‘The Walking Dead’ Season 4 Mid-Season Premiere Review

Published 5 months ago by

Danai Gurira in The Walking Dead season 4 episode 9 The Walking Dead Season 4 Mid Season Premiere Review

[This is a review of The Walking Dead season 4, episode 9. There will be SPOILERS.]

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Television has been evolving significantly for many years now, and even though its storytelling models have changed, its methods have matured, and its content has become more sophisticated, there are still some things that remain fundamentally unchanged.

For one thing, television has traditionally been very good at beginnings; it’s also been respectable – sometimes gifted – at creating the middle part of a story; and its track record when it comes to ending things has been questionable at best. That proficiency at starting things is also something The Walking Dead has become quite skilled at handling, as the mid-season premiere, ‘After,’ once again demonstrates.

Picking up just shortly after the Governor’s moderately more successful, yet still ill-fated attempt to take the prison and kill Rick, ‘After’ attempts to deal with the fallout from that attack in terms that are appropriate to the context of the show. That is, anyone left standing doesn’t have much time to sit around and contemplate all that was lost, as mere survival one again becomes paramount.

This is in stark contrast to the beginning of season 4, which found Rick and the rest of the survivors in the prison attempting to build a self-sustaining community that was, for all intents and purposes, safe (or safe enough) from the continuous threat of the walkers. ‘30 Days Without an Accident‘ was a new beginning for the series and its characters – one that was revealed in the relative calm of its title.

Naturally, the situation in ‘After’ is far less serene; Rick and Carl are found stumbling their way through an abandoned neighborhood in search of a safe place for Rick to convalesce, while Michonne finds herself in the unenviable position of having to terminate the re-animated head of Hershel, before temporarily reverting back to her wandering ways with two semi-dismembered pets at her side.

The early circumstances of the premiere are certainly dour and familiar, but they still qualify as a new beginning for at least three main characters. The takeaway here, however, seems to once again be a demonstration of how those beginnings give the storylines a much-needed sense of renewal and newfound purpose – even if it’s technically the same purpose the show started with three-and-a-half season ago.

If it’s just going back to the well that’s fine, these are the moments that reinvigorate the audience’s interest in the characters and their situations, and in the context of this particular series. They are also the moments when the show is typically at its creative best.

Chandler Riggs and Andrew Lincoln in The Walking Dead season 4 episode 9 The Walking Dead Season 4 Mid Season Premiere Review

In the case of the mid-season premiere, that involves scaling things down in a way that makes sense given the particular storytelling parameters at play. Because long-distance communication is virtually nonexistent and because the population has been decimated, the world has become a much larger place. Food is scarce, shelter is often iffy, a trip down the road is suddenly a life-threatening experience, and the trials and tribulations of a small group of people begins to feel very big indeed. And because of that, The Walking Dead is better served whenever it recognizes that by telling smaller, more intimate stories.

This smaller story dealing with Rick, Carl – made even smaller by Rick’s near-comatose state – and Michonne help make the series feel more personal, more involved with the characters and their predicaments, and therefore it’s easier for the writers to develop plots and venture down avenues that have gone unexplored and would otherwise stay that way when the series gives itself over to a larger, more single-minded plot.

The thing is, the world of The Walking Dead is huge; it doesn’t have to limit its storytelling as much as it has in the past. And here, in ‘After,’ we get the first glimpses of how the Scott M. Gimple era of the show is beginning to understand that and utilize it to the advantage of the show as a whole.

A key example of this is how Michonne is given a distinct arc that not only calls to mind the laconic wanderer she was prior to joining up with Rick’s group, but also by fleshing out some of her backstory with a few unsettling flourishes to push it past a rudimentary flashback. The Walking Dead is one program that actually benefits from knowing who these people were before the zombie outbreak occurred – which in this case, involves Michonne’s seemingly idyllic home life becoming distorted in a terrifyingly subjective and revealing way.

Furthermore, because the characters are all in the same situation, knowing something of their prior circumstances helps to illuminate their responses in the present; it gives weight to their actions, as we see here when Michonne cuts down a group of walkers and chooses instead to follow the tracks that eventually lead her to Rick and Carl.

Danai Gurira as Michonne in The Walking Dead season 4 episode 9 The Walking Dead Season 4 Mid Season Premiere Review

The same can be said for Carl, whose journey here is essentially a brief coming-of-age/redemptive arc, after he reduces his severely injured father to persona non grata – even evoking the name of Shane – as a way of coping with the trauma of what just occurred. There’s familiarity in Carl’s clumsy (and in this case, life-threatening) attempts to be “a man,” which again sees him walking into situations he shouldn’t on the basis he no longer needs looking after.

