Walking Dead, Season 4, Episode 9, “After”

“After”

(All images used in this post are screen caps from AMC’s The Walking Dead, unless otherwise specified.)

Sunday night, after I set up my beverage and laptop situation on the convertible coffee-table,  I sat back to watch the last moments of Too Far Gone, the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead, Season 4, and ease in with my first Stella of the evening. I thought to myself, “Ok. I can do this.”

Too Far Gone…it was the second time I’d watched it in the past 24 hours. Wrenching. That’s why I got the Stellas, and they were doing exactly what they were supposed to do, going down like cold liquid gold and giving me a little more courage with every sip… I watched Lilly, standing over the the Gov, pointing, firing and rekilling his ass, and there was Creepy Clara Walker, making quite a lovely zombie and shuffling towards the burning wrecked prison with the rest of the horde…Carl and Rick were arm in arm, holding each other up as they climbed a steep hillside and away from the burning wreckage of the prison, which was being overrun with walkers.

Carl turns for a last look, Rick tells Carl,  “Don’t look back…Carl…just keep walking.”

Ughhh….so heartbreaking…really hard to watch, every time.

The Stella does  help, some.

“After”

I loved the opening shot, an aerial view of the burning prison, smoke billowing upward as the prison is overrun with walkers…I was particularly drawn to the stark image of the watchtower burning…

My WD buddy remarked,

My WD buddy lamented, “Oh, no, Glenn and Maggie’s love nest! 😦

Then, the camera pans down closer and closer to the level of the walkers, and the dead bodies of the fallen, including a shot of Michonne’s horse, dead and opened and disemboweled, and then a sweet shot of the dead Gov:

R.I.P. Gov, you dick.

R.I.P. Gov, you dick.

Then our first glimpse of Michonne, a shot of her hand on her katana:

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Michonne once again is the lone observer, surveying the burning wreckage of the prison which had, only hours before, been home to herself and her people …It is nearing sunset of a day which began with her laughing and driving with Hershel into the woods to dispose of a pile of walker bodies, and ended with Hershel’s murder and the senseless massacre and destruction of the prison.

Michonne’s face is stony, her fury shows only in the speed of her katana as she swiftly beheads any stray walker who steps too close. She then spies two reanimated goons from the Gov’s army, baits them into spearing themselves on the Morgan-style wooden spikes placed in front of the prison fencing, and fashions herself two new walker “pets”:

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And then, a few yards away, she makes a grisly discovery:

I knew the Gov didn't finish the job and give Hershel a proper rekill... such a dick!

Hershel’s reanimated head!  Aaaghh!  I knew the Gov didn’t finish the job and give Hershel a proper rekill… such a dick, Governor!

Greg Nicotero, who directed “After,” said later, on Talking Dead, that Michonne went back to the prison for the express purpose of finding Hershel and taking care of him if needed…Danai Gurira, who plays Michonne, was also a guest on TD and  gave many insights into Michonne’s character and motivations. (Last night’s TD was pretty much one of the best, ever, in my humble opinion. Greg Nicotero, Danai Gurira and Chris Hardwick, hashing it all out…no rambling, no bullshit…TD, straight up…and sweet new haircut on Chris Hardwick…looking good, bud!)

Danai Gurira said that it is a key part of Michonne’s character that Michonne always steps up and does what “needs to be done” in a given situation…in this case, she takes but a moment to digest the horror of Hershel’s reanimated head lying in the grass before her, and then:

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Michonne grips the handle of her katana in her right hand and drives the blade into Hershel’s skull, rekilling him.  Then, she puts her hand gently on Hershel’s temple, and holds it there for a moment before pulling the blade out..

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Once again, Michonne swiftly adapts to the situation at hand… With a few strokes of her katana, she fashions new walker pets, leashes them up, then finds and rekills Hershel. However, the way she plays the scene, Danai Gurira’s amazing performance allows us to see flashes of Michonne’s pain and grief as she forced back to her former survival style, from the days before she found Andrea…but we know that Michonne has evolved past that place…the conflict shows in her face, but for now, she is doing what needs to be done to survive and bide her time.

