Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Walking Dead: 4.09 "After"

And… The Walking Dead has returned! It actually doesn’t feel like it was gone very long this time, so I don’t think we have to really recap what happened in the last episode. Basically:
-Governor thought he might try to be a good person, didn’t happen
-bunch of people got sick in the prison, died
-Carol banished
-Rick still a dick
-Carl still wants to be treated like an adult
-Governor showed up at the prison with a tank, and the prison went ka-boom
-Hershel was beheaded by the Guv in the worst CGI since the submarines on Lost
-everyone has run away from the prison (‘cept Hersh) and they’ve all been split up

And so, we begin this week’s recap! I, Nikki, am in snowy, polar vortexy London, Ontario, Canada, and I’m trying not to hate my co-author, Josh Winstead, who is vacationing in Florida.

Dear Josh,
I just got back in after digging out the car. I can’t feel my fingers. I’m typing this with my nose. It’s like -27 or something out there. I looked at the five-foot snowbanks and thought, why don’t the people on The Walking Dead just head north? You could frickin’ FREEZE those puppies in the snow, and at least get a few months of peace. And in the insanely hot summers we have here, they’d just melt.

I hope you’re having a great time in Florida, and I actually do mean that sincerely! Did you catch this week’s episode yet? I was actually rather pleased with it. The Michonne flashback/dream sequence was wonderful (and confirmed most of what audiences had figured out) and the scenes between Rick and Carl were heartfelt and went a long way to helping us understand the kid. As always, when they separate the characters on this show, the episodes are so much more indepth and well written and acted. Having everyone split up is the best thing that could have happened to the show. If they can have each of them work through their personal demons, like a little show you and I used to watch about a group of people on a weird deserted island, and show us more flashbacks and really humanize this group of people, I think it’ll give the show the shot in the arm it’s so badly needed.

I hope you enjoyed it too! My nose is getting tired from typing. Send me a postcard when you can.

Dear Nikki,

Greetings and salutations from the Sunshine State! I don't blame you for hating me — it's a balmy 80 degrees here right now, which is about 26 for you folks on the Celsius scale, and it's supposed to stay this way all week. There's a guy sitting on a curb a few feet away from me who is wearing nothing but shorts and flip-flops. And he's sweating. Not to rub it in or anything.

We hadn't really planned to leave until Tuesday morning, but there was another winter storm headed towards home, and considering how the state of Georgia tends to handle such weather (short answer: laughably), we thought it best to simply throw everything together already and get the heck on out of Dodge. So here we are.

Fortunately, I did find time to watch the new episode before we made our hasty exodus, and I thought it was definitely a promising start for the second half of season 4. Coming back from the midseason break with such a quiet, contemplative episode was a pretty gutsy move, and like you, I really think it paid off. From that great wordless open as we and Michonne say our last goodbyes to Hershel and the prison, all the way through to Rick's wry one-liner finish, this outing was lean, measured and right on the money. Despite how much fun it can be when they ratchet up the tension or stage some huge gore-streaked action sequence, I always come away with a higher opinion of the smaller, carefully considered character work. Even the most unhinged mayhem fails to tie me in knots the same as those episodes when the writers take the time to explore in greater depth just what an unconscionable strain it would be on the human psyche to endure life in such a world.

In particular, Carl has received short shrift when it comes to the show expressing how a child would process a postapocalyptic existence like this. More times than not, he ends up coming across as an afterthought, and it was nice to be reminded that there is more going on in his head than what cursory examples we're usually given. Chandler Riggs did quite a respectable job with what practically amounted to a solo gig this week, and I hope this proves to be setting the tone for a more well-balanced Carl from this point on.

That said, my favorite stuff this week was Michonne's. Her role has been beautifully fleshed out this season, and 'Alone' filled most every hole in her backstory, confirming our suspicions without simply dumping the details in artless exposition. She broke my heart over and over in this episode, and I don't know how I could love her any more.

Which, of course, probably means she'll be dead soon.

Ok — going to buy an ice cream. Write me back and tell me what you thought of how pulverized and vulnerable was our local sheriff this week, and also how you felt about that cathartic is-he/isn't-he scene between he and Carl toward the end. Something tells me you were wishing the old man ill. And no wonder you're cold, ma'am...

-       j

Dear Josh,
It's a balmy –15 out there today; almost time to break out the shorts and t-shirts! Instead, I'll just do as other Canadians do and stay at home and cheer on our Canadian hockey teams in the Olympics. 

I actually felt badly for Rick in this one, shockingly. While Carl is screaming invectives at Rick's motionless body, I couldn't help but see everything Rick has tried to do for everyone, even if he's made a ton of bad decisions. Carl wants him to answer for everything, for not saving everyone, for not always making the right choices, for losing people along the way. But only when Carl is faced with what could happen without his father does he realize how important and needed Rick is. It was a really interesting way to handle it: silence Rick, make him unable to stick up for himself, and only by showing things through another perspective do we get a true defense of Rick. For a moment there, I actually thought Rick WAS dead, and I was shocked. They really had me going there for a second, since I don't read anything about casting if I can avoid it. Carl and Rick have always been two difficult characters for me to stomach all the time, and by finally isolating them into this very intimate story, I found a way to truly like them. I just wish the writers had done it ages ago. 

I thought the way Michonne's backstory was played out was truly unique. They could have shown us a straight-ahead flashback, but they didn't; instead it was very much rooted in the present, with us seeing shades of the present and not-so-distant past laid over the distant past. She's cutting vegetables with her sword. She's having a conversation with her armless lover and his friend. Her baby is on her hip and then he's not. The past is always haunting all of these characters, but when the present is a constant nightmare, it changes even the way you perceive what came before it. SO beautifully done. 

