Gene Page/AMC
February 27, 2015 at 07:11 PM EST

Just about one year ago, during the bright new dawn of the Mazzara era, Walking Dead did a road-trip episode. In “18 Miles Out,” Rick and Shane took a long ride into the countryside to drop off the captive Randall far away from Hershel’s Farm. At the time, I noted that it’s basically impossible for a TV show to screw up a road-trip episode: It has all the dramatic possibility of a bottle episode, putting a small group of characters into a tight space and letting them bounce off each other; but it also moves the drama into slightly new surroundings, giving the episode’s writers the opportunity to explore the characters outside of their usual context. Well, almost exactly one year later, the sun is setting on the Mazzara era, and The Walking Dead coughed up another road-trip episode, this time featuring Rick and his son Carl on an artillery-hunting mission with mysterious newcomer Michonne.

And for my money, “Clear” was another shining moment for the series: A nicely paced short-story which simultaneously explored one of the most-discussed bits of ambient mythology on the show (Whatever happened to Morgan?) and also gave the characters an exceedingly rare opportunity to talk about something besides The Governor and Ghost Lori. (ASIDE: Walking Dead fans who pay attention to the ongoing behind-the-scenes saga probably took note that the writer of last night’s episode was Scott M. Gimple, who will take over as Dead showrunner in season 4. I’m not sure we should read too much into Gimple’s plans going forward, but this episode did feature lots of ambient bits of zombie-apocalypse atmosphere, like Morgan’s Home Alone security set-up. Gimple also co-wrote “18 Miles Out.” Thus, we can conclude that the Gimplified Walking Dead will feature lots of road trips and lots of MacGyver-esque weaponry. END OF ASIDE.)

The episode got off to a great start with Rick, Michonne, and Carl on the road. They drove right past a note left for someone on the side of the road: “Erin: We tried for Stone Mountain.” This wasn’t too different from the message left on the freeway for Sophia way back in season 2: You get the vibe that there are a lot of messages written to dead people scattered around Walking Dead‘s America. They saw someone ahead of them on the road. A living someone, too: A guy with a large backpack, on his own in the middle of nowhere. “Slow down, sir, I’m begging you!” he yelled, “Pleeeasse!” Rick did not hear his cry. Once again, you have to wonder if Rick’s whole No-New-People strategy is sound. True, Tomas tried to kill him, but Tomas was also a hard-bitten convict. If nothing else, the dude yelling “Pleeeease!” on the side of the road seems like he’d make excellent cannon fodder in the upcoming War with the Governor.

They came upon a car wreck, and the car wound up getting stuck on the side of the road. Naturally, a gang of Walkers arrived to torment them. There was lots of great visual storytelling in this episode, none of it better than when Rick casually rolled down his window, told his pals to “Cover your hears,” and nonchalantly blasted a walker in the head. (Michonne also noted that one of the Walkers had a necklace which advertised her name as “Erin.”) Rick took the opportunity to teach Carl how to give a car some traction — I might be wrong, but did he use the bones of a walker to provide that traction? Far behind them, Mr. Backpack appeared around the bend, still yelling “Pleease! Pleeeeeeeaase!”

Rick parked the car in a pleasant-looking all-American town, which had at least one more pile of burnt undead remains than most pleasant-looking all-American towns. Turned out this wasn’t just some random Smalltownville; this was the Grimes’ Family’s Smalltownville. I’m not that up on my Georgia geography, but it would appear that Rick managed to travel the entire length of the Walking Dead TV series in just a couple of hours, adding further proof to my running theory that this season of The Walking Dead is set in a magical forest that is only as big as your imagination. (ASIDE: If the TV show follows the comic book, we may never see much beyond the Georgia border, but I like to imagine that just a few hours away — maybe in Hilton Head — the survivors founded a utopia and spend their days drinking Mint Juleps and playing chess with zombie chess-pieces dressed in elaborate costumes. The men all have mustaches, like Kevin Spacey in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and the women all look like extras from Interview With a Vampire. END OF ASIDE.)

Rick led Michonne and Carl into the police station, hoping to get the rest of the weaponry from the station’s storage locker. Unfortunately, the locker had been cleared. Rick wasn’t concerned. He knew of a few guns hiding in local bars and shops. They made their way to Main Street, noting as they walked an impressive amount of graffiti. “No Guilt, You Know That” said the street art, “Turn Around and Live.” These kids today and their wacky slogans! This long approach was mostly silent; when they heard a noise, the sound of Rick drawing his gun and the sound of Michonne grasping her sword echoed throughout the street.

NEXT: It’s a sniper!

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