I knew when I watched Too Far Gone that the Governor did not rekill Hershel properly to prevent him from reanimating into a walker.  I saw him slice into Hershel’s neck, then I saw him go after poor Hershel and chop at him, severing his head, but I never saw the Gov finish the job. I watched that episode many times, and came up with the same worry each time, that Hershel’s head would reanimate if he hadn’t gotten a proper rekill, and one cannot count on the Gov to do the honorable thing when he fells someone he feels is his enemy.

The Gov always did that…he decided who he was going to give a proper rekill to, and who he would leave to reanimate, like the final “fuck you” to his fallen adversary…remember poor Sweet Walker Pete, still chained to the bottom of that dead lake, vainly trying to claw his way out?  We all remember how it went down with Merle. The Gov was super pretty, but he was a super dick…that’s always a terrible combination…such a waste.

The Hershel scene did kind of mess me up at first, but my WD buddy put it all into perspective, as she invariably does… when I texted how bummed I was about Hershel’s head, she texted back:  I didn’t think it looked so believable, like not the best effects or whatever. Ha!

Later, on Talking Dead, Greg Nicotero presented his “gift” for the show, dumping the prosthetic Hershel head out of a bag and onto the table. He then started to make it move, the mouth opening and closing, while Chris Harwick fake-yelled at him, “You are a bad man!”   Then, Chris Hardwick started feeding the prosthetic Hershel head spoonfuls of chocolate pudding from a giant can of pudding like Carl’s from later in the episode.

(Btw, eating pudding was trending worldwide by the end the season premiere showing of After”. )

Later, Talking Dead’s eulogy to Hershel in the In Memoriam segment read:  Hershel: You may have lost your leg, and your head, but you never lost your dignity…RIP…Again.

(The only reason I am ok with any of this is that I know Scott Wilson is in on the joke.)

Now, onto Carl’s teenage angst.  Chandler Riggs also threw down an amazing performance in this episode, his best yet.  Greg Nicotero said that this episode (at least the storyline between Carl and Rick) was taken pretty directly from The Walking Dead comic series, Issues # 49-50.  This episode was also infused with many scenes and moments of improvisation by the cast and crew, making the feel of it very organic and believable.

(You may at some point get sick of me starting sentences with , “Greg Nicotero says…” Sorry about that…needs to be done.  The man is head makeup and effects, executive producer, and director.  he’s everywhere.)

Carl and Rick are walking down a road, and Carl is walking ahead of Rick. He’s pretty much being a dick to his dad,  who limps behind him, stuggling to keep up. Carl’s pissed, and he’s a teenager, and nobody can really blame him for either of these things, especially in this moment.  But poor Rick is so messed up…he’s trying to call to Carl, trying to tell him to slow down. Carl is pretending he can’t hear Rick, even though Rick is wheezing and can barely get the words out. Teenagers!

What’s up with Rick’s breathing? my WD buddy texted me. I didn’t know, but I was worried.  If the Gov broke one of Rick’s ribs in the fight, that could turn really bad.  A broken rib makes it really painful to breathe, and a broken rib could puncture a lung.

Then, I saw that Rick had ripped off one of his sleeves to make a tourniquet thing for his wounded leg, and I was grateful for the view of Andrew Lincoln’s elegantly muscled arm…it made me feel a little better.

At first, Rick tries to placate his angry, hurting son by telling him what he always tells him, that things are gonna work out, that they are gonna be…he starts to say “ok”, or “fine,” but Carl’s shoots Rick a look, and Rick can’t finish the sentence…it’s like, Just shut up, dad…you look like shit, your face looks like shit.  Just shut up.

