This review contains spoilers.
The prison is in flames, with the fences battered down and zombies wandering the grounds. The survivors are scattered, injured, without support and without a safe place to call their own. The Governor is dead. Hershel is dead. Lots of nobodies are dead, too. Someone’s hit the reset button on The Walking Dead, and it’s up to Rick and Carl to pick up the pieces while Michonne goes for a little walkabout.
Those are the three characters who are featured in this week’s The Walking Dead, aside from some severed head cameos. Carl, Rick (who is practically dead), and Michonne, and the three spend most of the episode apart from one another. That means there’s a lot of talking to no one in particular, some surprisingly interesting flashback stuff, ranting at someone who may be dead or in a coma, and other fun stuff to give characters a reason to talk in an episode that could very feature almost no talking. Fortunately, there are structural ways around this, and The Walking Dead will make good use of those.
Greg Nicotero has grown into a real weapon for The Walking Dead. As a director, he’s improved by leaps and bounds from the very first webisodes he directed this season. As he gets more and more comfortable in the chair, he’s showing more of a willingness to think big and to think small at the same time. Nicotero has a great sense for the visual, and he frames some great shots, particularly of Carl when he’s leading some walkers down a deserted street and when Rick and Carl go house-to-house looking for food and a safe place to settle down for a rest. The opening crane shot is a thing of beauty, and just the staging of when Michonne goes wandering through the crowds of walkers back towards the prison is stunning to behold. (Michonne’s killing frenzy was also spectacular, while we’re on the subject of wandering around with a sword.)
However, the most impressive thing about the directing this episode is the way that Greg Nicotero handles his actors, in particular Chandler Riggs. I trust Danai Gurira to give a good performance, but it’s difficult to get good work out of younger actors, particularly in emotionally heavy scenes. It’s hard for kids to emote on screen and have it come off well, but Nicotero helps Riggs come through with a really good performance. Carl’s obnoxious and a borderline sociopath, but I can’t help but feel like that’s on purpose, since he’s a moody teenage boy and the only girl he’s met that’s close to his age was locked in a barn full of zombies and executed by his own father. That’s going to be hard on a kid, growing up in a zombie apocalypse with a father who doesn’t want you to know how to survive on your own has to be doubly difficult.
Giving the two basically an entire episode to carry is something of a gamble, but it really ends up paying off, due to Robert Kirkman’s script. Carl still does dumb things for dumb reasons, but it’s more like typical teenage rebellious stupidness and misdirected anger rather than poor scriptwriting. Of course, if you’re one of the many, many people who hate Carl and everything he stands for, you won’t like the A plot of this storyline; I think he’s pulling it off, but I know a lot of people are not fans of him or his angsty behavior. Unlike Carl, everyone likes Michonne, so I think the B story will be solid enough to anchor the episode, especially as it gives us a lot of details on Michonne’s life prepocalypse and it answers some questions that fans have been speculating on since her first appearance.
Of course, this is only two of the many characters we’ve lost touch with during the fall of the Ricktopia. There are still a lot of characters out there in this big, scary, zombie-infested world, and hopefully the show won’t parcel them out two groups at a time for the remainder of the season. I think that kind of slow reunion, even spread across the seven episodes that remain in the season, would really be a detriment to the show’s momentum—as if the long delay between episodes eight and nine didn’t already do a number on that. (Unless we get an all-Carol episode, of course; that I’m totally on board for.) The sooner the group gets back together and the season kicks back into gear, the better off I think we’ll be.
There’s still a lot of room to grow, even though it feels like the season is about over. That’s the major problem with the divided season; episode eight felt like a season finale and episode nine is stuck trying to rebuild everything from scratch. The break was nice, and it makes sense for the show to take time off given the holidays and the Super Bowl and whatnot, but it feels like the beginning of something, rather than the end of something.
Perhaps we should call this Season 4 B.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan would love to get his hands on a gigantic can of chocolate pudding. Is that even a real thing? Because if not, it should be. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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