Plot: The Prison is completely destroyed and the former occupants have scattered. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) are doing their best to press onward, but injuries received from The Governor (David Morrissey) slow Rick down. Meanwhile, Michonne (Danai Gurira) is torn between surviving on her own, like she had for over a year, or returning to the group dynamic she has come to enjoy.
The Mid-Season Finale last year was so explosive, there’s no way to view “After” as anything more than a fallout episode. The episode title itself gives credence to theme that it revolves around the aftermath and new future following The Governor’s fateful assault. The Governor and Hershel (Scott Wilson) are dead and who has survived from Rick’s group is a mystery. Instead of setting out to put many questions to rest, “After” focused exclusively on two characters: Carl and Michonne. One is trying to embrace their future as a survivor and the other is wondering if they need to resort to old ways. This all made “After” one of the most character centric episodes to date, delivering some great personal development for two of our stars, while also getting too bogged down in its own ideas.
“After” opened up with Michonne walking back to The Prison to wrangle up some walker camouflage. We last saw her stab The Governor through the chest and now we see her completely separate from the people she has come to call her friends. Employing her classic pet walker tactics, Michonne travels alone, intentionally ignoring footprints left by Rick and Carl to continue her lonesome journey. It’s all short lived though as nightmares and hallucinations lead her to follow those very same prints she ignored previously.
I’m a little torn on whether or not the premise of Michonne’s arc was really necessary. After spending quite a large chunk of time with Rick’s group, I had accepted by this point that Michonne had put her former survival techniques behind her. Her growing friendship with people like Carl and Daryl (Norman Reedus) basically hammered her personal growth home. While I can understand her grabbing two new walkers for protection while alone, I was caught off guard by her willingness to ignore a sign of possible friend survival. It didn’t feel like the Michonne we have all come to love for about a solid season now. Granted those footprints could have been survivors from The Governor’s army, but her willingness to follow them at the eleventh hour means that idea probably didn’t rank that highly in her mind. It basically meant she entirely preferred to be alone, subsequently erasing all growth we had prior which would have been upsetting.
Yet there’s no denying that the changes we saw in her last night were outstanding. There were still so many layers left untouched for our enigmatic swordswoman. Last night peeled away those layers with a direct insight into her past via a dream. We saw a beautiful house, Michonne’s lover and their son, and a close friend. Everything is all great at the onset but the dream slowly devolves into horror. You easily get the sense that she is tormented by her survival. Her loved ones have long since died and she’s still not ready to let them go. Michonne then starts hallucinating that a walker looks just like her. This results in one of the coolest scenes to date with Michonne massacring an entire group of walkers in a fit of rage. After some therapeutic walker killing, Michonne decides to follow the footprints she saw previously. In an incredibly powerful scene, Michonne talks to her dead lover, giving her pain a spotlight like no other. This also (hopefully) closed the door on solo Michonne forever.
When the spotlight wasn’t on Michonne, it was on Carl. Clearly things aren’t going well for this father-son duo following The Prison’s destruction. Rick especially is reeling from immense physical and emotional pain. He has lost everything he worked so hard to protect while also getting the shit kicked out of him. Carl however is entering that point where he believes he’s invincible and he starts rebelling against his father. First it’s subtle, like Carl ignoring his father’s orders, and then it’s palpable with Carl calling his father a worthless leader who can’t protect anyone. While Rick is passed out on a couch, Carl decides to take matters into his own hands and very nearly dies in two separate walker assaults. It takes being faced with the idea of having to kill his own father that Carl realizes he’s really not that strong.
Carl’s own hubris throughout the night was unfathomably annoying. After watching everything crumble in front of his father, I can see why Carl would feel confident. He’s also clearly going though the rebellious phase that every teenager goes through in their life. He wants to be his own man and that means leaving his father behind if necessary. I’m definitely a fan of this altered relationship between a son who wants to do more and a father who only wants to protect him. Yet after Carl almost gets killed by three walkers at once, letting his swelling pride get the best of him, I became legitimately frustrated that he didn’t learn his lesson. Then when he felt pride at barely surviving a second attack, I was ready to slap the kid upside the head and tell him to stop being such a stupid punk. Carl’s actions last night proved exactly why he’s not ready to live on his own. For the first time since Season 2 I thought, “Stupid Carl! Stay in the house,” and that didn’t particularly make me happy.
But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Carl’s personal adventure didn’t excite me. His moments of barely surviving kept me at the edge of my seat every time. I legitimately don’t want this kid to die and it honestly looked like his time had come. While Carl’s hubris frustrated me to no end, it is a positive sign of someone who really can survive in this crazy world. Carl might not be ready to be entirely on his own but with other people in tow he’s definitely an asset. I’m glad that by the end of “After” Rick finally admitted Carl is a man and doesn’t need his hand held every step of the way. Carl admitting he still has much to learn was welcome too and I can find myself really liking this newfound respect in our main duo.
A definitive drawback from this extended focus on two characters was how slow “After” was. Seriously, it was such a trudge at parts. There were moments where I was actually bored and that doesn’t happen very often for me. I also didn’t like the fact that there was no attention paid to the other survivors either. No Glenn (Steven Yeun), no Maggie (Lauren Cohan), no Tyreese (Chad Coleman), and no Daryl. At least Michonne reunited with Rick and Carl by episode’s end.
“After” was basically the antithesis of “Too Far Gone.” Following that episode’s explosiveness, “After” was a very somber endeavor only focusing on two characters. While the growth showed by Carl and Michonne was great, the dreadfully slowed down pace of the episode hurt the overall quality. Carl was also the most annoying he’s been since Season 2 and I’m still torn on if it was really necessary for Michonne to return back to her pet walker habits after clearly moving on from them sooner. Thankfully both of these complaints resolved at the very end with a truly heartwarming reunion that put a big, goofy grin on my face.