We also see a subtle, affecting moment when he stumbles into a room and marvels at the youthful wonders of video games, posters, and books, only to use the television’s power chord as a fastener for the house’s front door. It’s an odd position Carl finds himself in where he is essentially caught wanting to be the man who can survive on his own, and still needing to grab moments of blissful adolescence, as he does while enjoying a can of pudding on the roof of the house he just escaped from.

It’s a surprisingly tender, light moment for the character that is revisited again in the episode’s closing seconds when Rick sees Michonne at the front door and tells Carl, “It’s for you.” It’s a terrifically atypical way to end things, but moreover, it proves there is room in The Walking Dead for moments of calm reflection, pleasure, humor, and even a little joy, and that the show is better for having included them.

If there’s one thing The Walking Dead consistently delivers on, it is generally strong premieres. So far, season 4 has had two premieres that both offer a sense of hope for a new beginning: one for the characters, and, as we see here, one for the structure of the series. ‘After’ is one of the stronger episodes of the season, and for now, it’s enough to make one curious about where the next seven chapters are headed.

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The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with ‘Inmates’ @9pm on AMC.

Photos: Gene Page/AMC

TAGS: the walking dead

117 Comments

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  1. Thought it was a very strong episode. Chandler Riggs and Danai Gurira gacve excellent performance. I also enjoyed the dream sequence for Michonne, rather than a “straight-up” flashback. I wrote more on the episode here http://www.notsodaily.com/2014/02/walking-dead-season-4-episode-9-after.html

  2. Its nice to know that even when human life is facing extinction by the flesh eating dead, emotionally heightened teens still find a reason to say to their parents, “I wish you would die!”

    Love the episode.
    watching it for the third time….

    • …and i always chuckle when i hear Rick call out, ” Corrrl…” and not Carl.
      The ending is as sweet as that can of chocolate pudding.

  3. this episode made me not hate Carl. I totally understood why he’d be pissed about his father continually trying to get him to think that they’ll ever be at peace and that the world isn’t so far gone that the only thing is survival. he had a lot to be pissed about and he was holding on to it since season 2. Also, Michonne alone was great and her flashback/nightmare was disturbing. All in all this episode was very well done, and totally made me excited to see where the next episodes take us.

  4. I’m quickly scanning through this review and I’m not getting the information I need. What happened in the episode? Rick unconscious, Carl watching him and Michonne walking around with walkers? That’s it? Thank god I tuned out 2 years ago.

    • Dont be ignorant….just watch the episode and then Judge it. Its an emotional episode but i guess you are too short sighted to get it and just read a review of a show you are not even watching…

    • Hey WIll, Like Micheal, you are not alone, the show is so far gone for me… thank god the comic will be long running when they stop running this show…

      • I think you meant to say “ruining” this show, not running

    • 15.8 million viewers tuned in and you the one hipster that didn’t decided it was worth your time to keep tabs on a show you stopped watching 2 years ago?

    • And I would like to thank you, Will, for enlightening us with your grand oratory on the matter. We are all better for having you here.

  5. I just checked at the top. It says “Review” up there. I think you’re looking for a ReCap, friend. There are sites for that. But why would you need them as you stopped watching? Unless you’re just, y’know, pretending.

    • Who wasted 42 minutes on an episode of a s***** show (which started amazing 3 years ago)? When I review an episode or a movie, I “recap” it as well. Guess whoever wrote this does not.

      • Who wasted time replying on a forum post about a show they no longer like or take the time to watch?

        • Excuse me? I enjoy conversation. This show I do not. But I do care enough to compare it to the comics. But not enough to waste 42 minutes a week on it.

          • I understand if you don’t like it, but how can you compare it to the comics if you don’t watch the show?

          • The others are right here, who the hell doesnt watch a show for two years but keeps going on threads about said show just to whine and moan?

            You must be about 14 or something.

  6. I would like to see some government/military group that is scientifically attempting to resolve the zombie issue. I know the CDC episode in season 1 made it seem as though all hope was lost, but I would expect more agencies to be operational. Where are the planes, sailboats, and ships? Where is the HAM radio operator that is surely in communication with other locations in the world? How do zombies react to snow and ice? etc etc..

    It seems a lot more can be done along those lines to bring this to a more interesting conclusion.

    • Of course there could be more of the stuff you described in the show/ comic book … but then again it would be another zombie show. It’s the core assumptions of the show that obviously all governmental and modern state institutions and organisations are gone (or at least not much is left) … therefore the show can focus on Rick and Carl and their group very much as a clan similar in pre-modern societies. So far we’ve seen (even in the comic book) just “private” regrouping of power … gangs, clans or tribes … similar to archaic or medieval societies.

      So far this is a core assumptions of TWD: What if we suddenly fall back into such a pre-modern society without a state, without any governmental organisation … and we have to organize again from the beginning. That makes a difference to other zombie stories and it allows more to focus on characters (the good and the bad ones) than see things from a bird’s eye view of “what happened” or “what will the government do”.