Any last words on this week? 

I hope you enjoyed your ice cream! Here in the polar vortex we eat ice cream to warm up. ;) Oh look, it's starting to snow. I'd better get the snow blower ready. On this Valentine's Day nothing says romance like hair that smells like diesel. 


Dear Nikki -

I was thinking of you today as I watched the heart-stirring 'O Canada' film in the World Showcase at Epcot, narrated by the Crown Prince of Canada, Martin Short. Couldn't help but hear a sort of Mystery Science Theater-esque running commentary in your voice as you pointed out vagaries and inaccuracies like a true editorial bon viveur. Pretty sure you would have had a field day with it.

Speaking of which, I can't help but be pleasantly surprised by your sympathy for poor old Sheriff Grimes this week. Then again, between the phenomenal makeup job on Andrew Lincoln and his solid performance selling it, I suppose I really should have guessed. And I too bought into the zombie fake-out near the end, which I realize may seem foolish in retrospect, thinking the writers would kill off the lead in the most successful show on television. Still, the moment was set up so well and played so effectively that I refuse to feel bad about falling for it. Carl's breakdown as he clutched his broken father and sobbed "I'm scared" was my favorite scene he's had on the show so far. Well, that and the whole "Got my shoe; didn't get me thing," followed brilliantly by that amazing shot of him perched on the rooftop in his single boot, the hand grabbing fruitlessly behind him through the window he couldn't get open as he casually eats a hundred and twelve ounces of chocolate pudding. Fantastic, iconic stuff.

And while we're on the subject of favorite moments, Michonne also racked up a couple of new ones for me. Her delivery of the speech to her dead lover was just so damn good. "You were wrong. 'Cause I'm still here. And you could be, too. And he could be." The way her voice broke at the end made tears shoot into my eyes like somebody pinched me hard, and it's practically happening again right now just thinking about it.

The ending, as well, when Michonne realizes she's found them... God, that's great tv. I find myself suddenly shipping for a Rick-Michonne pairing in a big way. Really looking forward to seeing what happens when they open that door.

In fact, I am very much looking forward to whatever's next for everyone, to a degree unusual for this show. The way this group has splintered in the wake of the prison battle serves to up the emotional stakes in every respect, and I hope they stick with it for the bulk of the season. And there's still the pseudo-mystery of the vivisected rabbit to address, not to mention the circumstances of Judith's disappearance. All in all, I'd say the prospects were high for some of the best stuff we've ever seen from The Walking Dead, and I can't wait to see where they take us next.

Well, I'm exhausted, and I suppose I should go wash off this face paint and get some rest. Just got a message that North Georgia suffered a 4.4 earthquake today. I swear I can't leave those guys alone for five minutes without the whole place falling apart. Still on vacation for three more days; hope they don't secede from the union again before I get back.

Stay warm up there. Sending you radiant vibes.

- j


Rebecca T. said...

This letter format is the best. I love this way of you two doing the post!

I really, really enjoyed this episode and I agree that getting the characters alone now is going to give us a chance to get to know them better. However, I'm just itching to find out what happened to everyone else and if we only focus on a couple of them at a time I know I'm going to be very impatient. But I don't want them to rush it either, and I too hope that they keep them separated for most of the rest of the season.

I thought Chandler did a great job in this episode in carrying the weight of the acting and I was particularly excited about how closely it matched up with the graphic novels. It's the closest it's been since almost the very beginning. It was a nice nod that still fit with the different arc the show has taken.

Amanda S. said...

Love the letter format! It reminds me of the time my aunt had no internet after a Lost episode, so she sent me a card with her thoughts on what happened so that we could have our usual discussion, LOL.

I'm a Rick fan, but I couldn't be mad at Carl (even though I disagree with everything he said). It was so obvious (in a good way) that he would be sorry by the end. I would never have expected Chandler Riggs to have such acting talent though! I'll need to pay more attention to him in the future.

Also, when Carl was being chased by the zombie that got his shoe - I was literally squirming in my seat, chanting "Oh God, Oh God." It was the first time in ages that I was genuinely scared by a Walking Dead scene.

Page48 said...

Which is worse, out of bullets or out of pudding?

It was good to catch up with Hershel.

I've been looking for an excuse to give Carl a boot.

Rick should know better than to make "recently turned" noises in the presence of someone with a gun pointed at his head. Especially a killing machine like Carl.

Michonne knocked on the door. Such a pre-apocalypse thing to do.

I watch my fair share of the Olympics, but thank goodness somebody has the jam to put some original programming on during The Games.

Efthymia said...

I want to slap Carl. I want to slap him, and then slap him again.
And then he walks into that kid's room and he has that look on his face and I feel so very sad for him.
But then I want to slap him some more.

I know that's not the feeling we're supposed to get about Carl after watching this episode, but when it comes to Rick and Carl, I'm still 'Team Rick'. "Remember Shane?" -Yes, I do remember the psycho who tried to rape your mother and killed a bunch of people and tried to kill your dad, you little brat! *Slap*
And I still think that it was Carl who fed the rats to the zombies.

Now, Michonne, she's awesome. I love her. I could watch an entire episode just with her and I'd be very happy about it. She's one of the two characters whose death would make me want to quit the show altogether (although I feel that, at least at this point, she's much safer than Glenn).
And since they're doing the flashback thing, I'd love to see some of her time with Andrea -even if I was annoyed and frustrated with Andrea for far longer a time than I liked her, I still wish they had redeemed her character before killing her of (I mean, they gave Merle that chance but not Andrea? Ugh!).

And I should probably stop watching Talking Dead. The words "surprise guest" didn't let me have the stress-free week I would have enjoyed if I'd just watched the episode.