It’s clear with the back half of season 4 that Scott Gimple is trying to redress the errors caused by previous showrunners. This Michonne is practically an entirely different character than the one who first arrived. Carl isn’t an insipid, frustrating little brat, but an interesting, challenging teenager. Carol is a revelation compared to the cowed, quaking nothing she was in season 1. Daryl, Glenn, and Maggie, are growing and deepening, albeit far slower than I prefer. Characters who used to sit around whining and bickering until Rick gave them something productive to do now make their own decisions and act on them. Granted, those decisions tend to be fairly one-dimensional, but at least there’s some personal motivation beyond “Rick said so.” We’re getting episodes with an actual plot and mostly decent dialogue that build on each other and appear to leading to a cohesive arc. They aren’t stellar episodes, mind. But I’ll gladly take B-level quality with developing characters and solid storytelling over the crap the show usually cranks out.
Rick is rarely more exciting than when his back is against the wall and he’s forced to act without moralizing, philosophizing, or sermonizing at everyone within hearing distance. “Claimed” lets Rick do what he does best by trapping him in “his” house—the house he’s, wait for it, CLAIMED—with a bunch of psychotics and watching him squirm. More than a few times it looks like Rick will be forced to play his hand, to either make a run for it and hope he isn’t spotted or fight his way out. Instead he catches a lucky break (he kills a guy in the bathroom, said guy reanimates and goes on an off camera rampage) and makes it out of the house just in time to drive back Carl and Michonne.
Speaking of which, Rick has appointed Michonne as Carl’s new bestie, so the two of them go on a foraging expedition while Rick takes a nap. They share some nice bonding moments over memories of dead kids. Carl tells her he picked Judith’s name, and Michonne shares tidbits about her life pre-End!verse. In previous seasons, the scene where Michonne finds the family dead in the little girl’s room would’ve come off as gruesome and grim. But now, with what we know about Michonne and the sincere way the scene is shot, it comes off as a sort of twisted version of hope. It’s tragic, yes, that this family couldn’t survive, but it’s also kind of sweet that they decided to back out of this world together, to leave the way they lived. It helps Michonne reaffirm her choice to live instead of just survive, to make connections and cultivate a family. The only other option is death.
Glenn isn’t having any fun at all. Poor guy comes to hours and miles away from Maggie in the back of some random truck crewed by a trio of losers straight out of a cheesy 80s movie. Eugene claims to be a scientist with an expertise in zombies. Abraham is part numbskull, part walking punchline, part tragicomic figure probably suffering from PTSD. Rosita wears as little clothing as possible without any concern for her own safety and basically spends her screentime posing like a Guns & Ammo model. They’re on a mission to get Eugene to Washington D.C. so he can reverse the apocalypse. Glenn doesn’t buy it or doesn’t care; his whole reason for living is Maggie. After a minor skirmish with Abraham and a horde of roamers, Glenn heads back the way they came. Tara follows because she’s consumed with guilt over the whole Governor thing. The rest follow because why not. It’s not like they could simply keep walking north until they found another vehicle. No, what makes the most sense for a group on an urgent mission to save the world is to follow some random dude they just met going in the opposite direction from their destination.
Even without reading the comics, the whole Eugene thing sounds completely idiotic. I mean, really? A dude with the worst mullet this side of Billy Ray Cyrus is supposedly a “scientist” with the secret to life, the universe, and everything? If you believe that, I got a bridge to sell you. What intrigues me more is Abraham’s interest in Eugene. Does he genuinely believe Eugene’s claim? Or is he completely off his rocker? Is he Shane 2.0, the Governor 2.0, or just plain nutso? Should I even waste time caring? (Keep in mind, Dr. Jenner from way back in season 1 never figured out cause or cure for the mass zombification of the world, just that everyone living was already infected. So if Eugene does actually know something, his clearance would have to be higher than Jenner’s.)
I think the reason the non-Rick/Carl/Michonne scenes don’t click for me is that, after 4 seasons, we still don’t really know any of the other characters. The writers have spent quality time fleshing out Rick, Carl, and Michonne, showing and telling us what makes them tick. Put them in a bad way, and we feel for them because we know them. We know what’s at risk if Rick gets caught by those assholes, and not just that bad things will happen to decent people. Even non-desperate scenes carry extra meaning when the character’s histories color the subtext. Glenn is the only “known” quantity in the other scenes, and even he doesn’t have much depth beyond his love for Maggie, that he’s the only person smart enough in the End!verse to build himself some anti-zombie riot gear, and he used to be a wisecracking pizza delivery boy. His sole motivation is Maggie, and while that’s romantic, it isn’t exactly a personality trait. If I’m supposed to root for Glenn and Maggie, I need a reason besides that they look cute together.
Everyone else barely make it out of caricature stage. It’s like the writers spent all their energy crafting meaningful connections between Rick, Carl, and Michonne, and then trawled through TVTropes.com to fill the rest of the roles. But, like I said before the jump, at least the writers are trying. Thing is, it took four seasons for Glenn to become a person instead of a cardboard cutout. I don’t have that kind of patience with the three idiot amigos and Tara (or, for that matter, Tyrese, the psycho girls, and Beth).
Hope, humor, and happiness are flickering through these last few episodes, giving the audience something to look forward to. The Walking Dead can’t just be about blood and violence and death. Kirkman always described his comics as a story of survival. Survival only gets you so far, as Michonne’s journey attested. You either have to want to live or be willing to die. With Woodbury and the prison, everyone was trying to go back to the way things were, to reestablish civilization and assert the old codes of ethics on a world that no longer tolerated them. The people who have accept this new world are the happiest—both good guys and bad. And this mysterious community Tyrese and the girls found last week and Rick, Carl, and Michonne spotted this week poses an interesting option. Is it another Woodbury, another Hershel’s farm, or something more sinister?
- Whoever gave Cudlitz that that dye job should be fired immediately. I’ve seen better color jobs on teenagers obsessed with Manic Panic.
- I doubt that’s the last we’ll see of those rapist creepers, not with Jeff Kober as their leader.
- Logistical question: If the corpse in the rocking chair was the one to off the rest of the family before blowing their own brains out, how did they manage to prop the zombie painting against the outside of the door?
- Something that’s bothered me since the end of the first half of season 4: How, in all that time they were living in the prison, and after the Governor made his threats, did NO ONE THINK TO MAKE AN ESCAPE PLAN OR RENDEZVOUS POINT? All this chaos could’ve easily been avoided if someone took 30 seconds to formulate a plan B.
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.