The devastation left by the events that took place in the last episode of The Walking Dead is dealt with beautifully in “After.” I’ve had my problems with the show in the past, but the rollicking fun of the last few episodes has gone a long way to overcome those troublesome beginnings. I never thought I’d say this, but the show’s strength is in the power of the elegiac, melancholic moments that it conjures amongst the bloodshed. It also helps that we’re invested enough in these characters by this point to actively care about their survival.
“After” is the barest of bare bones episodes, full of long takes and realizations. The first shot is a hark back to our first meeting with Michonne, with her emasculated walker bodyguards making a return here. She slowly walks through what remains of the plundered prison as a tracking shot reveals the full scope of just what went on when the fences fell and the gang hastily moved on.
This is a essentially a two-hander episode – we follow Michonne as she tries to catch up with the rest of the group, and we see just what Rick and Carl are up to as they themselves search for the others. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that they (of course) meet up in the end, and that their doing so provides a welcome sigh of relief after an hour spent holding your breath.
We also see a little of Michonne’s backstory, sans sword and with much fancier dreadlocks. We see her nearest and dearest, with whom she interacts in a normal, everyday way, and we actually see her crack a smile or two. To me, seeing a more human Michonne is more affecting than perhaps anybody else because she appears to be the one member of the gang most utterly destroyed by the outbreak. She’s been completely scooped out; bereft of everything that ever meant anything to her, all she has left is her sword. While we’re never quite sure if what we’re seeing is a memory or a dream, it still gives us a little glimpse of who Michonne used to be and suggests that maybe she could be like that again. Much has been made online of Michonne’s limited character and near-complete lack of facial expressions, but I always assumed she was just so damaged by what’s happened that she’s completely withdrawn any semblance of emotion. That flashback really proves this, being that she lets her sword do the talking.
I’m not afraid to admit that I found the nightmarish turn her flashback took completely horrifying, all the more so for appearing completely out of the blue. Making the guys into her “pack mules” (as she calls them) was a deft piece of horror direction and a nice reminder that, in the right context, the walkers are still scary. A lot of the threat seemed to have been sapped from that undead mass in the last few episodes, which hopefully the show will try and build back up again if the season finale is going to have any real heft. If it’s going to follow traditional television narrative – which, being on AMC (former home of Breaking Bad), isn’t necessarily a given – then Rick and Michonne will get together at some point. I sincerely hope that AMC manages to resist the coupling urge though, as it would mean more emotional investment in Rick as a character, which is something I simply can’t accept.