Carl and Rick struggle following their many losses; Michonne reflects on her past
Andrew Lincoln
Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Congratulations! You survived the hiatus. I know at times it felt as if you were living through a Zombiepocalypse without new episodes — but that's what marathons and scouring EW's extensive Walking Dead coverage are for!

The back half of season 4 starts where it left off — in ruins. The smoke clears and yet the Prison stronghold is destroyed. Walkers slowly, unceasingly stumble towards the chaos. The real, zombie-ridden world destroys any and all remnants of the promises of prosperity at the Prison. Even Michonne's majestic horse serves as a feast for Walkers like a deer's corpse for vultures on the side of a road.

The Governor is still dead — definitely shot in the head, definitely stabbed in the chest. Then again, I thought this guy was definitely dead, too, so you never know.

The first live character we see is Michonne walking towards the Prison. With silent, focused resolve that only Michonne and Daryl do so well, she picks up two new Walker shields to restart her life as a lone survivor. However, before she can return to solitude, a figure from her former present rears his ugly head. (Sorry.)

In a pure moment of the writers gleefully sticking it to us where it hurts, Michonne "takes care of" Hershel's zombified head. Crouching above the remnant of her dead friend, she takes a brief moment to mourn his loss. More than that, she mourns the loss of community, friendship, and even happiness. She let herself be happy…and look what happened.

The audience finally gets some deeper insight into Michonne's past and why she is emotionally guarded. But more on that later. The bulk of the midseason premiere belongs to everyone's favorite Zombiepocalypse youngster, Carl Grimes, and his pa, Rick.

NEXT PAGE: 'CAH-H'RULL' in charge

Carl and Rick

The first non-zombie dialogue of this midseason premiere is Rick calling for Carl — or as Darren Franich notes in his review, "CAH-H'RULL," to slow down. Rick looks as bad as he feels — he is still battered and bruised after his rumble with the Governor. Carl is having none of it. "We're gonna be…" Rick starts to assure, but can't quite manage to finish. With a withering glare that every teenager learns to wield, Carl shoots Rick down and continues walking, still a half pace faster than Rick can handle. After all that has happened and all they've endured including the loss of Lori and Judith, even headstrong, optimistic Rick can't promise they're going to be fine.

The Grimes eventually reach what was once Joe and Joe Jr.'s BBQ Shack to raid for supplies. Inside, they're greeted by the owner himself, Joe. Unfortunately, Joe is very much a zombie. He was presumably left by his son, Joe Jr., who instructs in a note to "Please do what I couldn't." The proxy father-son relationship that serves as a metaphor and lesson for Rick and Carl is all well and good — if I wasn't so distracted by Carl's wanton wastefulness with bullets. Rick chides him, telling him that "every bullet counts." Does he listen? Ha, of course not.

Rick confers with Carl regarding their haul, in which the teen brandishes a slightly bigger bundle and retorts, "I win." Thereby, he totally establishes himself as just as man enough as Rick. (Nope.) Survival isn't a game, so much as "winning" equals not being dead.

Limping along in a fog of unresolved familial tension, Rick and Carl settle on a house in which to take shelter. Their mini-spats continue as Rick is anxious for Carl to stay safe and be mindful of his surroundings whereas Carl thinks he can handle it and do whatever he feels like he wants to do, GOSH! With the house cleared, Carl finds a teenager's dream bedroom decked out with posters, books, video games, and a giant flat-screen TV. Too bad the grid is down and all the gaming system is good for is strong cables to lock down the front door.

That night, Carl continues to throw passive aggressive barbs, even mentioning Shane. He couldn't be bothered to notice his father's wheezing and limping. Rick is in really bad shape, and dealing with a pissed off teen doesn't much help matters. At least Rick doesn't have to deal with a child like Kaitlin — although I would totally watch that show, too.

The next morning, Carl awakes to find Rick still asleep. Enjoying breakfast in his teen paradise, Carl returns his empty cereal bowl and notices Rick still out like a light. It turns out Rick's dead sleep is more like a trauma-induced coma. He pulls a Simba but only manages to attract two Walkers to their front door.

Gun and sheriff's hat in tow, Carl sneaks out the back and draws the Walkers towards the street. The Walkers follow him to a clearing, where another, stronger Walker joins them in all the fun. In a desperate game of dog pile on top of Carl, the adolescent human prevails, wasting five bullets — and his breakfast, promptly upchucked — in the process. Being the smartass kid he can be, he nevertheless triumphantly dons his hat and once again declares, "I win."

NEXT PAGE: My so-called zombiepocalyptic life

Carl returns to his temporary home, boasting of his latest kills. Rick is still asleep — or dead. Unable and/or unwilling to process his father's condition, he unloads his resentment and frustration. He vacillates between declarations of independence — "I don't need you anymore. I don't need you to protect me anymore." — to desperate accusations of blame: "You couldn't protect Judith… or mom." "They're all gone now because of you!" Wiping away his tears, he marches out of the house, announcing, "I'd be fine if you died."

There's a moment in every adolescent's life where you realize that your parents are human. They aren't the indestructible, all-knowing, righteous heroes you thought they were. It's understandable to feel sad or angry for what seems like a massive betrayal. How could you be so stupid to think your parents are more than human? How could they make you believe in such a lie? Carl lost faith in Lori shortly before she died, but he always looked up to Rick. Always. That's basically his character function — or at least, that's what it was. After a dragged-out fight with the Governor and the spectacular failure of the Prison project, Rick personifies frailty and failure. Carl's worldview is shattered, and he is not happy about it. For as annoying as Carl seems, for as much of a little s— he can be, he is in the midst of the very real and relatable growing pains. He's the little s— that we all were at some point in our lives.