      Of course it will not rule out some story arcs including what’s left of governmental organisations or some hints of “what caused the outbreak” … but it’s not the main issue of the show. Therefore I also consider comparsions to LOST wrong. LOST was built on a mystery which needed conclusion. TWD isn’t built on such a mystery. The zombie outbreak is just the core assumption to set up a pre-modern world. Maybe the cause for the zombie outbreak will be revealed once. But it isn’t needed. There could be a totally different conclusion of TWD too.

  7. Carl cannot act , ruined most of the episode

  8. Carl cannot act , ruined most of the episode

    • I think that Carl’s acting has improved since previous seasons…he has now matched the garbage standard of acting that most of the cast has set. The writing is partially to blame. Yet, if all of the show’s actors were capable of conveying thoughts and emotion without having to ACTUALLY STATE their emotions and thoughts, maybe the writers wouldn’t have to include so many awful lines like the ones that Carl kept spewing out the entire episode.

      Monologues can be great in tv and movies; voice-over narration to explain inner emotion can even work sometimes; characters talking to themselves or someone that can’t listen (when they aren’t going crazy or something) is just lazy and stupid.

  9. I loved the ending, with rick’s message to carl. it was simple but well earned, and a welcome moment of rarely seen levity on the show. can’t wake for next week.

  10. In an incredible show like this, one aspect/attribute that can easily be over looked when reviewing the episode is the bar. Huh? you say? What is the bar? The bar is the intensity level of the show, the quality, the character dynamics, the direction of the show, I could go on and on….
    We finally received the episode that all of us wanted last year with the attack on the prison and the demise of the governor. A most riveting, shocking, emotionally taxing episode. So where do we go from here?
    The producers were spot on. With the horror of a macabre world; where any semblance of hope has been shattered by the scattering of the group, the death of Herschel and the would be death of baby Judith(?), just what next would the viewers have to experience?
    I surely did not see this coming: with the trauma of all these events, there were two moments that I caught a glimpse of the human heart: 1. When Michonne saw the empty can of pudding culminating in the realization that Carl was inside the house and 2. When Rick looked through the door viewer; those moments lasted an eternity – an eternity of hope, both characters never wanting the moment to cease. And then, how classic can you get, Rick utters to Carl after seeing Michonne, “It is for you!”

    Folks, I had a tear in my eye. Thanks Walking Dead for allowing us to share a moment of hope in a most surreal world. Perhaps, just perhaps, we can manifest this hope in this world.

  11. I disagree with Gerry above and agree with Danai Gurira that episode we saw Chandler Riggs become an actor not just a boy saying lines and playing a role. Really was a pleasure to watch. While my opinions of Carl, the character Riggs plays in the show have been generally negative, this episode was the first one that forced me to compartmentalize those opinions of the role and simply recognize a young man really starting to learn his craft. Was great to see.

  12. Why comment on a show you hate and don’t watch?
    Anyway, Loved the episode. I thought Chandler Riggs did a pretty good job and it made me like Carl a bit more. I did cringe watching him a couple of times. Loved the Michonne story. Danai Gurira gave an excellent performance and made Michonne one of the most interesting characters. I hated her during season three, but really like her now. She’s right up there with Daryl as a favorite of mine after this episode.

  13. Very disappointing premiere. Extremely slow plot, nothing happened at all, really. How many times can they show Michonne walking with the walkers… How many times can they go into a house searching for food and being surprised by the resident zombie… come on producers, you know this was a very lame premiere, step it up or you will lose audience in a hurry.
    I also suggest some acting lessons for Carl in the off season, his anger was unjustified and very poorly acted. He just couldn’t carry the weight of the premiere.

  14. I totally understand some people not buying Riggs’ performance in places, but he did well enough to be passable, and I thought his scene with “Zombie” Rick was actually very good. The most noticeably cringe worthy moment was obviously his monologue, though.
    But to the people hating on the show and the actor for it, I would like to bring up an interview I saw with Daniel Radcliffe about learning the difference between saying lines as he would say them and acting, which he says didn’t happen until the 5th HP film. Radcliffe would have been 18 when that film was released, and Chandler Riggs is only 14 I believe. Not saying that Radcliffe is some gold standard of acting, or that Riggs will ever get even that good, but there are very few child actors who are naturally talented without any coaching or family in the industry who aren’t already doing feature films. Give him some time to grow. I think he may actually turn out to be one of the biggest stars to come out of this show.

  15. mid season ok but rick needs to take back control .

  16. The best thing about season 4 episode 9 ‘After’ (for me) was getting confirmation that The Governor aka Brian is dead. The potrayal of this character was more interesting and better looking than he is in the comic book. But as Jack Nicholson said in Tim Burton’s Batman: “I’m glad your dead.” :D

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