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The Walking Dead has always been its best when everyone is focused on the same goal and the show doesn’t have to juggle characters and their subplots and “Clear” was further proof. While the episode may seem like a filler episode – an episode that has no bearing on the overarching story and is just there to fill out a Season’s episode code – it doesn’t mean that the episode is useless. In fact “Clear” was probably the best episode of Season 3, which probably doesn’t speak well of the tireless march towards ruin between Woodbury and Rick. What “Clear” offered was a methodical and well crafted episode that allowed the audience to get to know Michonne while also letting Rick actually deal with his mental instabilities. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that a return to the beginning of the series brought upon a return to Season 1 quality.
The episode opened up with Rick, Michonne, and Carl on their sojourn for supplies. The group passes by a wanderer begging for help before getting stuck in the mud and having a gaggle(?) of zombies swarm the stuck car, treated as more of an annoyance and a humdrum event more than something worrisome. Just as the wanderer has caught back up to the group they get unstuck and drive off. The opening events show just how far the group has come since those early days. No longer are they fearful of zombies (although this has been shown throughout the season) and no longer do they feel the need to be all-inclusive and want to help/save every living person they come across.
The post-apocalyptic world has changed Rick and them leaving the straggler behind beckoned the question of whether Rick and company were the “bad guys” now. The Walking Dead, especially lately, has become a show of distrusting characters with murky morals. This is all to be expected as that is the only way a person can survive but it taxes the viewer’s sympathies as characters are harder to root for every episode. Every stoic glare and gruff whisper strains the empathy from the character. The fact that “Clear” bucks that trend makes it all the more refreshing and enjoyable.
It seems as though Rick, Michonne, and Carl are on their way back to the Grimes’s hometown for weapons from the police locker. When they get there, however, they find no weapons, mysterious warnings on the walls, and a booby-trapped mess downtown. Despite Michonne’s skepticism, Rick leads them into downtown in hopes of finding a couple of guns that the old shopkeepers had hidden. Instead they find a helmeted sniper that threatens them to leave. Rick opens fire and, eventually, the rifleman is subdued but not killed. When Rick takes off his helmet he realizes the man is Morgan, who had helped Rick out in the first episode of the series when he awoke to find the zombie apocalypse, and Rick decides they must help him back into his building. Once inside it is evident that Morgan is the lone survivor in the town.
Rick then declares that they will stay with Morgan until he wakes up, which gives Carl some time to accomplish his main goal for the trip – finding a picture of his mom for Judith. Michonne, who overheard Rick and Carl earlier about her tenuous status in the group, makes sure to accompany Carl on his quest as part of her plan to ingratiate herself with Rick. Carl tries to lose her but Michonne is continually persistent in watching over Carl throughout the episode. By letting her defenses down, Michonne finally became a somewhat likable character. Even though she forced her protection onto Carl her desires did seem genuine and she wasn’t nearly as prickly in “Clear” as she normally is. Michonne helps Carl retrieve the photo from a restaurant infested with zombies (she goes back into the fray even after they barely escape with their lives and succeeds a little too easily) and by the end of the episode Carl tells his dad that she “might be one of us.”
During all of this Rick is dealing with Morgan. At first Morgan tries to kill Rick and stabs him in the shoulder but Rick does calm Morgan down after helping him to remember who Rick was. Lennie James, the actor who plays Morgan, shines in this episode. He regales Rick with tales of the death of his son and his regret. Morgan and Rick’s stories are fairly similar as both went off the deep end after someone they loved (Morgan’s son Duane and of course Lori) died. Rick sees the state that Morgan is in and recognizes that it is very much like his own and that scares Rick. He tries to force Morgan into coming to the prison with him in hopes of rehabilitating Morgan (and himself) but Morgan refuses stating that the good people and the bad people die but “The weaker people, like me, have inherited the Earth.” Morgan believes he is weak because he could not shoot his wife when Rick encouraged him in the very first episode, which ended up in the death of his son when his zombified wife killed Duane.
It was refreshing to see Rick doing something other than yell and dictate. He and Morgan clearly had a connection and Rick genuinely wanted Morgan to come back to the prison with him. Seeing Morgan in the state he was in also seemed to give Rick a bit of a wakeup call, even though he apparently saw Lori again at the very end of the episode to which Michonne tried to console him by saying she used to talk to her dad boyfriend all the time. As they drove out of town they saw Morgan following his routine of clearing the caught zombies. They also came across the straggler’s bloody remains on the road and reversed back to where his pack was to take it – another reminder of the struggle and need to be remorseless in order to survive.