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It’s time for everyone to get over life after the prison, including the fans. With The Walking Dead’s season premiere, “After,” the show is tasked with something it has never had before – a divided character base. This poses all sorts of potentially interesting new formats and story structures for the show. “After” is the first attempt at telling a more character-focused story and it is clear there are still some kinks to work out.
“After” focuses on two separate groups, Rick and Carl and then the lone Michonne. It picks up right where “Too Far Gone” left off, the prison is destroyed and overrun by zombies and Michonne takes out some aggression on a few before finding Hershel’s disembodied zombified head and stabbing it. Carl and a seriously hobbled Rick scramble away from the prison and come across a roadside bar to scrounge for supplies. After this they find a house they can squat in for a while and harvest some supplies from the neighborhood while Michonne wanders with a zombie horde.
“After” was certainly one of the slowest episodes of The Walking Dead in recent memory. Instead of glossing over character growth like the much-maligned Governor episodes earlier in the season, this time the show decides to delve into Carl’s growth and Michonne’s past demons. Unfortunately it didn’t make for the most entertaining television.
For much of the episode, Rick is passed out, seemingly dead, as he heals from the fight. This gives Carl a lot of alone time to find some supplies and come across some walkers. Recently, Carl has been champing at the bit to kill some zombies, thinking that his dad had become a bit of a wimp. And just in case you forgot he made sure to yell this all to his passed out dad as he came to the conclusion that he no longer needed Rick. And so Carl set out into the world to find supplies and enjoy the eradication of zombies. Of course it didn’t turn out to be as easy as he thought.
There was a lot of teenage angst in this episode, which makes sense is Carl is now in his teens, but it came off as more annoying than anything. It was completely necessary for Carl to come to the realization that he actually isn’t as prepared to survive in this world as he thought but to have nearly an entire episode devoted to it really slowed things down. And let’s be honest here, no matter how many encounters with walkers and “near deaths” he has, the show still has yet to instill any fear in me that any of the main characters will actually die. Sure, Hershel was a principle character but, especially in this season, he wasn’t nearly as important as Rick, Daryl, Michonne, or any of the others. Hershel had been preparing for his death ever since he lost his leg. Until the show actually does kill one of the main characters off the many zombie close scrapes feel like the cheapest of thrills.
While Carl is eating huge cans of chocolate pudding, the audience is getting a short glimpse into Michonne’s past through a dream sequence. In the very pointed dream, Michonne is with her boyfriend and his friend as they talk about some sort of art exhibit or show they had recently seen before the apocalypse. Michonne is very happy, apparently her glowering only started after the zombies took hold, and is lively in conversation. It is also revealed that she had a toddler. Quickly it shifts to the early days of the outbreak and a philosophical debate between her boyfriend and his friend around the question of why live? Or more like, what is there to live for? One last quick cut to her boyfriend and his friend, still sitting at the same table in her apartment, with their arms chopped off and lower jaws removed, her signature strategy.
While it was interesting to finally learn something about Michonne, it was clear this dream was meant to build up to a larger moment later in the episode. When the moment finally came as she revealed she had an answer for her boyfriend it was so low key it almost felt like it wasn’t supposed to be anything at all. Not to mention she didn’t reveal the answer. She was meant to be wrestling with these inner demons throughout the episode but it never truly felt like a struggle and so her “realization” definitely lacked luster.
By the end, Michonne has slaughtered a group of 15 or so zombies and has finds Rick and Carl, which makes her joyously teary. Rick is also glad and relieved to see her and so the group begins to reform.
The bigger question is will the group actually reform? There are so many directions The Walking Dead can go in from here, it would almost be a shame if the group reformed. And “After” didn’t give any hint as to where the show could end up by season’s end. It doesn’t seem like there was any backup plan or rendezvous point for the group to achieve in the case of the prison falling so it is still a mystery as to what will happen, which makes for exciting possibilities.
“After” also suggests that The Walking Dead may be working on a slow build up. While there were the required close calls with Carl and Michonne slicing zombie heads the episode as a whole came at a much slower pace. There is nothing wrong with a slow climb to a climax but the viewer definitely needs at least some inkling as to where they are climbing. The Walking Dead has never been the best at building to a climax, if anyone remembers season two. If the division of the prison group only leads to a bunch of on the road again survival episodes it won’t matter if the pacing is slow or fast, it will become even older very quickly.