The Walking Dead Watch: The Writing on the Wall

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Gene Page / AMC

After three seasons and thirty-one episodes, which have spanned at least a year and a half in story time, it’s easy to forget how this whole mess started in the first place. Last night’s episode gave us a subtle reminder with the opening shot of a makeshift sign that read, “Erin, we tried for Stone Mountain. –J” The sign reminded me of the Memorial Hallway in Battlestar Galactica, which itself was inspired by the makeshift memorials near Ground Zero in the weeks following 9/11.

Erin, we would learn just a few minutes into last night’s show, was now a zombie, part of a small horde that surrounds and attacks a car carrying Rick, Michonne and Carl. But for that brief second we were reminded that what we’re seeing week in and week out is a story about an ongoing tragedy that started with an event that tore apart families as terrified people tried anything they could to survive. Most, of course, were killed or became walkers. But how horrifying and tragic must those first few weeks have been when most people were still alive, separated from their loved ones and dying horribly at a terrifying pace?

Last night, TWD’s writers gave us a momentary reprieve from the war with Woodbury to remind us where we came from. We saw an old friend in the form of Morgan, the kind man who saved Rick’s life and nursed him back to health. The last time we thought about Morgan, Rick stood atop a building in Atlanta, promising that one day he would find him. Last night Rick stumbled upon Morgan during a weapons run to his old hometown, only to find the kindly father degenerated into a loner, bonkers survivalist living on a combination of wits and guilt in wretched solitude. “Days, weeks, me and my boy then…me,” he tells Rick. His son, it turns out, was killed by the zombie version of his mother who he couldn’t bear to put down.

It’s easy to see Morgan as a symbol of the mental fate for most of our characters. Last week, we discussed how damaging the world must be for Carl’s psyche. But in a nod to the kind of complexity we used to see more of in TWD, the writers let Carl be the most surprisingly intricate character of the entire episode. After shooting Morgan in the chest during a street skirmish, it was easy to think Carl was broken. He’s so used to killing zombies, and now he has absolutely no compunction about killing people. Add to that some bratty behavior when she tried to sneak away to run an errand, and I thought the kid was doomed. (Here’s a friendly word of advice: if a badass fighter with a sword offers to have your back while you do your thing, you say yes!)

But it turns out that Carl’s secret errand to the King County Café is an utterly human act after all. Hoping he can someday show his baby sister what her mother looked like and knowing there’s only one photo left undamaged in this rotten world, Carl risks his life to retrieve it. In a macro sense, it shows us that there are still things, beyond pure survival, worth fighting for. Carl hasn’t lost his humanity; he now epitomizes what it means to be a human being in a completely shattered existence. He even apologizes to Morgan for shooting saying, “You know I had to.” The kid knows that he’ll sometimes have to do inhuman things, but he won’t totally sell his humanity in the process.

Lest we leave last night with an optimistic, heart lifting feeling, the show’s crafters used a brilliantly depressing device to illustrate that no matter how many memories and photographs we may have, Darwinian survival is still the game. Early in the episode, Rick and company passed a sad survivor wandering the road wearing a giant backpack with a pan clanging from the side. It’s clear this poor guy doesn’t stand a chance, but they leave him to his likely fate. By the end of the episode, our poor backpacker was reduced to a pile of wet limbs splotched on the asphalt. Then in the final shot, the car backs up and Carl pulls the guy’s backpack into the car. For humans to stay alive, apparently humanity has its limitations.

Zombie Kill Report: After a very slow start, the dead walkers really piled up at the end when Michonne and Carl ventured into the infested pit that used to be the King County Cafe. The cleverness award goes to Michonne for the idea to use the mousetraps as a distraction. The award for best kill: Michonne (again) for silently stabbing her katana through a walker’s head . Given the usual squish, slop, SQUISH sounds that accompany killing walkers, it’s a small miracle that she didn’t get the attention of the entire horde. Or maybe she’s just that good. I’ll take the latter. Super props go to the writers for allowing Michonne some zits of life–how awesome was that cat statue, by the way?

Clear eyes. Full hearts… A running theme of last night’s episode was written messages written on walls, from graffiti to signs to Morgan’s interesting choices in interior decorating. One of the words he had written on his walls over and over again was “Clear,” and he told Rick at one point, “You don’t clear, you turn.” Perhaps I missed something–was there ever a time in our story when anyone was bitten and just didn’t turn into a zombie (Hershel is the one exception, thanks to a brutally fast amputation) What does it mean to clear? Weigh in with comments below.

