Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later.
The Walking Dead did a bottle episode.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, it’s one that’s been around in TV for quite some time. The idea is the entire episode takes place in one location, often with a stripped down cast. For some of the better examples, see Doctor Who’s “Midnight,” Firefly’s “Out of Gas” or Breaking Bad’s now famous “Fly.”
The bottle episode serves the dual purpose of being cheap, one location with a few actors is likely to cost a fraction of a full episode, and being a prime opportunity for character development, something I think we can all agree that The Walking Dead sorely needs.
I didn’t realize that bamboo was so readily available in suburban Georgia.
And for my money, they couldn’t have picked three (later four) better characters, and in the end this was one of my favorite episodes of the entire series.
We open with a few surprises. I thought that Rick, Carl and Michonne were on their way to try and assassinate the Governor again, but rather they’re on the hunt for more guns. I didn’t realize guns were a problem as practically everyone in the prison, Judith included, has an assault rifle to their name. It seems like they need bodies more than weapons, but crazy Rick turned away four potential soldiers a few weeks back, so more guns it will have to be.
I also didn’t realize that we were so close to where the show first started. I guess my Walking Dead geography was a bit off, but I was under the impression they had strayed quite a ways away from Rick’s old neighborhood. But after all this time, they’re just a few miles away. It gets you thinking about what this show is really about: survival, and little else. That’s really the only endgame in sight right now. Sure, we have short term conflicts that will last a season or so like Woodbury, but that’s not the long term conflict of the show. I will say that I think there’s an overall lack of direction with the series as a whole, as they’re no longer trying to get to an army base or the CDC. They’re simply trying not to die. A fine objective, to be sure, but I think there still needs to be something that’s being worked toward, and I don’t just mean a bullet in the Governor’s skull.
How high a price can you pay for survival however? That was one of the central questions of this episode, one brought to life by the fractured mind of poor Morgan, finally making a “surprise” return from season one.
“Surprise motherf***er!” Whoops, wrong reference.
I use “surprise” sarcastically of course, as yet again, the idiotic “previously on” scenes ruined what semblance of a surprise his appearance might have been. The last time The Walking Dead did this when Merle finally returned I was so pissed off I wrote an entire article about it. This time I was equally steamed, but the episode turned out so well I let my anger dissipate by the end. Long story short, the show needs to stop telegraphing the return of long-lost characters before the episode even starts. I’d love to be surprised for once without needing to put quotes around the word.
In any case, Morgan serves to show what might have happened to Rick had he never found his family. Morgan has set up a twisted zombie killing amusement park that would make Tallahassee from rival zombie universe, Zombieland, mighty proud. He’s holed up in a house guarded by bamboo pikes and foreboding spray painted signs. He appears as a masked figure, but when Carl knocks him unconscious with a shot to his torso’s armor plating (uh, okay?), Rick uncovers who he is.
When he comes to, we learn that Morgan has lost what little he had when Rick last saw him. That includes his son Duane, poetically killed by the zombified version of Morgan’s wife that he was too sentimental to kill (perhaps too much of a coincidence there). He’s also lost his sanity, scrawling on the walls and hoarding more guns than he could shoot in a lifetime. Rick slowly brings him back around, but even when he’s lucid, he’s still preaching fire and brimstone.
The Walking Dead doesn’t often make too much of an emotional impact on me, but Lennie James performance as Morgan has stuck with me since season one, even if he only appeared briefly. His inability to shoot his dead wife was heartbreaking, and he put on one HELL of a show for his return last night. His monologue about being “torn apart by bullets and teeth,” warning Rick that all the good people will die and the weak, like him, will survive, was powerfully delivered and some of the best writing and acting of the entire series.
“Dad, he’s written plot points on the walls!”
Elsewhere, we saw further growth in both Carl and Michonne. Carl has come a long, long way from being the running joke of the series; the kid who was always running off and almost dying time and time again. He’s not just a certified badass now, but he’s evolving into a protector. He risks life and limb to make sure his baby sister will grow up knowing what his mother looked like. He’s grown way, way up this season, and it’s rare a character can go from mocked and hated to beloved in this fashion.
Similarly, we learned that Michonne too has a heart of gold. Perhaps not exactly a surprise, but it was nice to see her as an integral part of the story for the first time in weeks, and it’s good they realized that averaging one line of dialogue an episode wasn’t doing her any favors as a character. She too risked a lot to ensure Carl had his photograph, and proved that she’s not just looking out for herself. And finally she told Carl exactly what he needed to hear. “No more bullshit!”
I liked the way the show handled both Morgan’s entrance and exit this episode. Some may complain that after two years of waiting, it’s lame to see him simply arrive and leave simultaneously, but I disagree. It would have been the expected plot turn to have Rick run into him at some point, and just fold him into the already crowded group. But this? Finding him in his Heart of Darkness murderous obstacle course, half out of his mind? That’s something I didn’t expect. Rick realizes even if he can be coherent, it’s probably best to just leave the man to his work “clearing” the earth of walkers.
The paintball course of doom.
The last scene of the show was perhaps the most telling. Even though they’re the “good people” now, the prison trio not only left the hitchiker behind to get eaten by zombies, but took his pack as a final f*** you in the closing moments. The definition of what makes a “good person” has really changed now, and it appears all new strangers are bad strangers. Still, that was one of the saddest moments of the evening for me, even if many thought it was funny.
This was a fantastic episode that fully brought Rick back from the brink of craziness by showing him what true insanity looked like. Lennie James goes two for two in phenomenal performances on the show, while Michonne and Carl evolve into characters we like even more. After a few lackluster weeks, I was truly impressed by “Clear.”
BUT STOP SHOWING SPOILERS IN THE “PREVIOUSLY ON” SCENES.