We argued about this episode. We suspect, going on twitter discussions and early reviews, that our argument was repeated on couches throughout the land last night. If you are someone who’s sick to death of all the freaking standing around and talking, and if you’re someone who doesn’t think they can handle one more scene of a character doing something incredibly dangerous and stupid for no good reason, then you probably hated this episode. On the other hand, if you wanted to see a little bit more world-building and perhaps a scene where Michonne acts like an actual human being instead of a snarl with a sword attached to it, or if you wanted to take a breather from all the dreariness of the prison and simply see some decent character work all around, then you might have found this episode enjoyable.
It’s easy to forget, from the comfort of our couches, as we rest our hands or our drinks on our full bellies, that the psychological effects of living in the zombie apocalypse would be long-term and highly damaging over time. Imagine if every day was September 11th and you were stuck in lower Manhattan, trying to build a life in the rubble. We yell at Rick and Co. for their constant poor decisions and reckless actions, forgetting that, in comparison to our own lives, every single person we’re yelling at is irrevocably damaged to the point of being pretty much clinically insane. It’s post-traumatic stress disorder written on a societal scale, except no one ever reached the “post” part of the equation; suffering instead through an endless, ongoing trauma.
Rick has had an especially improbable task throughout this story because, unlike the rest of the main characters, he’s not fighting to build a life for himself in this world; he’s been fighting to build a life for his family. That he’s failed so spectacularly isn’t necessarily an indictment of his efforts, but it’s good for the story to be reminded of the toll his failures have taken on him. Granted, they tried that with the “Rick goes crazy and sees ghosts” story line and it didn’t really work at all, mainly because it was tonally so far off from the rest of the story. It’s one thing to show a character in the throes of a breakdown in this world; it’s quite another to put Lori in a white nightgown and have her wander around the prison like it’s a haunted house attraction. If you’re going to depict insanity in this stark, horrifying world, then stay away from the silly visions. Enter: Morgan.
The writing kind of lost its subtlety early on in this episode, so the point that Morgan is a “there but for the grace of God” mirror image of Rick, complete with regrets over bad decisions and lost family members, was hammered home perhaps a bit too forcefully. And yes, it was difficult to watch Rick make another series of strategically very stupid decisions for reasons that didn’t hold a lot of water or make a lot of sense. But for once, an episode of The Walking Dead did a good job of underlying a set of themes and this week, the theme was the irresistible pull of nostalgia in a world you no longer recognize; the value of remembering where you came from as you try to figure out where you’re going next, and finally, the high cost of living in such a world: the loss of your own empathy.
Rick wants to stay with the unconscious Morgan, against Michonne’s well-stated wishes. On the surface, it makes no sense, but Rick, who is pretty much batshit crazy after the loss of his wife, just wants to rewind back to a point when he still had hope; a time when his wife and son were out there waiting for him to rescue them and there still existed in his mind the possibility of things returning to normal; a time before all of Rick’s mistakes. In Morgan, we see a man who made a different set of mistakes. He held on to the past too long and wound up drowning in it because he couldn’t make the hard decisions the new status quo required.
Meanwhile, Carl is taking his new badass self out on the town, confident that he can take a stroll down memory lane, even as it’s populated with hungry undead. Like Rick, he’s taking an unneccessary risk born out of a desire to recapture the past and some part of himself from a time when he wasn’t so cold-blooded and damaged. Michonne takes this moment to suddenly sprout a personality and the ability to string entire sentences together. Nothing in this entire episode was more welcome than that development. Turns out? She’s not just a crazy, badass bitch. She is, in fact, as damaged as anyone else in this world, but still has enough empathy to see that both Carl and Rick need her help in different ways.
In the end, Carl got his piece of nostalgia and it was a good thing for him to hold onto, Rick realized his nostalgia (not to mention his insanity) was going to get more people killed and handed the wheel over to someone else, if only for a little while. It’s the first real growth we’ve seen in the character since … well, ever. And finally, Morgan is stuck in a hell of his own making, pinned to the ground by his own mistakes and his inability to move on from them. It’s not exactly a happy ending for anyone – especially since the show went out of its way to show how cold and cruel our heroes are, refusing to slow their car down for a stranger in need of help, but willing to do so to pick up his backpack from the smear of blood he left behind. The world is cruel and hard. Despite Morgan’s insistence that the weak are going to inherit this earth, all three people in that car are now bonded in their commitment to staying harder still – and looking out only for each other.
[Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC]