The Walking Dead may be the weirdest show on television right now. All season long it’s been dragging its feet (and I’m not talking about zombies here) and then suddenly it delivers a very good episode like last night’s. It’s gotten to the point where I’m more confused when the show is not bad than when it is.
At first it seemed it was going to be more of the same. Rick, Michonne, and Carl are on an ammunition run. They pass a guy on the road who’s wearing a backpack and screaming for them to stop and pick him up. They ignore him. They’re callous now, we get it, but doesn’t it occur to Rick that it’s a numbers game with the Governor and that a few more soldiers might be what they need even more than guns? Merle keeps talking about how outmanned they are. Oh, never mind, moving on.
Michonne drives the car into the mud and it gets stuck, and while Rick tries to teach his son how to get the tire loose, Carl gets all snappy. He’s back on the “Rick’s a bad leader” thing. He also doesn’t trust Michonne, doesn’t think she’s one of them. When I heard Carl say this, I had to pause the episode for a minute because I really couldn’t believe they were going to make us listen to this again. They’re stuck for so long that the dude with the pack shows up again, out of breath, begging for their help. He’s like that big, shaggy monster in The Muppet Movie who wants to go to Hollywood, too. They leave him behind again.
Rick, Michonne, and Carl drive into a little town. It turns out that Rick and Carl have returned home. Rick’s former police station has been looted of all guns and bullets, but he remembers a few isolated ones that were stashed in local businesses. They decide that’s better than nothing and start walking through the town, except almost immediately they come across all these crazy booby traps. Spikes and barbed wire and caged rats being used as bait. They start picking their way gingerly through, but then they’re fired upon by a guy in body armor and a helmet up on a roof. Rick fires at the guy, but it’s Carl who takes him down. The guy is wearing a bulletproof vest, though, so he’s alive. Rick lifts his mask off and it is Morgan.
I gave up hoping for the return of Morgan at the beginning of this season. There have been so many other inconsistencies that it seemed foolish to hope that the show would ever remember to address this loose end. Morgan’s story line has always been one of the deepest ones on the show, even with the little screen time it was given. It’s been nearly three seasons, and so for those who need a refresher, Morgan saved Rick’s life in the pilot. His wife had turned, but his young son was okay. Rick wanted Morgan to come with him, but Morgan wouldn’t leave his wife the way she was, but he also couldn’t bring himself to finish her off. Rick and Morgan exchanged best-friend-charm walkie-talkies, and Rick was supposed to give Morgan his location every day at noon. Instead, Rick used this time as more of a phone therapy session, which Morgan didn’t hear since he for some reason didn’t turn his on at first. That’s all in the past, though. Rick and Morgan have finally been reunited. Rick makes a glaring Michonne help him take his friend upstairs.
Once there, they lay Morgan down in his bed and survey the arsenal of weaponry that he’s assembled. Morgan’s generated an impressive collection of crazy chalkboard rantings. Most of it is nonsense, but then there will be someone’s name and it will say they turned and the word “clear” is written a lot, in extra-bold lettering, over names of different streets.
Rick wants to wait for his friend to wake up so he can talk to him, see if he’ll join them at the prison, but Carl is anxious to go on a baby crib run. I thought this was lazy writing on the show’s part at first, to get Carl out of that room full of guns, but the crib is just an excuse he made up. What he’s really after is a photo of him, Rick, and Lori that he knows hung above the bar in a local café. It’s the only one that still exists. He wants his sister to have a picture of her mom. If he had just been honest with Rick, his dad could’ve offered to snap a pic of ghost Lori next time he saw her. Instead, Carl heads to the café, with Michonne right behind, and it’s chock full of zombies. Michonne remembers the rat bait traps, and they throw a couple into the café so the zombies will be distracted. (Speaking of which, Rick keeps saying that Morgan “wasn’t like this” before, but his survival tactics are smarter and more effective than any that we’ve seen from Rick’s crew or the Governor.)
That works for a little while, but then one of the rats escapes and Carl and Michonne have to flee without the photo. They have a moment where Michonne says she’ll get the photo for him as long as he waits outside. For the first time, Carl sees her for the invincible fighter with a tender heart that the show has been struggling to convince us she is. They still have a long way to go in terms of character development with her, but this episode definitely gave her more to work with than we’ve ever seen. The show cheats by having her disappear back into the zombie bar and then return a moment later, unbitten, unscratched, even un-hair-tousled, but whatever. It’s easier to let that stuff slide when the rest of the episode is working.
Morgan wakes up and is pretty buggy for a while. He doesn’t recognize Rick or he thinks he’s seeing a ghost, that Rick is dead. Rick finally convinces Morgan that it’s really him and then he hears the sad tale of how Morgan’s son, Duane, died. They were going on a food run and Morgan told Duane to stay outside. Then he heard Duane scream and ran back but it was too late. Morgan’s zombie wife, who he never managed to shoot, was attacking Duane. Morgan had waited too long and now Duane was dead. He asks Rick if his son is dead, too. When Rick says no, Morgan tells him, “He will be. People like you, the good people, they always die. The bad people die, too. But the weak people, the people like me, we have inherited the earth.”
On another episode, it might have sounded schlocky, but something about Morgan as a character has always worked. He’s more grounded, even when he’s off his rocker, by a core of real feeling. I believe that he cared about his his family in a way that I rarely buy anyone on this show does. It’s also hard to argue with his logic about everyone eventually getting bit. Michonne left Carl on his own outside the café in order to protect him. It worked this time, but Duane died because Morgan did the same thing. There’s no real way of staying safe.
Rick wants Morgan to come with them to the prison, to start over, but Morgan won’t. Rick tells him, “You’re not seeing things right, but you can come back from this. I know you can. You have to. This can’t be it. It can’t be.” It’s a pep talk to Morgan, but Rick needs to convince himself as well. Morgan tells him his job is to clear the dead zombie bodies: “That’s why I didn’t die today. That’s the sign.” Michonne and Carl come back with their decoy crib, and they all pick up a bag of guns and some ammo and load it into the car. Carl tells his dad that he likes Michonne now. Michonne and Rick have a bonding moment about talking to dead people. The show briefly turns into a Lethal Weapon–like action comedy where Rick’s all, “You drive. I see things.” They drive past the guy from earlier, the one with the pack, although now he’s been torn apart by zombies. They stop the car, grab his stuff, drive on.