With all the time The Walking Dead has spent milling around the prison, or in the streets of Woodbury, it's nice to see the series get out of those settings and away from the immediacy of the various conflicts (life threatening and otherwise), and really concentrate on telling a story that is temporarily removed from the main thrust of the season, but still remains deeply rooted in the story at hand.
To that end, 'Clear' winds up being a good episode that gives Rick, Carl and Michonne a chance to move around and exist (however briefly) in an adventure that seems to really show them off as more complicated characters.
From the opening scene on, there's the feeling that the supply run will offer more than the chance to simply grab a few extra guns, supplies and rounds of ammunition. It seems everywhere they look, there is some sort of sign that shows just how desperately some past survivors attempted to get information out to one another, to tell their loved ones (or anyone, really) which direction they were headed. But there's nothing to indicate any of these messages did any good – only a brief confirmation that an intended recipient had turned into a zombie.
The closer they get to their destination, the communication becomes more focused, but less optimistic; the words are harsh and sharp, warning of the unfortunate things that will befall those who continue down the path. The messages suggest it's best for those reading to just turn around and go back to where they came. And that's just what Rick's plan is: to go back to where he started, and to loot his old armory so that his people can better defend themselves against the pending conflict against the Governor and Woodbury.
But that's a far as the episode delves into the main narrative of the season. 'Clear' is more concerned with digging up a bit of Rick's past, in order for him to get a glimpse at his possible future. And in order to do that, the episode brings Rick Grimes face-to-face with Morgan Jones (played by the fantastic Lennie James), the man who saved his life during the series premiere.
Initially, it's not much of a reunion, as the group stumbles upon Morgan's zombie traps and increasingly threatening signage and is then set upon by a man with a high-powered rifle and a motorcycle helmet. The scuffle is brief, but it disperses the group to such a degree that Carl winds up saving his father's life by shooting the assailant point blank in the chest. Inspecting the body, Rick finds that not only was the man's life spared by a bulletproof vest, but that the face underneath the helmet is one he distinctly remembers.
After dragging the unconscious Morgan back inside his cleverly booby-trapped house, they discover where all the weapons and ammunition of the armory (and then some) wound up. Michonne considers dragging someone who shot at them into relative safety to be the extent of her good intentions and votes to grab and go (guns and snacks, that is), while Rick once again goes against the desires of group – but this time for an understandable reason.
At this point, the storyline splits into Carl and Michonne on a mission to find a crib for Judith, while Rick tries to find out what's left of a man he once knew. When he regains consciousness, however, Morgan shows little indication he's looking to reminisce with Rick, choosing instead to stab him in the shoulder with a knife before being subdued once more. Between the weapons cache, the scribbling on the walls and Morgan's hyper violent attitude toward anyone stopping by his neighborhood, it doesn't take Rick long to figure out just what's gone wrong.
'Clear' offers more than just an update on where Morgan has been, and what has been going on with him. It is apparent very early on that his son Duane is no longer with him – a fact that is confirmed not long after – and due to the awful circumstances in which Duane was killed, Morgan has become a completely different man whose only concern now is to hole up in his house and kill anything or anyone that stumbles across his walker kill zone. But most importantly, Morgan's journey and his state of mind serves to mirror Rick's; it is a clearer warning than any of the signs spray painted on the walls of the town or written in the street. And while Rick realizes he can't save Morgan right now, there's a feeling the message has certainly been received.
As much as 'Clear' affords Rick the opportunity to, if not answer his questions, at least become more aware of them, it also has several nice moments that give Carl a chance to take a break from his new role as the (rather loathsome sounding) "child soldier" and let him be the somewhat selfish, pigheaded Carl Grimes of old. After all the displeasure that fans expressed at some of Carl's antics back in season 2, it would seem his story here might be seen as an unfortunate setback. However, his determination to fetch a picture of his family from the King County Café actually comes off as understandable (reckless and foolhardy, but still understandable) and winds up working to the advantage of not only Carl's characterization, but that of Michonne as well.
Earlier in the episode, Rick and Carl have a conversation about why Michonne is along for the ride, and perhaps purposely, Rick says within earshot that he simply didn't want her in the prison with Merle. It's not exactly a statement glowing with praise, but then again, Michonne hasn't really had much of a chance to do anything but scowl and silently chop walkers down with her sword. Here, though, 'Clear' offers her plenty of opportunity to prove herself within the framework of the team, but also within the larger world of The Walking Dead as an actual character.
If anything, 'Clear' gives Rick, Michonne and Carl a chance to step away from the immediate narrative and better demonstrate why the audience should be so invested in whether or not they survive from one episode to the next. As it stands, this is certainly the best offering since The Walking Dead returned from hiatus, and it may just wind up being the highlight of season 3.
- With Lennie James appearing on the upcoming AMC drama Low Winter Sun, perhaps that means The Walking Dead can ask to borrow him from time to time.
- Morgan tells Rick, "You will be torn apart by teeth or bullets," which is probably what the producers say to actors looking to get a part on the show.
- While she's snacking away on something in Morgan's place, Rick asks "We're eating his food now?" To which Michonne responds, "The mat said 'Welcome.'" Giving Michonne a personality helps to round out one-woman-army routine and all it took was a few snarky lines.
- Additionally, we find out Michonne has a thing for brightly colored cat statues. Somehow, this works in her favor.
- Finally, the frantic guy they twice ignored only warrants a stop when he has no further use for his backpack – or their help for that matter.
The Walking Dead returns next Sunday with 'Arrow on the Doorpost' @9pm on AMC. Check out a preview below:
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