This week’s installment of The Walking Dead, “Clear,” is such a departure episode that I thought, for the bulk of it, that all of the happenings occurred in Rick’s head. They’re back in Rick’s hometown where he was Sheriff, which, spatially is hard to believe, and there is a rather existential reunion between Rick and Morgan (Lennie James), who saved Rick in the first episode. “Clear” was also written by Scott Gimple, who is taking over for Glen Mazzara as the showrunner next season, so this episode is likely a harbinger of things to come in The Walking Dead’s universe.
It was a relief that the show didn’t stoop to the low of having an entire episode exist in Rick’s head and while this episode did show a lot of promise, Morgan’s grim fate was a huge downer, to say the least.
We open with Rick, Michonne and Carl driving on own a desolate road – they have gone off to collect ammo from Rick’s hometown in order to fight off The Governor for control of the prison. Way to go, Rick, for actually taking Cowboy Carl with you this time! Making strides in parenting!
As I already alluded to, it’s confusing that Rick just takes off and goes back to his hometown. Judging from Andrea’s day trip from Woodbury to the prison and back last week, and now the relatively easy trip from the prison to Rick’s town (yes, I don’t know when they left the prison, but how would they know where the prison is in relation to anything else?), everything seems so close together! Wouldn’t Rick have known if there was a giant prison within driving distance from his hometown long before any of this had happened? Why didn’t they encounter Rick’s hometown or Woodbury as they were wandering for almost an entire season after leaving the Hershel farm? Perhaps I am making too big a deal out of the spatial proximity of this show, but it seems a lot too convenient that suddenly everyone realizes that everything is in a decent driving distance.
“Clear” had a lot to do with showing that Rick is pretty much mentally rehabilitated… and has gained back some of his humanity. After all, he seems remorseful that they left behind that hitchhiker. But yes, most of the episode centers around him trying to talk Morgan back from the brink, as the zombie apocalypse has been particularly unkind to Rick’s former savior…
When Rick/Michonne/Carl come into town, there’s a sniper at the roof – Carl shoots him in the chest. When Rick takes off the sniper’s face mask, he is horrified to see that, yes, the sniper is Morgan. Rick insists on taking the still-living back to his dwelling: a booby-trapped building, with the inside walls scrawled over with death stats and the repetition of the word “clear.” Before Morgan even regains consciousness, Rick sees on the wall that Morgan’s little boy, Duane, was bitten. Now, again, not to nitpick, but the interior of Morgan’s dwelling reads a bit too obvious in the crazy department, doesn’t it? Scrawling on the walls? In rainbow colors? It almost looks like the graffiti in The Warriors.
Though major credit is due to Andrew Lincoln in this episode, whose “crazy Rick” performances in episodes past, I thought, left a lot to be desired. In this episode, he elicits powerful emotion as he witnesses how the apocalypse has completely ravaged the life and mental state of someone who was not unlike himself, someone who once showed him great humanity and now looks at him like a stranger. A standout moment occurs when Rick finds the walkie talkie that he gave to Morgan so they could communicate and find each other again with after Rick found Lori and Carl. When Rick sees the walkie talkie, he almost breaks down – he feels like he has failed Morgan, in a sense, in that he wasn’t able to pay forward his kindness and save him too.
Plus, here was a parallel story with Michonne and Carl’s adventures about town! Carl wanted to reclaim a Grimes family photo that was hung in a local restaurant. Michonne does the kid a solid and gets it back for him… along with some weird rainbow cat statue. That should come in handy. But Carl deadpans that he wants Judith “Lil Asskicker” Grimes to know what her mother looked like – a good reason, honestly. This pairing is good, only because Michonne is able to become a more nuanced character, feeling emotional for Carl and showing some much-needed tenderness. Their road trip should also more than prove to Rick that Michonne is on the level – he should probably stop trying to get her to leave and just accept the fact that there’s a fierce samurai warrior on his side.
As he did back in Season One, James knocks it out of the ballpark in this episode. Morgan and Rick get into a very physical fight and he stabs Rick in the chest… but yes, eventually realizes who he is. And in a heartbreaking scene, he pleads with Rick to kill him. Apparently, Morgan’s zombie wife was the one who bit his son, destroying his world. Morgan refuses the opportunity to leave with Rick and go back to the prison and stays put in the town. Morgan’s fate here is a mixed bag, however. While the extreme emotional duress does provide James with a lot of powerful acting material, and it also serves as a chilling alternative universe that Rick’s life could have possibly resulted in, it also leaves the sympathetic Morgan in a rather bleak place. It was likely the far off hope of many a The Walking Dead viewer that one day Morgan and Duane would have reunited with the group and had larger roles in the show. Instead, a nice, sweet man is rendered mildly insane and vengeful? And probably can never re-integrate with Rick?
It’s sad, and almost a missed opportunity for a future storyline. Instead, Morgan is simply a means for Rick to regain his mental health. Which, yes, is important, but at what cost? It would have perhaps been more interesting if Morgan/Duane were the bizarro Rick/Carl in another community… and I’m sure there were many other promising possibilities.
Though all quibbles aside, it is ultimately a good thing for the upcoming season that Gimple is playing with the format of the show – taking a few characters at a time into different milieux and trying out different situations. The Hershel farm season, for instance, was such a bore in that the environment never changed, everyone stayed the same. It’s great that Gimple is switching it up and keeping things interesting, He paired Rick with Michonne here, for example, and they very seldom have the chance to interact other than exchanging distrustful glances. Which characters will go on a one-off adventure next?
The Upside: The switch up of episode format and great performances from Andrew Lincoln and Lennie James.
The Downside: Morgan’s fate is perhaps too bleak, and the physical manifestation of his mental state (re: his dwelling) might have read as too obvious.
On the Side: Can someone please confiscate Carl’s cowboy hat? Not wearing it would make him ever-so-slightly less annoying.