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.