Episode Title: "Clear"
Writer: Scott M. Gimple
Director: Tricia Brock
Previously on "The Walking Dead":
If you want an indication of what’s coming up in “The Walking Dead” Season 4, “Clear” was the first episode of the series by incoming showrunner Scott M. Gimple to air since the announcement that Gimple will take over for Glen Mazzara. Of course Gimple has been on the show since the second season and he also wrote “Hounded” earlier this season; which was the episode where Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) started going crazy deep within the prison.
Tonally, “Clear” felt like one of the more contemplative episodes from the first two seasons rather than the insanely fast paced stories of the third season. But “The Walking Dead” needed a breather episode and more importantly, “Clear” was very good. Aside from some elaborate set decoration and a restaurant full of walkers, this felt like a bottle episode with only four characters. Well, five characters if you count the hapless Hitchhiker.
Full spoilers are ahead for “Clear,” so if you’re not up to date with “The Walking Dead’ then you should probably skip this review or else the Grimes gang is going to take your backpack.
The recurring bit with the Hitchhiker (Russ Comegys) was darkly hilarious. It’s all kinds of messed up that Rick, Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) ignore his cries for help… and then take his backpack when they come across what’s left of his body hours later. Their suspicion of strangers is well founded at this point and the Hitchhiker’s desperation made his ultimate fate a tragic turn. Even so, it was still morbidly humorous.
“Clear” also did more to establish Michonne’s character than any of her previous appearances in the series. Danai Gurira has been good at conveying Michonne’s ferociousness and her intensity, but who knew that she could be funny? The Michonne we saw in this episode was more like a human being than a caricature and consequently she was a lot more likable.
Gurira had some good subtle facial reactions as Michonne overheard Rick telling his son that their alliance with her was only temporary. That might be why Michonne went out of her way to prove her worth to them. And she slowly wins over Carl when it becomes clear that he can’t ditch her to pursue his side quest for the last known picture of his mother to give his baby sister.
Most of the action in this episode centered around their sequence in a restaurant overrun by zombies. But the highlights were still the way that Michonne and Carl played off each other. So when Carl tells his dad that Michonne “may be one of us,” it felt earned.
However, the best part of this episode was the long awaited return of Morgan (Lennie James); who hasn’t appeared since the pilot episode. Lennie James is pretty much always good no matter what role he’s playing. And one of the reasons that “The Walking Dead” resonated immediately was because of his performance as Morgan, particularly in the great scene in which he can’t bring himself to shoot his zombified wife.
That hesitation apparently caught up to Morgan, if the account of his son’s death can be believed. When Rick, Carl and Michonne find Morgan, he’s so crazed that he doesn’t even recognize Rick as the man he helped months ago. And Morgan even begs for death after stabbing Rick during their second confrontation.
With a lesser actor, Morgan’s insanity and grief could have been flat and cliché, but James brought an intensity that allowed Morgan to seem believable as a man pushed over the edge. Morgan’s mental state also seems to be a commentary on Rick’s state of mind and he makes Rick look like the picture of mental health by comparison.
I have to give AMC credit for not blowing the surprise of Morgan’s return through their promos for this episode. James has a leading role in AMC’s upcoming “Low Winter Sun” drama series and he’s perpetually busy in films and TV projects, so his availability to come back was in question.
But it’s fortunate that James was able to return here, as his presence elevated “Clear” into one of the best episodes of the season. Even with Morgan’s tenuous grasp on sanity, I was hoping that he’d take Rick up on his offer to go back to the prison. But instead, Morgan opts to stay behind in his booby-trapped corner of the apocalypse. It’s a bleak turn for the character, but at least there’s still a possibility that Morgan could return in the future.
Morgan has one last great scene as Carl tries to apologize for shooting him. He simply tells Carl to never be sorry and he goes back to carting the bodies of the dead away. Morgan’s survival seems more like a penance, especially as he goes about the grim task of “clearing” the town of walkers caught in his traps.
By the end, Rick and Michonne share a moment where they let their guard down and acknowledge that they’ve both spoken to dead people as a way of dealing with their grief and their fragile grasp on sanity. It could almost be mistaken as a moment of hope if it hadn’t been undercut by the Hitchhiker’s fate just a short time later.
“Clear” was an engaging diversion from the season long storyline at the prison. And it might be the last "calm" episode for a while as the season starts to wrap up. Even next week's episode looks like an event as Rick and the Governor (David Morrissey) meet face-to-face for the first time. That’s definitely something to look forward to.