The ensuing scenes between Rick and Carl are a tense back and forth between a father and his teenage son… Rick (who is miraculously still standing and functioning, somehow) is trying to reassert himself as the leader and the authority figure in their dynamic, but he has lost some of his former standing in his son’s eyes, and so Carl resists him at every turn.  They bicker while taking down a walker together, and the act of gathering provisions becomes a contest to see who can get the most and “win.”  Rick seems as vested in the contest as Carl is, which makes the scenes even more believable and uncomfortable to watch.

Down the road a ways, Carl once again walks ahead of his father while letting his father carry the bag of provisions, even though it looks like Rick can barely stand, let alone walk…Rick weakly signals Carl when he spots a promising house to take shelter in. They enter the house, going through the ritual of checking  or walkers and “clearing” each room. Rick keeps ordering Carl back, and Carl chafes under his father’s direction, responds by screaming and beating on the wall, to show there are no walkers, “Hey asshole, Hey shitface! Come down, we’re here!”  Rick sternly tells Carl to watch his mouth…Rick is holding his ground, but it did feel like there was a shift in their dynamic in this scene…Carl is no longer just going to do something because his father tells him to, or not to, do it.

Then, Carl, in classic teenager style,  sticks it to his father with a jibe about Shane, who had shown Carl how to tie the clove-hitch knot that Carl uses to secure the front door…Carl bristles when Rick pushes a couch towards the door to reinforce it, not trusting Carl’s knot to secure the door. In response,  Carl throws Shane’s name out like a little shitty teenage bomb (“Shane taught it to me…Remember him?”). In response, Rick gets that hot Rick-In-Charge look and shuts Carl down, growling out, “Yeah, I remember him…I remember him every single day. There anything else you wanna say to me?”

One look at his father’s face shuts Carl the hell up for a minute. He shakes his head no. Rick tosses a bag of chips at his son with a command to eat, and goes into the bathroom to gingerly remove his shirt (Yes! Take it off, take it off!)  Rick sucks in his breath as he twists to inspect his bruised ribs in the bathroom mirror…it does appear that one or more ribs are probably cracked, or broken. Not good.

Ok, here we are. The Michonne dream sequence. Was it just me, or did this scene fuck everybody up too? Artistically speaking the scene was…pretty much perfection. Emotionally speaking, the scene is…pretty much the new theme of my nightmares.

The shot opens with a view of Michonne’s back as she deftly chops some cheese and bread at a gleaming granite countertop while exchanging witty banter with two beautiful men, seated at a table in an airy, urbane apartment. Michonne is looking gorgeous in a colorful, midriff-baring top and skirt ensemble, her braids looking touseled and girly.

While she chops, Michonne is explaining to the men, in carefully chosen and enunciated language, why she isn’t feeling it with the latest trendy art exhibit at the museum, calling the attempt “pedestrian.” Even before the turn, it seems Michonne wielded both her words, and her silences, as deftly as she now wields her blade. Her friend Terry protests her proclamation, turns to her partner, Mike…”Mike, will you please talk some sense into your lover?”

“Oh, you did not just call me that,” Michonne quips, but it is all part of the banter, and Mike good naturedly sides with his woman, agreeing that the exhibit was “played.”

“Hallelujah,”  Michonne agrees, wiping the blade clean of what was once a chopping knife, and is now her katana…it’s the first dark, surreal turn that lets us know we are probably witnessing a dream…

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Just because I see a gorilla driving a car doesn't mean I call it art!

I am def feeling this for my new kitchen-goddess look.

As she sheaths the sword into her wooden knife block, the long blade warps into the small space perfectly in crazy dream-style surrealism… And at that moment, a beautiful 2 -year- old boy comes running into the kitchen, gets scooped up into his mother’s arms. “I hope we’re not boring you, peanut, ” Michonne coos as she cuddles her son. She picks up the platter of appetizers and carries it to the table, still cradling her little boy.

As Michonne approaches the table, Terry and Mike are still in their dapper suits, sitting quietly, lost in their thoughts for a moment…but with the barest pause, the scene flips perspective, and now we see from behind Michonne’s right elbow that the men are no longer the dapper, smiling, joking men of before.  Terry has a grim, haunted look, and a bleeding scratch at his temple.  Mike is wearing a soiled white t-shit and sleevless vest. The men are debating their next move.