A let down or a warning sign? After last week’s disappointing soap opera of an episode, TWD’s producers touted last night’s opening scene to build excitement, and, you know, remind viewers that this show does have something to do with killing zombies. Unfortunately the scene cut away from a throng of walkers about to tear the car apart to a pile of dead walkers several minutes later. I got it–there are only so many minutes per episode, but we want to see the zombie battle, or at least know how they killed all of the walkers. But that scene was crucial for showing how calm they were, especially Carl, when the zombies surrounded the car. It’s almost like they don’t even fear zombies anymore. Or perhaps they just don’t care. If it’s the latter, it’s dangerous. A couple of years ago in Kandahar, an Army lieutenant who patrolled fields and roads littered with old Soviet landmines told me that in order to do that job you have put aside your fear, almost to the point where you don’t care anymore. But the day you stop caring is the day disaster strikes. I hope, for our group’s sake, there’s some caring left in them.

14 comments
dsmith6068
dsmith6068

I think the way Rick and company treated the backpacker as an indication of how far from humanity they have fallen. In the first season, they would have picked him up. Now they leave him to his fate without a word or thought. Since Dale dies, I am not sure anyone on the show is left who deserves to survive.

bluegraph
bluegraph

Maybe the writers are using 'Clear' as a satirical dig at Scientology, which defines clear as a state of mind when a person becomes free of the influence of unwanted emotions or painful traumas (engrams). What could be more traumatic and emotionally painful than the new world order of Walking Dead. Morgan could not kill his undead wife and it cost him his son. Maybe he is using clear to mean a clear conscience or a clear state of mind necessary to kill the ones you love in order to survive.

vrcplou
vrcplou

I thought this was a beautiful, haunting episode.  I always wanted to know what became of Morgan and Duane and now I wish I didn't.  While I'm interested in the conflict between the Governor and the Ricktator, the heart of the show for me is the loss - even the loss of characters we don't know (Erin, for example).  This was my favorite episode since the barn slaughter/Sophia-walker episode.

GretchenGeyer
GretchenGeyer

I believe it was Carl's idea to use the "mousetraps" in the cafe, and Michonne's to use Carl to keep the zombies at the front door so she could sneak in behind them to get the photo. The recaps I've read seem to have missed this. As frustrating as this show can sometimes be (Andrea!!!!), it does not shove things in the viewer's faces and everybody gets to win sometimes, which keeps me coming back ...

lasalle
lasalle

This show lacks an overarching plot now, and it's really making watching the show an investment that doesn't pay seem to pay off. In the first season, the characters were coping with their new reality, but also had an overall plan to go to the CDC, where there might be some solution to this zombie plague. 

In this season, there is no such plot. They simply jump from sub-plot to sub-plot every episode, never building toward something larger. Why aren't they attempting to build a Woodbury themselves? Where's their plan for the future? Why am I still watching this show?

SeanWilliams
SeanWilliams

Great episode! Next up, WAR! Rick's got some ammo now!

nsr019
nsr019

Near the end of the episode, Morgan told Rick that the gunshot didn't kill him because he hadn't yet "cleared" that day. Then they showed him methodically cleaning out his zombie traps and burning the bodies.

mcreadyblue
mcreadyblue

I think Clear mean die.  As in clear this world and go to the next.

I believe that is what Morgan thinks he is doing by killing the zombies and burning their bodies.

danjtrudeau
danjtrudeau

I think "Clear" referred to clearing out the zombies caught in his traps.  
 For a long time, TWD has been a show always at risk of going over the edge into soap opera land.  This episode helped pull it back from the brink.  If nothing else, I hope it helps pull Rick back.  His refusal to consider outsiders is beyond frustrating to watch.  It has nothing to do with survival and everything to do with fear.  He's clinging to the idea just like Shane clung to his, always going on about survival and accepting the new world, while in the end it was all a mask for feelings they refused to come to terms with.  It will become dangerous for the group just like it did before.

hivemaster
hivemaster

@dsmith6068 I think one of the points of the show is that people you think "deserve" to survive generally don't.  Dale was one.  I also don't see Morgan lasting very long, and he nursed Rick back to health.  Both he and his son couldn't bear to put down his zombie wife, and it cost them dearly, his son with his life, and Morgan with his sanity.

hivemaster
hivemaster

@lasalle What's the possible plot for Armageddon?  They are working to get the prison habitable, and if they defeat Woodbury, they might actually do it.  They can actually grow food there, unlike Woodbury, which will actually run out of canned food eventually.

hivemaster
hivemaster

@mcreadyblue No.  "Clear" is clearing his traps, and burning the Zombie refuse behind that brick wall.

DerekQuinn
DerekQuinn

@mhungerman @mcreadyblue

I think "Clearing" in Morgan's mind, may mean to undo his hesitations to put down his wife...which led to his son's death. (Hard NOT to go crazy, btw)

He now burdens himself with the task of literally "Clearing" the town in an attempt to "Erase" his conscious!