After a weak offering last week, The Walking Dead fires back with ‘Clear’ delivering one of the best episodes of the entire series. The return of a beloved character proves to be just the catalyst the series needs to reinvigorate the third season as it heads into the home stretch.
Let’s break it down after the jump.
I knew it was coming. I knew The Walking Dead wouldn’t disappoint me for long. After we spent last week following around whiny Andrea (Laurie Holden) and her totally unrelatable moral quandary, The Walking Dead comes back with one of the most impressive displays of acting and writing that the series has ever offered. Not only do we get the return of Morgan (played by the absolutely superb Lennie James), but the episode’s direct and economical focus on the nature of this world turned upside down reminds us why the show is so deserving of its incredibly impressive ratings.
Focusing solely on Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) as they go on a supply run is a thing of beauty. No cutaways to the goings-on at Woodbury to see if Andrea has grown a pair; no interruptions to how Merle (Michael Rooker) is trying to assimilate in his new home. It’s a completely isolated episode and the show is all the better for it. Not only do we finally see the development of Michonne as a true member of Team Grimes, we also see the progression of Grimes boys’ relationship and most importantly, we witness Rick acquiring the necessary motivation he needs to win the impending war against Team Woodbury.
Travelling back to Rick’s hometown, our trio encounters a plethora of cray-cray graffiti warnings amidst the most intricate live-action version of Mouse Trap that I have ever seen. Morgan, decked out in full amateur riot gear starts opening fire, only to be taken down by sharp-shooter Carl Grimes. Fortunately (or unfortunately) Morgan’s bulletproof vest ensures he survives, knocking him unconscious but enabling Rick to remove Morgan’s mask. I think I heard the collective gasp of joy that reverberated throughout the homes of all the Dead viewers at that moment.
The kindness that Morgan showed Rick way back in the pilot buys him a trip back upstairs rather than a run as a walker open buffet. As the trio navigates through an impressive assortment of booby traps, it’s clear that the Morgan they are dealing with is no longer the Morgan we once knew. One of the episode’s best moments occurs while Rick looks through the mammoth weapons cache Morgan has acquired in his apartment, finally discovering the walkie-talkie that Rick gave Morgan before they departed. Lincoln kills this scene as he interacts silently with the prop. No words, sparing movements, yet so much emotion is conveyed in these few moments that I again note the injustice that Lincoln hasn’t gotten so much as a Emmy nomination for his portrayal of Grimes. My heart adequately broken, Rick announces that they’re waiting for Morgan to wake up from his bullet wound, hoping to convince him to join the prison group thereafter.
Carl embarks on his own little impetuous mission, but not without taking Michonne along for the ride. Hats off to newly named showrunner Scott M. Gimple who penned this episode (and many of the series’ best) – the decision to break up this small handful of characters for the rest of the episode makes a ton of sense. It’s important that Morgan wakes up and only Rick remains, considering his state and their history, and this provides Michonne an opportunity to earn her acceptance by winning over Carl instead of both of the Grimes boys at once.
On the surface level, Morgan’s residence in “Nutsville” is clearly meant to show Rick that he’s not that far gone, while also illustrating the path that Rick is headed towards. But Morgan’s story is so much more than that. Again, I attribute this to James’ absolutely breathtaking performance and the writing talents of Gimple. There are so many deliciously rich lines in Morgan’s speech to Rick as he recounts how his inability to kill his zombie wife led to the death of his son Duane and ultimately his Sisyphean plight as “the clearer”.
Morgan’s pain is so visceral and palpable. It’s brilliantly punctuated by Rick’s pleas that there has to be more to the apocalyptic world than Morgan’s forecasts. I was clutching my chest in earnest, watching through increasingly misty eyes, longing for James to become a reccurring cast member. But the tragedy of Morgan’s story is that he is simply too far gone that he has to stay where he is. Is Rick responsible for Morgan’s descent? No, I don’t think so. Morgan’s story is a demonstration yet another example of what happens to humanity in this world. His fate represents another kind of death; one that is equally tragic as what happened to Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies). The exchange between James and Lincoln is spectacular and epitomizes quality television at its finest.
Surprisingly, Carl’s side mission to reclaim the one photograph left of his mother doesn’t annoy to the extent it would have has this taken place in, say, season two. In the context of this episode, it works, largely because Michonne emerges from the background, finally developing into a full-fledged character. Admittedly it’s a slight cop-out that we don’t get to see how she’s able to reclaim the photograph in the den of diner-zombies. It’s a winning moment not only because Carl’s justifications for the life-threatening mission maintains some of his precious childhood innocence, but because the exercise humanizes Michonne, effectively breaking free of the two-dimensional archetype she’s been given thus far.
This episode perfectly encapsulates all the aspects that make The Walking Dead so much more than a mere zombie show. These are characters that continually develop in rich and complex ways, making it impossible for us to look away, even in the bleakest and darkest of times. It’s hard to say whether or not this episode would have been as successful as it is without all the meandering that preceded it, but it sure is satisfying when a gem of an episode like this one surfaces right when the series needs it most. Here’s to anxiously looking forward to the final few episodes left in the season.
- The backpacker that bookends the episode is another brilliant narrative device. Not only do we see how far Rick has come since last season in terms of what it takes to keep his group safe (i.e. The whole Randall debacle), it further hammers home the very prevalent theme of this episode and arguably, the season: you simply cannot survive on your own. Furthermore, when Carl grabs the backpack from whatever remains of the backpacker, it’s a wonderfully cinematic moment.
- To that effect, the comedic punches throughout ‘Clear’ are right on point: how much did I love Michonne’s comment about the rainbow paper mache cat, or Rick telling her why she should drive back over him? Gold.
- I almost jumped for joy when I saw Carl without the stupid sheriff’s hat while in the backseat of the car in the episode’s opening. Unfortunately the little bugger put that damn thing back on once he got out of the car. Drat.
What did you think Dead fans? Do you agree that this was one of the best episodes of the series? Do you think Rick will have to convince the rest of the gang that Michonne is A-Okay to stay, or do they already know that? Think Rick is out of Nutsville for a while and ready to reclaim his role as leader? Sound off in our comments section below.
A gentle reminder that we adhere to a SPOILER FREE zone here, so please keep any plot points from the graphic novels or online tidbits to yourself.
The Walking Dead airs at 9pm EST, Sundays on AMC.