“I don’t think we should stay at the camp,” says Terry.  Mike counters that the camp is their best chance for survival, right now, that he doesn’t want to chance it out there. He looks at Michonne, and at Terry, and at his son as he begins to question what it’s all for…is it really worth it to try to survive in the world that this has become, after this horrible turn, a world that is not really living, not worthy of a beautiful, pure child?

The camera goes back and forth between Mike, and Terry, then Michonne and the baby.  In response, Michonne, clutches the baby to her, narrows her eyes as she resists the dream and its terrible message…”Ok,” she says with a tight little smile, “I see what this is.”  She is bluffing, trying so hard to outmaneuver this.

“Really?” asks Terry.What is this, Michonne?”  I love this rendition of Terry, as we see in this brief glimpse of him, before he became one of Michonne’s walker pets. In the comic, I guess he was brave but dumb, but in this episode, he is fiery and intelligent. Then, in weird dream-speak, Terry then goes on to tell Michonne that she’s gotten really good with the sword, and does she know how valuable that is now? And poor Michonne is resisting and resisting all of this…

Mike raises his hands, his face so sad, “What is the answer here?” he pleads to her. Terry counters, “What is the damn question, Mike?”  Mike, looks up at Michonne, his face is heartbroken as he drops his hands, and whispers, “Why?”

Michonne’s voice breaks, her chin defiantly up, she tightly nods, holding the baby, “Ok,” she nods, “that’s good…and now,” and Michonne holds up a hand, like, whoa, ok…I’ve gotta get this happy moment back. ..”I have a question…”  and with another deft flick of the camera, the perspective is from behind Michonne’s elbow as she slides the plate of appetizers forward towards the men. “Who is going open the wine?” she playfully asks.

And this is what it becomes:

Look at this crazy shot I got of the armless men and her face.

Look at this crazy shot I got of armless Mike and Terry, and Michonne’s face. I had to watch that scene so many damn times…it will be a long time before I watch it again, even though I give mad props to its artistic excellence on all levels

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And the horrible moment when the baby is gone...

And the horrible moment when the baby is gone…

My WD buddy texted me, after the Michonne dream sequence, I don’t know how any of them have the will to live anymore. Ugh, after watching that scene so many times in the writing process, I barely have the will to live anymore.

The Carl-luring-the-walkers-down-the-street scene is pretty great, some comic relief, of course until this happens:

D'oh! Didn't see that coming, did you, Carl?

D’oh! Didn’t see that coming, did you, Carl?

Lucky for Carl that gun keeps on firing bullets!  Once Carl extricates himself from under the pile of three walkers on top of him, he finds another house, this one with the bonus of a huge, 120 oz. can of chocolate pudding on top of the fridge…unfortunately, the house also has the particularly scary and tenacious I’m Gonna Getcha Walker,  who almost chomps Carl about three or four times in a frightening struggle that had me jumping around the living room, saying lots of “Oh, shit’s” and “oh, fuck’s”, to the alarm of my little dog…

I'm Gonna Getcha Walker...that guy's hard to shake!

I’m Gonna Getcha Walker…that guy’s hard to shake!

Luckily, all I’m Gonna Getcha Walker got was Carl’s shoe…Carl used up a couple of his lives on this day, and he celebrates with what is now a classic WD moment, straight from the comic series, a pudding break on the roof, while I’m Gonna Getcha Walker vainly claws and hisses at him through the stuck window:

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(The Instagram account therickygrimes added the funny caption to this picture: Hey, give me back my pudding! )

Carl comes back to the house, tells Rick, who is still unconcious on the couch,  “I killed three walkers…I lured them away..I killed them…I saved you…I didn’t forget when you had us playing farmer…I stilI know how to survive…lucky for us…I don’t need you anymore…I don’t need you to protect me anymore… I can take care of myself…you probably couldn’t protect me anyway…you couldn’t protect Judith, or…Hershel, or Maggie…Michonne, Daryl…or Mom…You just wanted to plant vegetables…you just wanted to hide…He (the Gov) knew where we were, and you didn’t care!  You just hid behind those fences, and waited for (him)…! They’re all gone now…because of you! They counted on you!  You were their leader…” With this, Carl slumps to the floor, sitting at the foot of Rick on the couch.  “But now…you’re nothing.”  Carl has his head in his arms, crying.  “I’d be fine if you died,” he says,  and walks out of the room.

