The Walking Dead: 4.09 - After

There are spoilers for Season 4 below, do not even flick your eyes down.

Wow, what a way to come back. Straight back into it from where we left off. In the first couple of minutes there’s a dead Governor, Hershel’s reanimated head, Michonne slicing and dicing about five Walkers, and Rick and Carl arguing. The Walking Dead is back, and it’s back with a good one.

There have been a few minor quibbles with the fourth season but overall the first half had some of the best material since Season One. After is written by the comic book’s creator Robert Kirkman and his understanding of the characters shines through in one of the best hours there’s been for a long time. It’s emotional, scary, thrilling, restrained, loud, quiet, in fact everything that the show is when it’s at it’s best. There’s even a genuine jump moment, so kudos to director Greg Nicotero for getting the pacing so perfect.
The focus is fully on Rick and Carl, and Michonne, with the gang having been split about seven ways after the bust up at the prison in the last episode. Rick is badly injured, and Carl is in a funk. You can understand both after the physical battering that Rick took at the hands of the Governor, and the mental hit they both took with Judith meeting an apparently grisly end, though you feel there’s more to come there. Carl is basically being a little shit, taking out his frustrations on his father (“But now… you’re nothing.”) and exploring how far he can physically push himself in dealing with the world and its Walkers. It’s a really strong performance from young Chandler Riggs, he just manages to keep the balance between annoying and understandably railing against his Dad. This whole dynamic could be getting dull by now, the amount of times Carl has thrown a teenage strop with Rick is, well, it’s a lot. Kirkman keeps this fresh though by exploring just how well the boy would cope in the world without his father, is he as strong as he thinks?
The other strand was Michonne’s journey, back to her old ways for a while, living amongst the Walkers with two tame ones - no arms or jaws - on a rope, there’s even a flashback - a glimpse of her previously comfortable life with husband and baby. Whilst it’s nice to see even a tiny bit of backstory for her it was a little cheesy, a good thing then that it sparked a mini meltdown and Wolverine style berserker attack, Michonne removed and sliced the heads of about twenty Walkers. Though it’s very satisfying as a scene, do you feel her pain. She’s been on her own for long enough before and doesn’t want to go back to her life with Walkers again.

One of the keys to the show being so thrilling at times is that you don’t know who is going to die at any point, the scenes with Carl in peril, testing his limits with the Walkers, are genuinely scary because you know there’s a real chance he will die. There isn’t another show on TV that has that power, not even a behemoth of shocks like Game Of Thrones. Just think of who’s gone, Shane, Lori, Hershel, the Gov, Merle, Dale, T-Dog, Andrea, all of who were main characters, seemingly integral to the series. This may be the first show where literally anyone is up for grabs, even the scenes with Rick lying comatose gets you thinking he may be gone, and you really don’t know until he speaks.
The final minutes are a delight. Rare scenes of characters within the bleak world that The Walking Dead has created having a moment of real happiness. Michonne looking through the window, and the little smile that Rick allows himself as he sees who’s at the door. A properly excellent episode to start the second half, long may it continue.

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