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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Review: The Walking Dead: Clear

Season 3, Episode 12
Grade: A-

Verdict: Morgan is back, and in so doing allows the show to shine under a limited cast with nice displays of character growth. You'd almost think you were watching a good television show.

The stand-alone episode. So often it's the bane of my sequential television watching experience. Anytime I pop on Doctor Who or Breaking Bad, or something older like Lost, and we get a stand-alone episode that doesn't contribute to overall arc of the series, it often feels like a giant waste of time. (Anybody remember that Lost ep about Jack's tattoo? Yeah, I tried to forget it as well.) But with The Walking Dead in such a pitiful rut right now, the idea of breaking away from the major beats of the Woodbury vs. the Prison plotline is honestly quite welcome.

"Clear" centers around Rick, Michonne and Carl venturing back to Rick and Carl's hometown to secure weaponry in the upcoming battle against the Governor's forces. After ignoring the pleas of help of a hitchhiker they pass on the road, they arrive in the town to find spraypainted messages all over random walls and traps set up to catch and kill zombies. The trio, expecting that whomever had set up said traps had moved on, press forward and have to dodge a hail of bullets from a masked sniper. Eventually they take said sniper down after a fairly exciting action sequence and it turns out to be Morgan, the first person that Rick met after all heck broke loose in the premiere. The episode then splits its time between some pretty engrossing conversation between Rick and Morgan with the former trying to convince the latter to come back with him, and Carl venturing off with Michonne to find a crib for Judith.

Oh, Lennie James, we've missed you so. I didn't catch the always telegraphing "Previously on..." segment this week, so I was quite surprised to have Morgan back for our viewing pleasure. Wow, what a difference a seasoned actor can make for a show. I've often maintained that Andrew Lincoln is the only strong link in the regular cast (David Morrisey being excused for the horrible dialogue he's handed), so when he began to bounce lines back and forth with the now crazed Morgan, it struck me as how great this show could actually be with strong actors carrying the load. There's just a sense of experience and weight to the interactions here that just don't exist within any of the other developments that occur with the series' frame of reference. When Morgan gives a somewhat scattered account of how he lost his son, it's a pretty heartbreaking tale and when he asks Rick if his son was dead, and after receiving an answer in the negative responding with "he will be." Just well written stuff, and a nice juxtaposition of Rick's brand of crazy with someone who is way further over the edge.

Beyond just Rick and Morgan, this episode finally gave us some nice bits and pieces with Michonne. Recognizing that she doesn't yet have Carl's trust, she accompanies him to get that crib for Judith and she proves her worth when Carl does the typically stupid "Carl thing" of running off. We also get some lovely pieces of dialogue for her finally, which is fortuitous as if there's a bigger disappointment than this season's introductory treatment of Michonne, I can't think of it. But here, we get a chance to see a somewhat lighter exterior to the character. There's a great line where she's eating Morgan's food while he's unconscious and Rick scolds her, she just responds with "the mat said 'welcome'." And by the closing moments, she gives some very enlightening background info that give her a sense of empathy that she's had yet to display in the past 11 episodes. This isn't just Michonne the walking swords-woman of death, this a fully fleshed out person made of tragedy and pathos, who also has a sense of humor. I'm sad we probably won't get much more of this until next season.

The scene towards the beginning of the show where the hitchhiker tries to flag the trio down as they drive by, and then race off when he tries to catch up to them when they get stuck in the mud is an interesting one. It firmly cements that Rick and Michonne are willing to make tough choices but it also juxtaposes them a bit from Morgan. As Zack Handlen at the AV Club points out, Rick and his crew have survived because they are willing to turn their back on others in order to survive, Morgan is holed up in an abandoned building surrounded by guns, far beyond the edge of crazy, and lost his son because he couldn't. For the first time in this series, a writer has been able to nail down just why Rick acts the way he does in a perfectly rational (for this show) fashion. In his beautifully written speech about "being one of the weak people that have inherited the earth", he calls Rick one of the good people. How little Morgan is aware. But by the end, there's a nice bit of levity when Rick gives Michonne the keys to the car, because he "sees things". There was very clever writing throughout tonight.

What makes me the happiest is to find out that Scott Gimple, the scriptwriter of "Clear" will be taking over the series come next season. I don't exactly expect the show to magically turn around in quality, because it's still pretty difficult to do much with the motley crew he's working with. But if Gimple's overall conception of two of the The Walking Dead's best characters can spread along to whomever survives the season finale, I think I'm going to be a very happy camper indeed next year, maybe anyway. I won't say it's like "Blink" was for Doctor Who fans, but it's a nice prognostication for the future. This is the best the show has been since the very first episode, imagine what the common denominator was. In the meantime, we have the rest of this idiotic prison story to get through. Expect a big dip in quality next Sunday.

By the way, where the heck is Rick's old home town anyway? In the comics, he was from Kentucky, but the television version has never really indicated. It would be one very long drive if true to the source.
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