Often in assessing The Walking Dead I forget about the scale of the show; mostly I look at the writing and the direction, but rarely the design and set-pieces. Watching episode 12 was wonderfully eye-opening for immediately drawing my attention what I usually forget about it.
Major spoilers follow
“Clear” is a fantastic return to a singular narrative strand. It’s not often that the various stories are diluted down to a particular character or small group, so episode 12 feels nicely refreshing. What’s more, it also brings us back to Rick, Carl and the late Lori’s hometown.
Before we reach the long-left homeland of Rick and family, we are taken on the journey there. The car ride consists of a fretful Carl, worried about Michonne’s company, and a hysteric hiker yelling for them to stop the car and pick him up. I was excited to see a new, loner figure emerge in the chaos of The Walking Dead’s world as I always welcome a new story and character (the world of the graphic novel/TV series must be exceptionally rich for possible stories). Sadly, he’s ignored as Michonne speeds on by him. Afterwards, Carl, Rick and Michonne find themselves slowing and sticking in a road collision site, a muddied track keeping them momentarily static. There is then a sudden zombie attack but it’s quickly over. Two exciting elements are introduced – a new character and a hairy fight – but quickly deserted, leaving me entertained but also disappointed at lost story and action opportunities.
We then enter King County and your mind and eyes are rapidly attuned to detail. The detail of props and set-design is astounding – the place is littered with graffiti, signs, animal cages, and defences rigged up. The police artillery barracks has been raided and only a pile of burned bodies shows for walker-action. In a few minutes an overwhelming sense of history is created.
“It looks like somebody’s already made this theirs” says Michonne. It certainly appears that way and whoever is behind the odd DIY fortification has clearly spent some time securing their home. A zombie then shuffles in, showing some “life” to this silent town. As they go to kill the walker a bullet shatters its skull and our heroes are quickly alerted. The gunman demands they leave, sans weapons. Of course, Rick having come all this way to fortify himself for the Governor is not going to leave with fewer guns then he started with. A worrying bullet ballet happens but it’s eventually Carl who shoots the assailant, revealed to be none other than Season 1’s Morgan.
And so our interest is fired up to 11. They bring him back to his fortress – a home with more traps than Home Alone and Skyfall combined. Inside are the guns, a ton of them (“He’s been busy” is an understatement, Rick). Grabbing all they need – and more – Carl and Michonne set off to find a family photo of Carl’s. Left with the unconscious body of Morgan, we’re expecting a great reunion. Noting, however, the message-covered walls, Morgan’s mind may not be all it used to be (and with a son who has “turned”). Waking up he is crazed and confused. A brief tussle and Rick finally gets him to the point of reminding him of old times.
Lennie James as Morgan was a brilliant actor to start off the programme – another Brit who was making a grand and impressive entrance into mainstream American TV. Leaving him was a huge loss but having him back is a fantastic surprise. Having a lot to play with, in terms of character, James steals the show. The two men whose minds are not all there is a dangerous combination, but they balance out each other well. Rick, for the time being, has to return to “normal” in order to calm Morgan and we see Andrew Lincoln as the head-strong hero we love him for. It’s a stirring episode hearing about Morgan’s huge loss, loneliness and lunacy. Cries of anger and sadness are not uncommon in this programme but when paired with a cared-for character (like Rick when he found out Lori was dead) it makes for teary television.
Meanwhile, Carl’s desperate attempt to get his family photo from a zombie-infested restaurant gives us a bit of action and gore. Using Morgan’s traps they distract the walkers, but only for a few minutes as one of the rat-traps open and the undead follow the scurrying vermin. Michonne uses her sword skills and we see bursts of blood and decent effects (enough to satisfy the action-adorers). As he and Michonne fail to quietly and safely enter, Michonne then goes back in and emerges with the sought-after photograph. Carl finally sees the good in her, and her place in the group has been cemented (as Carl reiterates at the end of the episode).
“Clear” finishes with Morgan choosing to stay in his kitted-out habitat. It’s a shame he couldn’t have joined Rick but two damaged minds would certainly jeopardise everyone. It also adds to the poignancy of the episode leaving Morgan with the ghosts of his past – a theme repeated with Michonne mentioning how she used to talk to her dead boyfriend, in a conversation about Rick’s ghoulish hallucinations.
A really tremendous episode that has everything going for it – A-grade writing, acting, direction and design. Now with all the guns and ammo taken we can expect an epic war to be fought, though I hope the writers don’t forget smaller stories such as these as they are expert examples of engaging television.
By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on Flickering Myth