forget Carl is usually a perfect shot). For the episodes narrative the zombie encounters work, but it is hard to not laugh at how utterly toothless they are.
So, on the whole this was a strong outing for The Walking Dead (with some nice visual callbacks to season one). A character piece that succeeded on giving some depth to both Michonne and Carl. Only time will tell if it it succeeded in selling Carl as a viable character to his detractors. This was an episode that lets the characters breathe after the events at the prison and this was a wise decision by the showrunners.
Rating: 8 Hershel heads out of 10.
Review by @gizmo151183