Greetings zombie lovers and fans of dying by bullets or teeth; this week’s fantastic episode of The Walking Dead, “Clear”, was hands down the best episode of The Walking Dead to air since the pilot. Not only was “Clear” great, it gave me great hope for the long-term creative viability of the show; which is odd, considering this episode offered up a fairly grim argument about what that possible future might hold for the characters that inhabit this world.
Hey, did I mention this episode was great yet? I will fully admit these recaps are much easier to write when the episodes are of the so-so, or the ‘good, not great’ caliber. It’s easier to point out flaws and be snarky, and to be brutally honest, it’s kind of fun. So before I start heaping the (deserved) praise on “Clear” let’s get something straight: The Walking Dead cannot do episodes like this on a weekly basis. Sadly, as I’ve discussed many other times in previous recaps the “I don’t care about the writing, just kill zombies” portion of the fanbase is too large at this point, and they must be sated as well. It’s an economic reality for AMC, they have to maintain the show’s broad appeal, and that means future episodes will continue to be hindered by the writers being forced to keep coming up with contrived situations to throw the characters into that justifies excessive zombie killing. And by the way, all of these types of fans are dead wrong and should not be appeased at all. These are the people marching this world into cultural (and perhaps literal) oblivion. Whether those fans admit it or not, they have to give at least half a shit about the story and these characters, otherwise they would have tuned out by this point.
I once thought “Seed”, the season opener, was representative of The Walking Dead firing on all cylinders. This was the best we were going to get, a show driven by entertaining action that kept the character work and more emotionally driven scenes to minimum, thus making them more effective. “Clear” reverses this paradigm and delivers the best episode of the show to date. Shocker: The Walking Dead can be just as interesting and exciting when it features two characters sitting in a room and talking for the majority of the episode. Another shocker: If they parasol out the zombie sequences, they will have greater impact, as opposed to constantly barraging the viewer with zombie killing melees that make you numb to the violence and horror. Admittedly, it doesn’t hurt that one of the characters in that aforementioned room is someone every Walking Dead fan has wondered about since the pilot. Only Morgan (Lennie James) is no longer the man we remember from the pilot. He is now a tortured soul on the brink of insanity who has lost everything. He doesn’t even recognize Rick as he opens fire on him in the beginning of the episode. Rick spares him because he remembers Morgan as he was: a decent man, a caring father, and a widower having some trouble letting go of his wife…literally. I still vividly remember the powerful scenes in the first episode that cross-cut between Morgan attempting to kill his wife, and Rick going to kill Bicycle girl. Morgan’s weakness in that moment would eventually cost Duane, Morgan’s son, his life, and Morgan the remainder of his humanity.
Since he lost his Duane, Morgan has been living Omega Man/I Am Legend style, in tricked out booby trap house/stronghold that looked like it was designed by a demented Kevin Macalister. The most powerful moment of the episode was Morgan’s explanation of his son’s death. Lennie James’ amazing performance here is both riveting and profoundly sad, “I see red, everything I see is red… and I do it…” that line gave me chills and is a testament to the strong writing and acting on display throughout this episode. After he explained what happened to Duane, Morgan posits to Rick that it is the weak who’ve now inherited the earth. It’s an interesting argument: the good men and bad men like Rick and The Governor will eventually kill each other off while all the cowards will survive, tucked away in their respective holes, unwilling to venture out and face this awful world head on. He asks Rick to kill him more than once during their exchange. Rick calls him out, arguing there has to be a reason Morgan hasn’t given up and killed himself yet. He encourages Morgan to get his shit together and give living another chance. It’s obvious when Rick keeps insisting to Morgan that he can ‘come back from this’ he is really trying to convince himself that it’s possible to go on living despite losing Lori and being forced to kill Shane. And while he can’t get Morgan to leave the abyss, Rick does reclaim a sense of purpose through their conversation.
The sub-plot of the episode involved Michonne and Carl having a little adventure to get baby Judith a crib. This was The Walking Dead doing what it does best, crafting suspenseful horror and action oriented scenes. However, the episode managed to graft a fair amount of character development for Michonne into the action as well. Here, we finally see a softer side Michonne, even though she is cold and calculating samurai a large portion of the time, she is also someone who wants to be accepted and part of something bigger. Michonne knows Rick and Carl are good people trying to survive in a not so good world, and instead of pushing back against them and giving them reasons to dislike her (like she did to everyone in Woodbury) she decides to be kind and help Carl retrieve the picture of his parents from the days gone by, and get’s herself a badass ceramic cat to boot! Last, but not least, I truly appreciated that Michonne and Carl found some creative and humorous ways to deal with the zombies, such as the ‘rat on a skateboard’ trick; humor in The Walking Dead?? And it worked?? Huh, maybe there should be some more humor worked in every now and then….just saying.
This episode was written by future showrunner Scott M. Gimple who is replacing outgoing showrunner Glen Mazzara, and if this is very encouraging. I only hope Gimple stays with the show for the long haul. The Walking Dead needs consistent creative direction that will last longer than a season, and based on this episode it’s clear that Gimple understands what The Walking Dead is all about, it’s not about nihilism, nor is it about happy endings, it’s about survival. In the episodes final moments when Michonne turns around to retrieve the poor backpacker dude’s backback, it was The Walking Dead’s equivalent of dropping the mic. This show can be great when it wants to be, but for continued greatness it has to stop catering to certain portions of the fanbase, and focus on creating more of the emotionally resonate and incredibly strong storytelling we experienced in “Clear”.
Don’t miss SNL’s Walking Dead sketch that aired over the weekend. It was pretty good send up, but Nasim Pedrad’s take on Carl was hysterical. And I think I speak for everyone when I say I want Bill Hader to guest star on TWD as Merle And Daryl’s long lost third brother.