I know Carl is being a teenage tool right now, but he did need to unburden himself of the anger at his father that he had been carrying around inside…it’s like a version of “empty-chair” therapy, except in this case, it’s “yell at your dad before he wakes up” therapy. All in all, actually very healthy.

Now, if Rick would only wake up…I was getting worried there. My WD buddy texted me: If Rick dies, I am done with this show.

I texted back, He just needs a nap.  I was pretty anxious, though.  He was still looking pretty dead.

Back to Michonne, as she walks through the forest with the herd, disguised by the smell of her new walker pets. She seems both disturbed by the foul smell of the walkers and by the sight of what could be her walkerganger, a black woman walker with long braids. My WD buddy wasn’t really buying it that Michonne could move undetected through the walkers, and I was texting her that Michonne is probably one of the only surviving humans who has walked among the walkers.  She’s a walker whisperer, dude, I texted.

But it seems Michonne cannot take any more…so, she faces her walkerganger, and slices her down, then keeps going, berzerker-style, until she has hacked down all the walkers around her in the forest.  Greg Nicotero said that the script, and budget, only specified that Michonne kill eight walkers, but when filming, Danai Gurira kept going, so he kept shooting, and the result was one of the most epic walker-kill scenes, yet:

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I love that this episode focused mainly on Carl and Michonne.  Chandler Riggs, Danai Gurira, and Andrew Lincoln all gave stellar performances…I will honor Sam, of Sam and Anna, and nominate those three actors for “Deadies” for this episode.

Meanwhile, Carl has fallen asleep at the foot of the couch.  He is awakened by Rick’s hand jerking…and he is terrified, convinced that Rick has died and turned, and points a shaking gun at his father, but cannot bring himself to shoot.  Greg Nicotero said on Talking Dead (see, there I go again!) that it was because Carl could not bear to be alone in the world…when Rick speaks, and Carl realizes his father is alive, he cradles Rick’s head in his lap, and in a wonderful moment of improvisation, Chandler Riggs put his forehead down to touch Andrew Lincoln’s.  Andrew Lincoln said of Chandler Rigg’s performance in this episode, that he went from being a kid to a leading actor.

Meanwhile, Michonne follows Rick and Carl’s footprints in the muddy road…she is talking to herself, answering Mike’s question…” I know the answer,” she says, “I know why.” Danai Gurira kept using the word “metabolizing” later on TD, as she spoke of Michonne’s transformation in this episode.  Grief and traumatic experiences are not going to just go away…they must be metabolized by the individual, and transformed into something more proactive and manageable, for the individual to move on with his/her life.

Inside the house, Rick tells Carl that he knows that the life they knew is gone, that Carl is a man..”.I’m sorry,” Rick tells his son, as he knows that Carl has been forced to become a man well before he should have. Carl seems happy and relieved, especially when Rick, in response to a surprise knock on the front door, peers through the peek-hole and begins to laugh.  It is Michonne, of course, doing exactly what needed to be done in the moment to find Rick and Carl, with whom she has a special bond.

“Who is it?” asks Carl.

“It’s for you, ” laughs Rick.

Next week, it looks like we will be seeing what has been happening with the rest of the gang…this episode was kind of hard to tackle, so sorry for the late post, but thanks for tuning in!  Enjoy the playlist:

Playlist:

The Offspring, Gone Away

The Smiths,  How Soon Is Now?

Fleetwood Mac,  Landslide

Alice in Chains,  No Excuses

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