Putting his money where his mouth is, Carl goes on a scavenging trip in a neighboring house. Equipping himself with a makeshift stake, he bum-rushes the front door only to bounce right off and onto the ground. It's actually pretty funny to see him act — and fail — to be as self-sufficient as Daryl or Michonne. He eventually breaks through and immediately scores, discovering various canned foods including a giant can of chocolate pudding. Yet, this is The Walking Dead — things don't go well for long. Soon Carl is face-to-face with a Walker, wastes his remaining three bullets, and loses a shoe. Yes, okay, he traps the Walker and survives (barely). He still loses a shoe and wastes his last bullets! Not a good solo survivor move. Oh, but Carl is gloriously confident, naive, brave, and dumb in the way only teenagers can be. He writes "Got my shoe, didn't get me" on the door containing the Walker and proceeds to sit on the roof to eat chocolate pudding.

That night, Carl is startled by the sudden wheezing — or is that zombie-moaning? — coming from Rick. He grabs a gun as (maybe) Walker Rick raises his hand towards his son. Like Joe Jr. before him, Carl can't bring himself to shoot Walker Rick and resigns himself to death by Walker. Instead, Rick is alive but barely conscious, urging Carl to stay safe and remain indoors. For as jaded as he thinks he is, Carl is still a kid at heart. He cradles his unconscious father's head and cries, allowing himself a moment to be vulnerable and scared. It's okay to sometimes still want your parents to protect you, which makes it all the more devastating when they can't.

NEXT PAGE: Michonne's fork in the road


With her Walker bodyguards in tow, Michonne hits the road, if you can call a muddy path a road. She notices footprints, which we know to be Rick and Carl's footprints from earlier in the episode. But she forgoes them, choosing instead to push on into the forest. This is how we first met Michonne back in the second season finale, a mysterious, savvy survivor who decidedly walks her own path.

What follows is a major insight into the mysteries of Michonne. We see her (in a skirt!) cutting cheese and critiquing art with two men sitting by a stylish glass table. One of the men is Mike, her boyfriend or "lover." The other is a close friend, presumably Mike's best friend Terry. The memory shifts into a dream as her cheese-cutting knife turns into her signature katana. A cute little boy runs into her arms — he is her son. This helps explain her emotional reaction to holding Judith in "Infected." With her son in tow, she sets down the cheese and crackers as Mike and Terry(?) shift into their early Zombiepocalypse selves. Terry (Let's just call him that for now) wants to leave the camp, but Mike is hesitant. He questions whether it is safe to leave and attempt to survive in the new, dangerous world. He asks some of the most important questions circling the characters of The Walking Dead —  "Does it even matter anymore?" "Where's the happy ending?" "Why?" I'm comfortable with my answer: Because then we wouldn't have a popular TV series, that's why! Plus, happy endings are overrated.

Suddenly, her son disappears from Michonne's dream/memory. Mike and Terry are revealed to be her original Walker shields. She screams in terror — only to awake in her car shelter. Back in the forest, Michonne joins a small herd of Walkers unaware of her presence. In the herd is a similarly dreadlocked Walker who could be mistaken as her undead doppelgänger. Undetected by the Walkers, what makes her any different from the Walkers?

She stares down her undead lookalike, clearly shaken by its presence. This is not the life she wants. Starting with her doppelgänger, she slaughters all the Walkers in her herd, including her guards. With every strike, she yelps "No!" — rejecting her solitary fate. Danai Gurira proves that she can convey layers of inner turmoil and still be a BAMF.

Soon after, Michonne returns to the muddy road and follows the tracks of (hopefully) live people to Joe and Joe Jr's BBQ Shack. Seeing Joe Jr's note, she crouches to the ground and is compelled to talk to Mike. She admits to him — and more importantly herself — that she misses him and their son. If she has survived, then there's a chance they could have, too. She still can't quite bring herself to talk much about her son, instead focusing on Mike. She cryptically states, "That wasn't you who did it."(Did Mike turn into a Walker and kill their son?) Although her son's fate is unclear, she concludes that she has an answer to Mike's question.

Cut to: Rick and Carl — alive and clearing the air. Father and son reconcile as Rick recognizes Carl as a man. (Well, I don't know about that. He isn't a helpless child anymore, I guess.) On an abandoned suburban street, Michonne finds an large, empty tin of chocolate pudding. She warily approaches a nearby house to find a family. Not the family with which she started out or for which she dreams, but her family nonetheless. Startled by knocks at the door, Rick spies through the peep hole. He laughs and wheezes, telling Carl, "It's for you." Carl regains a lost role model, and Michonne reunites with a lost family. Plus, Rick gets someone who can properly clean and dress his wounds. (Eyes don't normally look like that! Lungs work better when ribs aren't puncturing them!)

Walker of the week: Several of the more prominent Walkers this episode show hints of their former lives and relationships. Nonetheless, the most striking image of the undead is Hershel's zombified head. RIP Hershel.

Questions to consider: 

How are the other characters faring? Could we lose any more beloved characters this season?

Are the fractured groups The Walking Dead the new normal or just a feature of the rest of this season? Will our favorite characters never reunite just like the Starks of Game of Thrones?

Where's baby Judith? Was she picked up by anyone, or is she really dead?

I know I keep harping on this point, but I don't care. It bugs me. Who is the Walker Feeder and why, oh why, did someone vivisect that rat?

Is it too premature to see hints of a possible Rick-Michonne pairing in the horizon?

What happened to Michonne's son?

Is Michonne's answer to Mike's question sufficient enough for you, if you were forced into a Zombiepocalypse?

For more "After" thoughts, check out Darren Franich's midseason premiere review.

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The Walking Dead

AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.

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