Our TV Roundtable on what to make of Season 3, Episode 12, "Clear"
A couple of weeks ago, our Jeffrey Goldberg called for The Walking Dead to move its characters on from the confines of the prison/Woodbury spheres of influence: "TWD is much less flaccid when the survivors are on the road, in part because the road holds the promise of a better future -- or at least of radical new circumstances." He also called for The Walking Dead to start exploring one of it's more unnerving latent themes: catastrophe parenting. "I would like to see Rick ... actually be allowed to adjust to a new, complicated, and dramatically interesting role," Jeff wrote, "as a father in a post-apocalyptic environment."
Well, Goldberg gets results! This week's episode, "Clear," puts Rick, his son Carl, and his number-one non-villainous dramatic-conflict sparring partner Michonne in the Hyundai and sends them off to Rick's hometown in search of weapons for a coming battle against the Governor and his Rockwellian Death Star. The results are modest for the development of the show's plot, and for the quality of its dialogue, and even just for the strength of its commitment to non-stupidity -- such as might be evidenced by zombies NOT suddenly swarming the Hyundai moments after it stopped in the middle of an open road with no zombies around. But "Clear" does show us something important that we've seen way too little of lately: character development.
Michonne, having to manage Carl after choosing to watch his back as he lights out on a mission in the name of his baby sister, not only establishes a human connection to the boy but a bond of empathy with his sole surviving parent, Rick. Carl himself struggles with how to assert himself as a too-young adult and when to step back and let the big girl take care of him. And Rick confronts a parallel-apocalypse version of himself as a bereaved husband and father. Morgan, Rick's ally from Season 1, is a wreck of his former self. Circumstances have forced him to kill his own wife and son after they turned to zombies. He's since lost his mind. But he's nevertheless lived on to find a focused and disciplined sense of purpose (one Rick might envy if the writers hadn't condemned him to phasing in and out of psychological coherence all season): to systematically trap, kill, and burn walkers, "clearing" them from the world.
All of which gave us not only meaningful character development but, despite some abiding problems with the storytelling, an ideas episode more successful than than anything we've seen on The Walking Dead in weeks, if not all season. ... Or am I just starved?
Yes, boys, Goldberg does indeed get results. No doubt the producers of TWD saw our recent exchange, and immediately trashed a series of upcoming episodes already in the can, and rewrote "Clear" to our specifications. We do get results here at The Atlantic. Of course, I would rather not have seen the episode title nod in the direction of Scientology, though it does make you wonder: Could L. Ron Hubbard's e-meters do for zombies what the CDC couldn't?
This is where I hope the show eventually goes: to an exploration of what it would take to rebuild human society.
Like you, John, I enjoyed this episode, its tightness, its forward motion, and the dread it managed to produce (I've certainly noticed a drop in dread-output by the writers lately). Two very artful moments: The hapless hitchhiker, completely ignored by Rick, Carl, and Michonne, soon to be eaten by the side of the road, silent testimony to heartlessness in an apocalyptic environment (it seems eons ago that Rick was rescuing a kid who tried to kill him). And recovering the dead hitchhiker's backpack -- a nice touch. Another moment worthy of note: Carl leaning up against a set of glass doors, behind which are a half-dozen walkers, clawing at the windows. A visually arresting image, if nothing else for the sang-froid Carl evinces. And I admire the restraint of the writers, who did not allow the walkers to punch through the windows, thereby larding on one more perilous escape in an episode filled with perilous escapes (including that very cheesy "oh, look, our car is surrounded by walkers all of a sudden" moment John rightfully criticized). One other thing: It's nice to see Michonne become human. Her sullenness was getting dreary.
The best thing about this episode: No Andrea. The second-best? As John notes, this was an episode embedded with an actual idea. The completely unhinged Morgan has devised a strategy for human advancement: Bringing the war to the walkers. I assume that after Rick dispenses with the Governor (if the Governor dispenses with Rick, I'll stop watching), he'll realize his full potential as the John Connor of the Age of Zombies, and Morgan will have been his inspiration. This is where I hope the show eventually goes: to an exploration of what it would take to rebuild human society. I'm getting bored with zombie skull-crushing.